Scouting the Bears
3:40 PM CDT, April 13, 2013
The Bears won't look game-ready this week when they open up their first mini-camp under new coach Marc Trestman. That's understandable in April while practicing in shorts and helmets. Jobs won't be won or lost as the new coaching staff installs the playbook. However, this three-day session should give us a feel for this team from a scheme and personnel standpoint as it approaches the NFL draft.
Here are five questions as the Bears prep to get on the field for the first time in 2013.
1. Will Trestman develop his scheme around Cutler?
In a traditional West Coast offense, the ball should come out quickly on three and five-step drops and target receivers between the numbers and the hash.
That means the Hi-Lo concepts, the dig (square-in), backside slant, curl and option routes where Cutler can target receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Cutler can throw those routes, but will Trestman expand the playbook? Will he think creatively here with movement passes (boot, sprint), the vertical concepts and even some Read Option to take advantage of Cutler's skills. It will be interesting to see how the playbook is shaped around Cutler as the quarterback heads into the final year of his contract.
2. Is D.J. Williams an upgrade at middle linebacker?
It's not time to judge Williams as a downhill linebacker who can set his pads and explode on contact in the run front. That's not going to happen in shorts.
I want to see Williams move in space, flip the hips versus a tight end in coverage, run the inside seam in Cover-2 and showcase a burst to the ball. After watching game tape of Williams, I think he is an upgrade over the now-departed Brian Urlacher because of his short-area quickness and the ability to break down in the open field.
There is no question the Bears will have a different look without No. 54 in the middle, but with Williams (and possibly a rookie in the draft) this unit could be faster and more athletic.
3. Will the Bears run the same defense under coordinator Mel Tucker?
In 2012, the Jaguars had a static game plan under Tucker. Base zone looks (Cover-2, Cover-3), some man-free and very little pressure. But personnel limited Tucker, and that will change in 2013 with the Bears. He inherits some veteran talent along with two Pro Bowl corners in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
The Bears were labeled as a core Cover-2 defense while Lovie Smith was running the show. We all know that. But looking back at last season, this unit was much more diverse in its approach. The Bears did lean on Cover-2 in third down and red zone situations, but they also showed pressure schemes and played more man-coverage than in the past.
Expect Tucker to be aggressive in his approach as he installs his defense this week.
4. Can Matt Forte play a feature role?
The running back in the West Coast scheme is a key part of the playbook. Just look at Charlie Garner when he played for Trestman on the Raiders or Brian Westbrook for the Eagles with Andy Reid. Those are players you have to game plan for because of their dual-threat ability.
Forte has the talent to run routes as a receiver removed from the core of the formation, release out of the backfield from a chowed alignment (outside leg of the tackle) and produce out of one- and two-back sets in the run game.
In this system, the running back can be used as a matchup weapon to beat a linebacker in coverage and work in the open field. Remember, this goes deeper than the basic screen game with Forte. The Bears have an opportunity here to utilize their running back and get a return on the investment they made last offseason with a multiyear deal.
Forte could be that impact player this team needs out of the backfield.
5. How does Martellus Bennett affect Cutler and the Bears offense?
The Bears addressed a major need when they signed Bennett to upgrade themselves at tight end. He's a three-down player who can block on the edge in the run game and compete in the middle of the field as a receiving target.
But now that the Bears have a legit tight end, how will Trestman use Bennett to get the matchups on the inside seam route and the 7 cut (corner route)? The former Giant provides some formation flexibility because of his athletic ability, so don't be surprised to see the tight end align in multiple spots.
With Bennett, and second-year pro Evan Rodriguez, the Bears can bring their Ace personnel (two receivers, two tight ends, one back) on the field to create matchups versus base defensive fronts and try to exploit the second level of the defense. There will be opportunities here for Cutler to use the tight end to beat up the middle of the field.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety.
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