By Chris Emma—
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) – With all due respect to those who wore the uniform – some of whom weren’t reporting to Olivet Nazarene on Wednesday – the Bears’ 3-13 disaster last season was no accident.
Losses piled up for the Bears because injuries decimated the top of their depth chart and several years of poor drafting was revealed in the form of sub-par roster depth. The mistakes of Phil Emery’s tenure as general manager came to light as a roster filled with patchwork was exposed. The lack of organizational depth became clear.
Next man up? Not for those Bears, who couldn’t afford injuries. They had 19 players end the season on injured reserve. Five quarterbacks played after three ended up on IR. A team that had little margin for error saw everything go wrong.
Entering training camp, there’s a feeling of greater optimism for what the Bears can be because of improved roster depth. The fingerprints of Ryan Pace are all across this roster entering his third season as general manager. Just 10 players remain on roster from the previous regime.
This is a team with Pace’s draft picks, Pace’s free-agent signings, Pace’s waiver-wire finds and Pace’s plans. This is Pace’s vision becoming a reality.
After all, the McCaskey family entrusted Pace with rebuilding their family franchise into a winner once again. Their faith in this regime remains strong. Despite the 9-23 record through two seasons, hope is building around Bears camp.
“(Team ownership) just want to see continued improvement,” Pace said. “I think they know there’s no quick fix. We talked about that. It’s about building this team the right way, with the right kind of guys, and we’ve just got to show progress. I think we will. I think as we go forward our fans are going to see a tough, blue collar grind-it-out kind of team that’s on the ascension and it’s something they can be part of.”
The most notable storyline of this training camp stems from the quarterback position, which now features Mike Glennon as the starter, Mark Sanchez as the backup and Mitchell Trubisky as the future. The performances of Glennon and Trubisky in particular will be watched closely each day of practice. How quickly Trubisky develops compared to how Glennon leads as the starter will be a constant evaluation.
But the focus of coach John Fox was on the roster as a whole entering came. Fox has been to two Super Bowls and won 136 games to his 119 losses. He knows how a quality roster looks.
The Bears have just a few playmakers on their roster – names like Jordan Howard, Akiem Hicks, Penrell McPhee and Danny Trevathan. This team had just one Pro Bowl player last season, as Howard was named a late replacement. Zero Bears were named to the NFL Network’s top-100 list, as voted by the league’s players. Premier talents are still lacking. It’s the task of Pace to find them through the draft, and perhaps some will emerge this season.
The difference for this Bears roster is the depth – something sorely lacking the last two seasons. There’s competition at each position. The battle at receiver will be busy, and a backup to Howard hasn’t been defined. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s good graces are up for grabs as reps are divided on the front seven. Then there’s the secondary, which has upgrades all over.
Never one to say – well – much of anything, the words of Fox were brutally honest in assessing this roster.
“I can honestly say it’s not like we’ve come to this day in camp like the previous two years and known that we don’t have what we need,” Fox stated. “This is the first time I can look at a depth chart and say, ‘You know, I like all these guys.’
“I feel as good about the start of this camp that I have ever felt here as a Chicago Bear.”
The gregarious Hicks joked about flipping over the table when the possibility of struggles was mentioned. There’s frustration inside each of these players, because losing takes its toll.
What happened last year was a reflection of past failures, not an indicator of what could come. Optimism is growing for a deeper, better Bears team.
These players feel that they’re being disrespected as a loser. The 3-13 reputation that precedes them is damning. It’s an embarrassment to each and all within this roster. Anger will drive the Bears through the thick of training camp.
A new beginning is here.
“I sense a lot of guys champing at the bit,” Hicks said. “Everybody knows we’ve got a lot to prove, all right, as a team and individually. And I feel like everyone knows it’s put-up or shut-up. It’s intense, put it that way.”