By Chris Emma-
(CBS) The dorms are cleaned, the bunk beds are made and the mini-fridges are emptied. Training camp is over at Olivet Nazarene, and the Bears are coming home.
A preseason of importance has culminated in Bourbonnais, where a revamped roster hopes to have established its identity. The Bears laid the foundation for a new chapter in the franchise’s storied history.
“We’re just coming out here, doing things the Bears way,” said rookie Kyle Fuller, a first-round pick who’s expected to be a cornerstone for the rebuilding defense. “Keep the tradition going, play good football and win games.”
Recent history has seen the Bears showcase a dominating defense and incapable offense. The script was flipped last year. So the emphasis for general manager Phil Emery in the offseason was defense, defense, defense. Build a unit to complement an elite offense.
Beyond that, it had been years since the Bears entered camp with an established, secured quarterback, a reliable receiving tandem and a steady offensive line.
Bears coach Marc Trestman found a full offseason to work in his complex methods. He had plenty of time to grow the men and footballs. More importantly, Trestman has continuity within the team and has long held the respect of his players, something that had to be earned last August.
The Bears’ questions fall in position battles. Who will be the backup quarterback? Will the Shea McClellin experiment work at linebacker? Which of the seven — count ’em, seven! — safeties will be starting? Unlike the past, these are multiple choice questions. A revamped roster has better depth, offering alternatives to potential failures — glaring holes that cost Chicago its playoff hopes last season.
Key offseason additions like Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young help shore up a defense that needed a new look. The team’s most important flaws were addressed.
It’s a better situation to be in than last year. Consider, for a second, one of the regular talking points of this preseason: Will Jordan Lynch (an undrafted free agent converted from quarterback) make the team, or will he be delegated to the practice squad?
Many other teams don’t even have a quarterback picked right now. In sunny Tampa Bay, former Bears coach Lovie Smith is stuck building an offense around the unproven Josh McCown. Six hours northwest of Halas Hall on I-94, the Vikings are picking between untested rookie Teddy Bridgewater and longtime backup Matt Cassel.
Want the ultimate example of an NFL team in flux? See the Bears’ Thursday night opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, desperately hoping four wins in 2013 was progress. Gus Bradley left an eventual Super Bowl champion in Seattle to coach the weary Jaguars. Their position battles are of dire necessity, not a luxury of depth.
It’s a different feel in Chicago, where the Bears are considered a contender.
“We have high expectations,” Trestman said. “Our players expect it. Our players feel it.”
Training camp is over and the dorms are emptied. A new season is nearly upon us, one which brings such promise in Chicago.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.