Over the past four months, we’ve kept a watchful eye on the teams who appear on the Redskins’ 2013 schedule.
We’ve tracked their free agent signings. We’ve examined their drafts. Now, in our final edition of Enemy Intel, we’re taking a look at three storylines that will dominate each team’s preseason.
Up today …
2012 record: 10-6
Key acquisitions: TE Martellus Bennett, OT Jermon Bushrod, TE Steve Maneri, OG Matt Slauson, DT Sedrick Ellis, DE Turk McBride, LB D.J. Williams, LB James Anderson, S Tom Zbikowski
Top draft picks: OG Kyle Long, LB Jon Bostic, LB Khaseem Greene, OT Jordan Mills, LB Cornelius Washington
Storyline No. 1: Is this the year Jay Cutler puts it all together?
Cutler’s got the arm strength and passing touch to be top quarterback. But he's not quite there yet.
The Bears won 10 games last season – and Lovie Smith still got fired. You know why? The Cutler-led offense ranked 28th in yards per game (310.6) and 16th in points per outing (23.4). That certainly wasn’t all Cutler’s doing, but … he ranked 20th in passer rating (81.3) and was graded as the 16th best starter in the league by ProFootballFocus.com.
That’s not good enough for a QB with Cutler’s ability.
In an effort to maximize Cutler’s potential, General Manager Phil Emery has been active this offseason. He hired quarterback guru Marc Trestman to be his new head coach. He signed Bennett, a playmaking tight end, to complement wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Emery also beefed up the previously porous offensive line by adding Bushrod, Slauson and drafting Long to protect Cutler, the fifth most sacked quarterback last season.
Cutler will be working in his fourth system in five years with Trestman calling the plays, but he had better get comfortable fast. He’s entering his final year of his contract and, if he wants to get paid like an elite signal caller, he’ll need to put up comparable numbers.
Getting to the playoffs wouldn’t hurt, either.
Storyline No. 2: Turnover at linebacker. The Bears’ divorce with Brian Urlacher was a messy one. Urlacher was the face of the franchise, the heart and soul of the defense and an eight-time Pro Bowler. But injuries and age finally caught up with the 35-year-old and, after he balked at the Bears’ contract offer, he decided to retire instead of playing elsewhere.
That leaves a void in the middle of the ‘D’. Despite playing in only 12 games last season because of injuries, Urlacher recorded 68 tackles (tied for fourth on the team), defended seven passes, forced two fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown.
Urlacher will be replaced by D.J. Williams, a talented but troubled veteran who served two suspensions (PEDs and an impaired driving conviction) as a member of the Broncos last season. Emery also signed former Panthers linebacker James Anderson to replace Nick Roach, who signed with the Raiders, and drafted former Florida standout Jon Bostic in the second round.
It’s going to be a while before Bears fans get over Urlacher. But a strong season from Williams and the other newcomers could speed the process along.
Storyline No. 3: Will the Bears boom or bust under Trestman?
The hiring of Trestman was considered around the league to be an outside-of-the-box choice by Emery. Trestman isn’t a young up-and-coming assistant or a prodigy out of the college ranks. He’s a 57-year-old who spent the past five seasons in the CFL, where he coached the Montreal Alouettes. In fact, his last NFL stint came in 2004 when he served as an assistant to Dave Wannstedt in Miami.
That doesn’t mean he can’t, or won’t, get the job done in Chicago. He’s detail oriented, driven and well-respected in football circles. He’s often cited for his creativity on offense and ability to tutor quarterbacks. Trestman was the Raiders’ offensive coordinator when Rich Gannon was named MVP in 2002.
But can he straighten out the Bears’ offense? Will he connect with Cutler? If he does, Emery will be hailed as a genius. If he doesn’t, well, Emery might end up like Lovie.