Standing in the team’s way will be a daunting three-game stretch to start the season: the first two at home against the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals, and then flying to Seattle to face the Seahawks in Week 3.
Chicago’s schedule remains consistently tough throughout the year but it doesn’t mean this team as a whole cannot improve.
The addition of Fox was a big one but bringing in both offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defense coordinator Vic Fangio could make a larger impact in Year 1.
With all the new changes made, what can be expected from the Bears in 2015 and who will stand out? Let’s find out.
QB Jay Cutler
The 2015 team MVP award goes to none-other than polarizing quarterback Jay Cutler. Why? It’s simple: He cut down on his mistakes this preseason, which has been his biggest hindrance since arriving in Chicago in 2009.
The Bears’ commitment to the run will also play a large part in this projection coming true. Last year, the offense threw the ball more than 63 percent of the time and Cutler threw the second most interceptions of his career (18).
Marc Trestman’s inability to commit to the run played a large part in Cutler’s high turnover rate last year, which is why the addition of Gase is so important.
Gase could be the X factor in getting Cutler back to consistent productivity, especially if he can make him into a glorified game manager and a roll-out threat outside of the pocket, much like Cutler was in his days with former head coach Mike Shanahan in Denver.
Cutler is who he is at this point in his career but a good offensive mind could be the difference between an average quarterback who commits crucial mistakes to an Alex Smith-type player with good physical abilities.
Offensive Player of the Year
Alshon Jeffery is going into his fourth year in the league and has been on a steady incline since his rookie season. This year, he will finally be the No. 1 receiver and top overall target. He now has to show that he can be relied on as the top weapon in the passing attack, one that can consistently beat bracket coverage.
Jeffery was hampered by nagging injuries the majority of last season but somehow still produced a Top-15-caliber year. This season, he missed the majority of training camp and all of the preseason due to a calf sprain but he’s almost fully recovered heading into the regular-season opener.
Barring health, Jeffery has a strong chance to boost his value in a contract year with a strong campaign.
Although he will see the majority of the opposing defense’s attention, it’s worth noting that the Bears have slot receiver Eddie Royal, Top-5 tight end Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte out of the backfield. With that type of supporting cast, Jeffery could very well post Top 5 numbers.
Defensive Player of the Year
OLB Pernell McPhee
Chicago’s defense might be the most intriguing group in the league going into the season. A new scheme and multiple new additions have resulted in a major overhaul for one of the league’s worst units over the past two years.
The crux of that overhaul is Pernell McPhee, who was general manager Ryan Pace’s first “prized” signing of the off-season. The track record former Ravens pass rushers that leave Baltimore isn’t too inspiring but McPhee has shown multiple flashes of dominance early, as not only a premier pass rusher but also against the run.
Last year’s free-agency prize came in the shape of defensive-end-turned-outside-linebacker Lamarr Houston, who has a lot to prove in Year 2.
The expectations for McPhee are equally as high but with a better coaching staff in place and more playing time, it’s easy to see why multiple teams were high on McPhee heading into free agency.
Chicago’s defense is deep with pass rushers, so McPhee will have the chance to line up in multiple positions on the field. He’ll be used as Fangio’s Swiss army-knife and a featured product in the new defensive system.
Comeback Player of the Year
OLB Lamarr Houston
After suffering a sack-dance-induced season-ending ACL tear last year against the New England Patriots second-team offense, Lamarr Houston has vowed to come back stronger and more effective than ever.
The majority of Houston’s overall success has come from a two-point stance as either an outside linebacker or a defensive end lined up wide. Throughout preseason and the tail end of camp, when he finally appeared to reach full health, Houston was impressive.
Houston is listed as the third OLB but will see his fair-share of action with McPhee lining up all over the field.
This could ultimately be a make-or-break year for Houston but all signs point to him surprising the league and flourishing in his new role.
Breakout Player of the Year
Sherrick McManis closely resembles ex-Bears defensive back Corey Graham.
A special teams ace that has grown as a cornerback over the past two seasons, McManis gets his first shot to start as the team’s nickel corner. He has good size (6-1, 193) and after another impressive off-season program, a competent coaching staff has finally caught on that he could indeed be a late bloomer with substantial upside.
He will start as the team’s slot corner but could quickly take over for Alan Ball if he falters or fails to stay healthy. McManis has plenty of upside and this is the year he will have a chance to blossom into a key defensive piece moving forward.
- Rookie of the Year: DL Eddie Goldman
- Special Teams Ace: LB John Timu
- Sack Leader: OLB Pernell McPhee (12.5)
- Interceptions Leader: CB Sherrick McManis (6)
- Tackles Leader: Christian Jones (130)
The Bears aren’t expected to compete for a playoff spot in 2015 but this will be a valuable transition year that can reap the team many rewards moving forward. With the influx of new, young players added this offseason, there will be a lot of competition going on, on top of the mass development that is expected throughout the year under a quality coaching staff.
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.