Bears aiming for higher mark under Trestman
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears weren't afraid to think outside the box when they hired coach Marc Trestman.
They stretched boundaries. They hopped the border.
They lured him back to the NFL from Canada with the hope that he could connect with quarterback Jay Cutler and inject some life into a stagnant offense while leading the Bears to the playoffs after they missed out for the fifth time in six seasons despite 10 wins.
It's no small task, particularly for someone with no head coaching experience in the league. Then again, he had success in the CFL the past five years, leading the Montreal Alouettes to back-to-back championships, and he has a history of success with quarterbacks.
A defense that consistently ranked among the best the past few years will largely remain untouched under new coordinator Mel Tucker. But on the other side, it's a different story.
The Bears are running the West Coast offense, and so far, new tight end Martellus Bennett likes what he sees from his coach.
"I think the best thing about him is he's feeling it out himself and looking for changes that he can make that makes him a better coach," Bennett said. "He's always trying to do the things he can do to become better."
One thing that impresses him is Trestman seeks input.
"He asks us all the time, `What would you think about this?' Just like we ask him if we're doing a good job, he asks us if he's doing a good job," Bennett said.
Time will be the ultimate indicator. With that in mind, here are five things to know about the Bears:
NEW LEADER, BETTER QB? The Bears are hoping for something along those lines. The Bears couldn't get the most out of Cutler under former coach Lovie Smith and past offensive coordinators Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice. Some of that had to do with the play-calling. A porous offensive line played a big role, too, and the lack of a go-to receiver before the Bears acquired Brandon Marshall last season didn't help, either. Cutler's demeanor and decision-making were contributing factors. Now, he has an expiring contract and something to prove. To many, he's out of excuses. The Bears rebuilt their offensive line, added a versatile tight end in Bennett and brought in a coach who's had success working with Rich Gannon, Bernie Kosar and Steve Young.
THE DEPARTED: The Bears parted ways with linebacker Brian Urlacher, for years the face of the franchise. Now, it's Lance Briggs leading the linebackers from the weak side, with the middle spot up in the air. Veteran D.J. Williams suffered a calf injury at the beginning of training camp. That created an opening for second-round draft pick Jonathan Bostic, and he opened some eyes in the preseason.
"I think he is getting better," Trestman said. "He is fitting in and if he happens to be the guy who is that guy on Game 1 or Game 2 or whatever it is I think he can grow into the position and be a more than sufficient middle linebacker in this league."
LINE `EM UP: The Bears made big changes to their offensive line, hoping to upgrade a unit that ranked among the worst the past few years. They filled a huge hole at left tackle, signing Jermon Bushrod to a deal that guarantees $17.7 million and could be worth about $36 million. With newcomer Matt Slauson at guard, the left side appears to be solid. The right side could be another issue with a pair of rookies possibly starting, with first-round pick Kyle Long at guard and fifth-rounder Jordan Mills at tackle. They did show promise in the preseason, though. Even if it's still a question mark, the blocking can only be better than it was the past few years, right?
SPREAD THE WEALTH: Marshall had a record year last season, setting Bears marks with 118 catches and 1,508 yards, so what was the problem? This was. Matt Forte was second on the Bears with 44 receptions, and Earl Bennett was second among receivers with 29. Cutler's tunnel vision for Marshall was understandable in some ways, but he needs to get other receivers involved, which was why it was alarming to some to see all five of the quarterback's passes in the second preseason game go to Marshall. There was more balance the following week at Oakland in the starters' final dress rehearsal for the season opener, with Cutler spreading the ball around and Alshon Jeffery catching seven passes for 77 yards.
SPECIAL ON RETURNS AGAIN?: That's the question for Devin Hester. Can he be that havoc-wreaking force on returns now that the receiver experiment is a thing of the past? The league's all-time record-holder with 17 kick return touchdowns, he did not run back a kickoff or punt last season. He emerged from a drought in the past, returning a combined six punts and kickoffs for TDs over the 2010 and 2011 seasons after going two seasons without one.
"When you eliminate 50 or 60 snaps on offense my legs are a lot fresher, I can feel it coming out of camp," Hester said.
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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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