As we now survey the playing field and see who’s left standing on the Bears 53-man roster, it is more than worth noting that the Bears commitment to upgrading the offense has extended well beyond the hiring of Marc Trestman as the head coach.
When Trestman stated after the Browns game Thursday that he expected Kyle Long and Jordan Mills to start versus the Bengals the 2013 opening day lineup was set. That only four starters from 2012 – Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Roberto Garza – will start this season is far more than a footnote.
But it is significant only if Tony Fiammetta, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Long and Mills are better from day one than the players they replace, and if the Bears have the talent behind them to fill in adequately in the event of an injury.
Let’s start with the obvious. Jeffery appears dramatically improved over where he was last year as a rookie and is a much greater threat at the position than either Devin Hester or Earl Bennett were, depending on which you count as last year’s starter.
With Earl Bennett now your No. 3 and the promising Marquess Wilson and Joe Anderson and dependable veteran, Eric Weems, behind him this team is definitely better at wide receiver. Of course, that assumes Marshall can repeat last season.
With the numerous different personnel packages Trestman will have in his offense, you really have to lump the fullback, Fiammetta, in with the remaining tight ends to evaluate them. Fiammetta is a better lead back than anyone they had in the halfback spot last year, so he appears to improve the ground game significantly.
Clearly, Bennett brings more to the tight end position than Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth or Evan Rodriguez ever did, but Steve Maneri and Kyle Adams add little comfort as backups or in two tight end schemes.
The Bears are better here than last year but don’t be surprised if they find a veteran or two on the waiver wire to bring in for a look-see to complement Bennett.
The greatest hope for a dramatic improvement on offense comes from the hope that Jay Cutler will finally realize his enormous potential and that his new offensive line will allow him to do it.
Like the tight end and wide receiver spots, there is no question the additions of Bushrod and Long ratchet up the talent on the offensive line. But how long it takes Long and Mills to learn their craft and whether or not Slauson is actually an upgrade over James Brown, Lance Louis or Gabe Carimi is still very much an open question.
The offensive line will be better, but will it be good enough?
Depth is extremely thin everywhere on offense, but that fact is epidemic in today’s NFL. This group could probably stand one big hit at wide receiver or offensive line as long as it doesn’t come to Marshall or Bushrod.
Running back is probably the offense’s greatest strength as Michael Bush could start for a number of clubs and Michael Ford looks like a bit of an upgrade over Armando Allen.
Like most NFL teams, the one place the Bears absolutely cannot afford an injury is quarterback. Remember the Bears found Josh McCown two years ago exactly where they found Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards two weeks ago. And in fact, at no point this preseason did McCown play as well in a game as either Palmer or Edwards did against the Browns.
I’m not at all convinced that the competition that didn’t happen between McCown and Palmer and Edwards in camp won’t be started a few weeks down the road with McCown and either Palmer or Edwards brought back.
This much is for sure. If the offensive line can block, Cutler now has everything he needs to take a quantum leap forward and no more excuses not to.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.