The Chicago Bears finished up the 2013 regular season under first-year head coach Marc Trestman at 8-8. While it was good enough for second in the NFC North, they failed to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Chicago did have a chance to win the division in the regular season finale, but would lose 28-33 at home to the Packers. Finishing a .5-game back of Green Bay (8-7-1).
The Bears have had an eventful offseason to this point, as they try and get the franchise headed back in the right direction. Chicago finished 30th in the NFL in both total defense (394.6 ypg) and scoring defense (29.9 ppg). The biggest problem being their run defense, which ranked dead last at 161.4 ypg.
No surprise that the focus in free agency came on the defensive side of the ball, especially with the losses of defensive tackle Henry Melton, safety Major Wright and defensive ends Julius Peppers and Corey Wooton. Chicago went out and signed four defensive ends. They brought in Lammar Houston from Oakland, Jared Allen from Minnesota and Willie Young and Israel Idonije from Detroit. They also added safeties Ryan Mundy (Giants), M.D. Jennings (Packers) and Danny McCray (Cowboys). The other notable newcomers include center Brian De La Puente (Saints) and wide receiver Domenik Hixon (Panthers).
Chicago didn’t just lose some key players on defense. Backup quarterback Josh McCown, who played extremely well when Jay Cutler was hurt, signed with Tampa Bay. The Bears cut backup running back Michael Bush and watched long-time return specialist Devin Hester leave town to join the Falcons.
Now the Bears must turn their attention to the NFL Draft to improve their roster. Chicago has seven total picks. They select once in each of the first five rounds and twice in the 6th. Their first round pick is No. 14 overall. Here’s a quick look at the five positions I think the Bears need to target when they are on the clock this May.
The Bears had hoped they were getting a dominant defensive tackle in Jay Ratliff when he signed with them prior to last season, but he didn’t make his 2013 debut until week 13 and has now played in just 11 games over the last two years. They do have a quality player in 2011 second round pick Stephen Paea, but there’s not a lot depth behind these two. If Chicago wants to improve their run defense, they need to look to add some more help in the trenches. A lot of mock drafts have the Bears taking Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald with their first round pick.
Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs played in just 9 games last year and will turn 34 during the upcoming season. He can still get the job done, but there’s no guarantee he’s going to stay healthy and they need to start looking for a potential replacement. Chicago was able to re-sign middle linebacker D.J. Williams and have high hopes for 2013 second round pick Jon Bostic, but they lost strong-side linebacker James Anderson. There’s talks of Shea McClellin moving from defensive end to take over for Anderson, but that’s not a sure thing. I look for the Bears to at the least look to add some depth on the outside.
Losing Wright was a big loss to the defensive backfield. While they bring back starting free safety Chris Conte, he was a major disappointment last year. I know they added three safeties in free agency, but not one of them is a long-term solution. I would expect the Bears to bring in someone who can compete. If they feel they have to reach for a defensive tackle and can’t trade out of the 14th pick, I expect Chicago to attack this need.
The decision to cut Bush leaves Chicago with a huge question mark in terms of their backup running back. They have one of the top all-around backs in the league in Matt Forte, but he’s entering his 7th season and this is about the time when running backs really start to fall off. The current backup is Michael Ford, who was signed as an undrafted free agent last year. A lot of quality running backs are expected to be available in the middle rounds and it’s crucial that Bears take advantage and find someone they can trust in case something were to happen to Forte.
This isn’t a pressing issue for the upcoming season, as Chicago was able to re-sign Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden. The problem is all three are on the wrong side of 30. It’s time for the Bears to start thinking about their future. Something to keep in mind is the Bears haven’t drafted a corner in the first four rounds, since they took Tillman in the 2nd round way back in 2003.
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