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Five Thing to Watch for in Chicago Bears’ Season Opener

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Will Jay Cutler finally live up to his potential? Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.
Will Jay Cutler finally live up to his potential? Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Chicago Bears open the 2013-14 season against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Soldier Field. GM Phil Emery has been at the helm for over a year now, and he has made his mark on the roster and coaching staff. It will be the NFL head coach debut for Marc Trestman, who spent the last five years as coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League after serving as an assistant coach in the NFL for nearly two decades. Many key players enter the final year of their contract, mostly notably QB Jay Cutler. Emery has stated he will not negotiate any new deals until the conclusion of the season, telling his players it’s time to put up or shut up. Here are five things to keep an eye on in Sunday’s game:

Do the Bears finally have a legitimate offense and will Cutler finally play to his potential?

The Bears are historically renowned for having top-notch defensive play, but are probably equally known poor offensive output. Emery wanted to change that when he hired Trestman, who is considered an offensive guru and has had success with QBs such as Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, and Rich Gannon. Cutler’s talent is unquestioned, but his decision making and QB intangibles have always been a question mark. Can the “QB Whisperer” Trestman bring out the best in Cutler? If not, it will likely be Cutler’s final year in Chicago. Will the Bears offense finally be able to consistently move the chains and give their stout defense a little help?

Will the new-look offensive line be serviceable?

Emery almost completely revamped the Bears offensive line this offseason, signing LT Jermon Bushrod and LG Matt Slauson via free agency, and drafting RG Kyle Long and RT Jordan Mills. The only remaining starter from last season’s group is veteran C Roberto Garza. Bushrod is a stud who is coming off consecutive Pro Bowl seasons with the New Orleans Saints and will need to protect Cutler’s blindside. New offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who is also the offensive line coach, spent the last five seasons with the Saints and is familiar with Bushrod’s talents. Both the right guard and right tackle positions will feature players making their first career start. Long was a beast in the preseason and Mills showed signs of dependability, but will they be able to hold their own? Most importantly, can the unit give Cutler ample time to go through his progressions, set his feet and make good throws while also opening running lanes for RB Matt Forte?

Will Cutler throw the ball to someone other than WR Brand Marshall?

Marshall set franchise records in catches and yards last season, mainly because he was the only person Cutler targeted most of the time. If the Bears offense is going to make strides, Cutler must spread the ball around. Second-year WR Alshon Jeffery and newly-acquired TE Martellus Bennett can be sound options for Cutler. Forte should also be utilized in the passing game. If Cutler can spread the ball to some other playmakers, it will keep defenses honest. Opponents will not be able to double-team Marshall, creating potential for big plays from him while also reducing Cutler’s interceptions.

Will the defensive be the same without former Head Coach Lovie Smith?

The answer is yes, it will definitely be at least slightly different. The real question is: will the defensive be as effective as it has been in years past? New Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker plans to maintain continuity on defense, even keeping terminology from the old scheme. LB Lance Briggs will take on signal-calling duties with the retirement of Brian Urlacher. The defense appeared as though it had not missed a beat in the preseason, will the unit be able to rush the passer, create turnovers and remain dominant in 2013?

How will the new linebackers fare?

The Bears linebacking corps will feature two new starters alongside veteran All-Pro Briggs. Veteran James Anderson was brought in via free agency and will start on the strong side. A major question is who will be the man in the middle. Rookie Jon Bostic started all preseason while veteran D.J. Williams, who was also brought in via free agency, nursed a leg injury. It became assumed that Bostic would be the starter, having shown good signs in preseason action. However, Williams was listed as the starter on team’s depth chart earlier this week. Keep an eye on who starts the game, then focus on how they perform. Will this unit remain a strength for the Bears?