In a little more than a week, it will be time for the start of 2015 Chicago Bears Training Camp. The longing for the sights and sounds of football season is almost over.
After their second major facelift in four years, the Bears have made it hard to have any real expectations. With a new general manager, coaching staff and defensive scheme, can fans expect any improvement and if so, how much of an improvement is realistic?
The start of camp signals more than just the start of a new season. It signifies the start of a fresh beginning, new opportunities, and, most importantly, a chance for younger players to develop and grow into contributing roles.
The team, headed by new head coach John Fox, is expected to have three new starters on offense, which is now run by coordinator Adam Gase, and as many as eight new starters in a new 3-4 defensive scheme run by former 49ers defensive guru Vic Fangio.
With so many new changes, there are sure to be interesting storylines leading into training camp and well into the regular season. With that in mind, we offer seven bold predictions bound to happen in 2015.
1. The Chicago Bears will not finish in last place in the NFC North and will improve by at least two games.
You heard it here first. This team will not finish in last place two years in a row.
Why? It’s simple, actually. Since 2010, not one NFC North team has finished in last place in consecutive years. Expect that to continue this year.
Will the Bears become John Fox’s third extreme makeover? The team’s new head coach took the Carolina Panthers from 1-15 to 7-9 in his first year as head coach in 2002 and had similar results in Denver with the Broncos in Year 1, going from 4-12 to 8-8 with a playoff win in 2011.
All trends point to the Bears seeing a vast improvement and that will be enough to get them out of the cellar in the NFC North. How far out of the basement they climb remains to be seen.
2. Vic Fangio’s defense will rank in the Top 15.
In two years under Mel Tucker, the Bears’ defensive was collectively the worst in the league and, quite frankly, it wasn’t even close. Last year, the unit ranked 30th overall but improved against the run to a 17th overall ranking.
The biggest concern going into the 2015 defensively: After finishing 30th against the pass last year, can they improve and if so, how much of an improvement can be expected?
The team added veteran defensive backs Antrel Rolle, Alan Ball and Tracy Porter, along with outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho, to help instill not only leadership but to add a higher level of talent in hopes of seeing a large improvement against the pass.
On top of the vetera additions and scheme change, Fangio seems to have unlocked the code to containing Aaron Rodgers and the high-powered Packers offensive attack, with a 4-0 overall record against Green Bay in his four years with the 49ers, including two playoff victories.
Overall, Fangio will not start with the talent level he did in San Francisco but the combination of added leadership and an increased veteran presence, coupled with a defensive-minded head coach, should allow the defense to vastly improve.
3. The team will only carry two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and neither Fales nor Carden will be there.
There’s been no secret the Bears are not happy with their current situation at the quarterback position. Jay Cutler is more than capable as the team’s starter but behind him resides a less-than-desirable competition between Jimmy Clausen, David Fales and Shane Carden.
While none of these three will impress for the backup position, Fox will go with familiarity and stay with Clausen as his No. 2 behind Cutler. Yet make no mistake, if Cutler goes down for an extended period of time, a chance at a successful season will go with him.
There is, however, high probability that one of the remaining two will land on the practice squad and early signs point to that being Carden.
4. Jordan Mills will not start the season as the team’s starting right tackle.
After struggling though another season at right tackle, Mills will be dethroned as the team’s starter at the position for none other than Kyle Long. Yes, you read that correctly. Long will slide outside and start at tackle in Week 1.
The good news for Mills? If he is healthy, he will still have the chance to win the starting job at right guard but will have to fight off Hroniss Grasu, Tayo Fabaluje, Michael Ola and Ryan Groy for that privilege.
5. Terry Williams will impress at nose tackle and make the final roster.
The former East Carolina Pirates product went undrafted, mainly due to off-the-field concerns, not a lack of talent. At 6-1 and weighing in at 353 pounds, Williams not only has the necessary size to make an NFL roster but his movement closely resembles a linebacker more than a big-bodied defensive lineman.
Much like the gamble taken on former seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson two seasons ago, “Swamp Monster” could be a risk that pays off for first year general manager Ryan Pace.
The recent release of Ray McDonald and transition to a 3-4 front makes this all possible, especially with the versatility that Jeremiah Ratliff, Ego Ferguson and this year’s second-round pick Eddie Goldman boast. Williams may not see much time in 2015 but he will provide great depth and a viable option if injuries make their way to the defensive line.
Not only did the Bears switch to a 3-4 front but they also let two of their three Week 1 starters (Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams) from last season. This year, there will be one less position to worry about and better talent to compete for those two inside positions.
Shea McClellin, who will be playing his third new position in as many years, took all of the starting reps in OTAs along side sophomore Christian Jones. The defensive staff has had nothing but positive endorsements for McClellin thus far but until the pads come on, it will be hard to truly gauge his progress.
The team added former Tampa Bay Buccaneers thumper Mason Foster through free agency and although he has no prior NFL experience in a 3-4 front, he’s a great fit for the new scheme and could provide sizeable upside moving forward.
The club’s 2013 second-round pick Jonathan Bostic seems to be the forgotten piece in this four-player competition but health has been a concern as of late. Bostic did not participate in OTAs due to back issues and his status for the start of training camp is unclear.
7. Only two rookies will be Week 1 starters.
Pace’s first draft looks to be a good start on paper, especially somehow managing to get two first-round talents in the opening rounds of the draft in Kevin White and Goldman. He followed up with four-year starting center Hroniss Grasu, fleet-footed running back Jeremy Langford, and Penn State hybrid defensive back Adrian Amos.
Going into the offseason, the expectation was that multiple rookies would have to start the season in prominent roles, especially with the lack of talent Pace took on before the start of free agency. After a few short months, the overall outlook of the roster looks to be trending up.
After a few sets of OTAs and moving into training camp, the only two players that appear primed for starting-caliber roles in Week 1 are White and Goldman, with the latter not a sure bet to break camp as the first-team nose tackle.
Center Will Montgomery has the experience needed in Gase’s offense and should be expected to start in the regular-season opener unless Grasu shows he is the far superior lineman.
If Long does make the slide out to right tackle, Fabaluje could be in a position to steal the right guard position but that is not likely.
Although the team may only field two rookie starters to begin the year, look for this first-year group to make an impact in all facets of the game.
- Camp Preview: Safety
- Camp Preview: Cornerback
- Camp Preview: Inside Linebacker
- Camp Preview: Outside Linebacker
- Camp Preview: Defensive Line
- Camp Battle: Mundy vs. Vereen
- Camp Preview: Offensive Line
- Camp Battle: Ball vs. McManis
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.