It’s a new era in Chicago Bears football. As the 2017 off-season has rolled on, there has been a great deal of turnover on this roster. While free agent acquisitions and new draft picks are part and parcel of this time of year for all teams, this franchise has arguably seen the most change of any.
While the team is hesitant to categorize these events as part of a re-building process, this does appear to be a time of great tumult. Though these moves have affected the entire roster, it is unquestionable that the offense has seen the most upheaval. As the franchise enters this unique and important period in history, the Bears offense will most certainly have an unfamiliar feel in 2017.
Chicago Bears Offense Will Boast New Look in 2017
It all starts at the quarterback position. For the first time in years, the Bears will have a new passer under center in Week One. The team is moving in a new direction, having parted ways with Jay Cutler back in March. With Cutler now firmly entrenched as a Fox Sports analyst, the Bears now have two upstarts competing for the job.
The New Faces
When the Bears signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million dollar deal, it appeared as though the team was ready to give him the opportunity to be the signal caller of the future. After all, the team did make a sizable financial commitment, although the $18.5 million in guaranteed money makes it possible for the Bears to move on without a significant cap hit after one season. Still, it seemed reasonable to assume that Glennon would be afforded a one-year audition to prove that he was up to the challenge of leading the offense for years to come.
That assumption was thrown out the window during round one of the 2017 NFL Draft. The decision to trade up to acquire Mitchell Trubisky has been heavily-scrutinized, but the fact remains that the former North Carolina signal caller is clearly entrenched as the team’s quarterback of the future.
Having only made 13 starts in college, Trubisky is certainly a project and doesn’t figure to open the season as the team’s starting quarterback, but the organization would never have made such a considerable investment in the youngster if they weren’t confident in his ability to develop into a quality signal caller. It is likely that Glennon will be the day one starter, but his margin for error is likely very slim with Trubisky on the team.
The Focal Point
Without question, the most familiar aspect of the Bears 2017 offense will be sophomore running back Jordan Howard. A 2016 fourth-round pick, Howard took the league by storm as a rookie, finishing with 1,313 rushing yards, the second-highest total in the league, only behind fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott‘s 1,616.
Perhaps even more impressive was Howard’s robust 5.2 yards per carry, which was the fourth-highest tally among qualified rushers. In another season, Howard would have been a slam-dunk Offensive Rookie of the Year. But in spite of missing out on the award, his heroics did not go unnoticed, and the former Indiana tailback earned his first Pro Bowl berth.
With unproven quarterbacks in the mix in 2017, Howard figures to pick up where he left of as a featured runner for a team that is still searching for an offensive identity. It would not be a shock to see him build on his impressive rookie showing.
The Pass Catchers
Of course, the Bears have seen significant turnover at the wide receiver position, now that longtime top target Alshon Jeffery has signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. A stable of talented, but largely unproven wideouts will man the ship for Glennon and Trubisky this season, and the hope is that a capable receiving corps will develop with time.
At first glance, Cameron Meredith, fresh off the heels of a semi-breakout 2016 campaign, looks like the best bet to emerge as the number one wideout. With a strong blend of size and catch radius, Meredith provides the sort of big target that a young quarterback needs as he works to adapt to NFL defenses.
Third-year man Kevin White is also a candidate for a large role, although that depends on his health. Since the Bears selected White seventh overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, the former West Virginia star has struggled mightily with injuries, and has only appeared in four games as a professional. Still, White is long on talent, and it is far too soon to write him off.
The Bears were active in the wideout market in free agency, signing veterans like Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright in the hopes of bolstering the passing game. Both Wheaton and Wright have had their moments as professionals, and if they can find some consistency with their new team, they could prove to be valuable contributors.
Reliable tight end Zach Miller remains in the mix, but the Bears clearly prioritized adding to the position in the off-season. First, the Bears signed former Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims to a three-year, $18 million deal, before ultimately drafting former Ashland standout Adam Shaheen in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Shaheen, of course, just signed his rookie contract, and the rookie could push for a significant pass-catching role out of the gate.
The One Area of Consistency
The offensive line, on the other hand, is perhaps the only component of the Bears offense that hasn’t seen a great deal of turnover this off-season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears boasted the 15th-best line in the NFL in 2016, buoyed largely by the strong performance of the interior. In fact, PFF suggested that the Bears might even have the strongest interior line in the league, a notion they backed up recently by naming center Cody Whitehair one of the 25 best players in the league under the age of 25.
While the offensive tackle play has been cause for some concern, the team hasn’t addressed the position in any major way this off-season. In fact, it seems likely that the Bears offensive line will return all of the same starters from last year as Whitehair is joined by Kyle Long, Josh Sitton, Charles Leno, and Bobby Massie.
The Bears are entering uncharted territory in 2017. With an abundance of new offensive personnel and a new attitude, optimism is high in the Windy City. Although the team is working to climb back into contention in a competitive NFC North, the upcoming season represents a pivotal step forward for a franchise that is trying to forge a new identity for itself. It remains to be seen what all the new faces will contribute to this organization, but there is little doubt that this will be a season of intrigue for Chicago Bears fans everywhere.