Bears try to restore credibility with new coach, GM
Sep. 08, 2015
CHICAGO (AP) — No matter how this overhaul ultimately turns out, the Chicago Bears believe they are at least restoring one thing: their credibility.
They have a new general manager in Ryan Pace. A proven coach in John Fox. And a fresh start.
They also have a big job at hand as they try to put themselves back together following a five-win season that cost former GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman their jobs.
"At the end of the day, hopefully if we work as hard as we can, we'll get to where we want to," said veteran receiver Eddie Royal, who played for Fox in Denver and signed with Chicago in the offseason.
Pace helped put together a championship team in New Orleans. He spent 14 years working for the Saints, 13 in their player personnel department, but he is in new territory as a GM for the first time.
For Fox, this is familiar territory even if the zip code changed.
Chicago opens against Green Bay at Soldier Field, where the Packers secured their 700th regular-season win a year ago. Here are some things to watch as the Bears begin a new era:
TURN IT AROUND: Fox comes to Chicago with a 119-89 regular-season record in 13 years with Carolina (2002-10) and Denver (2011-14), and a history of overseeing quick turnarounds. The Broncos went from 4-12 to the playoffs in his first season even though Tim Tebow was the quarterback, and they got to the Super Bowl two years ago with Peyton Manning leading the way.
Carolina went from 1-15 the year before Fox arrived to the Super Bowl in his second season. But in Chicago, he is facing a huge task trying to help resurrect the Monsters of the Midway.
The new regime took a risk when — with ownership's approval — it signed former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald to a one-year contract despite his legal issues. That move backfired when the Bears released him two months later following a domestic violence arrest. Chicago was also hit hard by injuries, particularly at receiver.
CATCHING PAIN: The Bears are banged-up in particular at receiver, where No. 7 draft pick Kevin White is recovering from left shin surgery and Alshon Jeffery has been sidelined by a left calf injury. Jeffery last completed a practice on Aug. 11 and did not play in the preseason. Fox has repeatedly refused to give any details, saying the former Pro Bowl receiver is "day to day." But the Bears also said the same about White at the start of camp and he might not play this season.
Throw in hamstring injuries to Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson, and the Bears' top four receivers were damaged. But what he has seen so far of Jeffery has impressed Fox.
"I saw a guy who's a big target, has a way of separating that's a little bit unique. And he's a good ball getter," Fox said.
HANG ON: Pace and Fox gave quarterback Jay Cutler a lukewarm endorsement at best by waiting until March to declare him the starter. While his future in Chicago is murky, a more immediate issue for Cutler is cutting down on the mistakes that have defined his career. He led the league with 24 turnovers, including 18 interceptions, last season despite finishing with his highest completion percentage (66 percent) and second-highest passing total (3,812 yards). How he performs in new offensive coordinator Adam Gase's system is a key issue this season.
RESTORING 'D': By hiring Fox to replace the offense-minded Marc Trestman, the Bears are once again committing to defense. They hired one of the most successful coordinators in Vic Fangio to oversee the switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 scheme, hoping to revive a unit that ranked among the worst in franchise history the past two years.
But some big holes remain. And the NFL suspended defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff for the first three games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
NEW HOME: With a new scheme comes a new position for Jared Allen. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive end is now playing outside linebacker. He is also trying to show he is still a productive player after a finishing with a career-low 5 1/2 sacks last season, his first in Chicago.
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