CHICAGO | Big changes hit the Bears with the force of a winter wind in Chicago. Now, it's time to see how all the moves play out.
The Marc Trestman era kicks into a higher gear with the start of training camp this week and the Bears looking for more after missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.
A second straight collapse cost former coach Lovie Smith his job. Now, the Bears are turning to Trestman, hoping he can connect with quarterback Jay Cutler and spark a stagnant offense.
The offensive line has a new look after getting a makeover, and there's at least one big change on defense even if the system essentially remains the same — no more No. 54. Brian Urlacher, the longtime heart and soul of the team, is gone after his contract expired and the team was unable to reach a new deal with him.
So yes, it was a busy offseason. With that in mind, five things to know heading into the first practice on Friday:
1. NEW LEADER: Trestman was a success as coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, with three Grey Cup appearances and two championships in five seasons. Now, can he command an NFL locker room, particularly one that was loyal to his predecessor and to Urlacher? Along with that, can he get the most out of Cutler? A longtime assistant before heading north, Trestman is no stranger to the NFL. But he's never been a head coach in the league. On the plus side, he's taking over a team that still managed to win 10 games a year ago and has some talent in all areas, with Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Forte leading the offense and Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman anchoring the defense. There are big questions, too, such as the age on defense and whether the offensive line will come together. All eyes are on the relationship between the coach and the quarterback, too. Trestman had success working with Bernie Kosar and Rich Gannon. The Bears are hoping for the same with Cutler.
2. DEPARTED STAR: It will be different seeing this team without Urlacher at middle linebacker. The Bears split with the eight-time Pro Bowl pick after negotiations on a new contract went nowhere. That happened after Urlacher was slowed by a knee problem and then missed the final four games last season because of a hamstring injury. D.J. Williams is now the man in the middle, and with James Anderson replacing Nick Roach on the strong side, Briggs might feel like he's surrounded by strangers.
3. QB AT CROSSROADS: With an offensive-minded coach and an overhauled line, Cutler appears to have the pieces he needs after years of taking a beating. Time, however, could be running out. Cutler has an expiring contract and could be on the way out if he doesn't get a new deal or mesh with Trestman. In the past, he had built-in excuses, whether it was the play-calling or poor protection. Cutler never clicked with Ron Turner. He got caught directing an obscenity toward Mike Martz and walking away after Mike Tice sat down next to him during a game. Now, he'll be on his fourth coordinator in Chicago, with Aaron Kromer holding the title and Trestman devising the system.
4. REVISED LINE: It's no secret the offensive line has been a mess. The Bears are hoping that changes with the makeover. They filled a big hole at left tackle, signing Jermon Bushrod to a deal that guarantees $17.7 million and could be worth about $36 million. They also added veteran guards Matt Slauson and Eben Britton and drafted guard Kyle Long in the first round, adding him to a mix that includes James Brown and Edwin Williams.
5. RETURN SPECIALIST AGAIN: So the receiver experiment is officially over. Now, Devin Hester can get back to being a game changer on returns, right? Maybe. No longer a part of the offense after six seasons as a receiver, the Bears are hoping Hester can regain his game-changing form on returns now that he's focusing exclusively on special teams. The league's 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. But it's also conceivable that he doesn't make the team. The Bears have a solid option in Eric Weems. Hester, who threatened to retire after Smith was fired, also has an expiring contract.