By Bryan Dietzler
The Chicago Bears came into this season with a new coaching staff and a new offensive scheme under the leadership of offensive coordinator Adam Gase and hopes were high that the offense would thrive under the new regime. The offense got off to a little bit of a rocky beginning as injuries and an unfamiliarity with the offense got the Bears off to a 0-3 start. Things picked up in the middle of the season as even though the offense wasn’t spectacular (save perhaps for the Rams game) it was still effective and won some games for the Bears. The offense began to show signs of weakness and ineffective ability towards the end of the season but finished the year on a little bit of a high note.
The offense was effective at times because the quarterback, Jay Cutler, had perhaps his finest season as a Bear. He didn’t make the mistakes that he has made in the past and he was able to work with less than stellar talent to help move the ball down the field, at times effectively, and score points. He did a nice job of making certain calls at the line of scrimmage, checking the team out of some plays that might not have worked had they been run and was solid at running the offense. He did have some breakdowns at times but was able to overcome some of the mistakes he made and play pretty well. He may have shown enough this season that the Bears will want to keep him around next season (and the latest word is that they will have him around next season) and have him continue to grow and manage the offense.
Chicago had a decent rushing attack this season sporting three effective running backs that helped get the job done. Matt Forte was solid except for some injury problems he suffered during the season and he proved that he still has a lot left in the tank and can still play. Rookie running back Jeremy Langford stepped in while Forte was out and had himself a nice go of it during the season. After he debuted (when Forte was injured) he had a steady role in the offense as the Bears went to a two back (and sometimes to a three back) system. This paid dividends for the Bears over the course of the last few games.
Ka’Deem Carey also got involved in the action and while he didn’t produce a ton of rushing yards he did score some points this year and looks like a back that the Bears could use in the future. It would appear as if Chicago has three good running backs on their roster heading into the offseason but they may be without one of those three backs. Forte is due to become a free agent this offseason and all signs point to the fact that the Bears may not be bringing him back. If this is the case, the Bears would have to rely on Langford and Carey to handle the load going forward. While they may appear fully capable of doing that, it would be nice to have Forte as a part of a two back system that could pound an opponent into submission. We will see if the Bears decide to keep Forte.
The wide receiving group was much maligned this year as injuries forced a few players out of the lineup and the group was never really “whole” for most of the season. 2015 first round draft pick Kevin White was injured early on in the offseason and although he attempted to make a comeback later on in the year the Bears ended up shutting him down saving him for next year. Their best wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, spent a lot of time injured and out of game action this season and when he was out the Bears really missed him. They had a hard time moving the ball down the field through the air but when he was in the Bears had success and clearly showed how much they needed Jeffery in the game.
Eddie Royal was supposed to be an important free agent pickup for the Bears during the offseason and become an important part of the Bears passing game this year. Like Jeffery, Royal missed a significant amount of time with injuries and wasn’t a huge factor. With their two top wide receivers out, other players had to step up and take over. Marquess Wilson was a part of that puzzle for a while this season but missed the latter half of the year with an injury. Marc Mariani was a viable third down threat and caught everything thrown his way proving that he can be reliable target. Josh Bellamy also got in the act this year and provided some good play at the wide receiver position.
Jeffery is due to become a free agent this year and it’s not yet known whether the Bears will resign him. It would be wise for the team to bring him back because, if he can stay healthy, a combination with him and White would be deadly and the Bears would have a very solid passing game. Let’s see what the Bears decide to do with Jeffery this offseason.
Martellus Bennett was back in mix at the tight end position and had a decent season up until he was placed on injured reserve with a rib injury. Backup tight end Zach Miller stepped up a lot in 2015 and played very well when called upon. Bennett was grumbling a little bit as the season progressed and it’s possible he may want more money this offseason but will the Bears be willing to pay him? Will they let him walk? It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Bennett this offseason.
The offensive line had some injury issues throughout the season. They lost center Will Montgomery early and Jermon Bushrod went out for a period of time with an injury. Bushrod never regained his starting positon and Charles Leno Jr. played the rest of the season at left tackle. The injury to Montgomery forced the Bears to put guard Matt Slauson in as the center on an interim basis and then they put rookie center Hroniss Grasu in. Grasu did a decent enough job but he still has a lot to learn. Slauson was forced back into the center position at the end of season after Grasu was injured. Slauson, with his solid work at center and at the guard position this season could quite possibly be considered the Bears best offensive lineman in 2015.
Right before the season was set to start, the Bears coaching staff made a decision to move former Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long to the right tackle position. Long struggled at times in his new role but with more practice and preparation this offseason it’s possible that he could excel in that role in 2016. The Bears may or may not chose to bring Montgomery back depending on what they think of Grasu. They may be set at left tackle and on the right side but one of their guard positions, the position opposite Slauson, is sort of in a state of flux and may need some attention this offseason.
Bears General Manager Ryan Pace recently said that the team was not going to get rid of Jay Cutler and that they are going to build the offense around him. If Cutler can pick up where he left off this season and even improve then the Bears offense could be in good shape. Health will be an important factor for the Bears on offense next season as they will hope to stay healthier compared to what they were at this year. Free agency may also take a toll on the team as it is uncertain whether or not Forte and Jeffery will be back. There are also several players signed to one year deals that, for now, its unknown whether or not the Bears are going bring back a majority of those players or sign new ones.
One other change that may be coming on offense for the Bears is the fact that Gase may not be coming back as offensive coordinator next season. He is a hot head-coaching candidate and there are several positions open for which he might be a good fit. It’s nearing a certainty that Gase won’t’ be back. So do the Bears hire someone new thus forcing a new system upon Cutler and the rest of the offense or do they hire from within and keep something similar going for 2016? Needless to say, it just might be a busy offseason for the Bears.