With the combine behind us and free agency taking center stage before all the pre-draft excitement heats up again, it’s the perfect time to ask where the Bears need to get better to improve on last season’s 12-4 record and wild-card loss on a missed 43-yard field goal as time expired.
Obviously, they need a better placekicker.
They also need to decide whether they are better on defense by re-signing free agents Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan, or if they need to find upgrades at those two spots.
Although the production in the running game wasn’t bad, they need more big, explosive plays.
The Bears also need more from their tight ends and consistency in both run blocking and pass protection up front.
But realistically, even if the Bears choose to replace Amos and Callahan with some combination of Deon Bush, Deandre Houston-Carson, Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and Sherrick McManis, they should still be a top-five defense.
It would be nice to find a back who can both run the football and catch it, is more explosive than Jordan Howard and bigger and harder to bring down than Tarik Cohen.
But both Howard and Cohen have been Pro Bowlers, Howard is one of the top three rushers in the game since entering the league, Cohen has only scratched the surface of his big-play potential and the ground game can still improve significantly – even if it spins around mainly those two.
Both Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen still have significant untapped potential, and the offensive line will take a big step forward if Kyle Long can stay healthy and with James Daniels’ year of experience.
If you’re talking player additions, it’s fair to list the Bears’ top five needs as placekicker, safety, nickel corner, running back and tight end.
But if you’re talking greatest need, it’s clear the Bears have to get better on the offensive side of the ball, and the biggest single improvement available to them is another significant step forward from quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Trubisky had a nice Year 2. Now, he needs a better Year 3 to justify the price the Bears paid to acquire him and to make them a better team.
If he learns to read defenses better and find more open receivers, gets it out quicker and improves his deep ball, it would definitely improve the Bears’ 21st-ranked passing game, forcing defenses to react and making it that much more difficult to defend the run.
It would also take pressure off the offensive line and open up more plays for the tight ends.
As Ryan Pace said at the combine last week, “I thought the creativity on offense, the variety on offense, I think we’ve got a lot of pieces that can do a lot of different things, and that’s only going to grow in Year 2.
“Now from a personnel standpoint, do we need to add to that? Yeah. Do we want to get faster and more explosive? Yes. And that’s our challenge.”
Coach Matt Nagy knows he needs more from Trubisky, and he laid out the plan for this coming season.
“The next part for him is going to be having the other side of the ball on defense slow down for him.
“We talked about everything that goes on during a 40-second clock when you have to get in the huddle, call the play, alignment, splits, motions, shifts, ID the ‘Mike’ ’backer, here come safety rotations. You’ve got to fix the protection and then you’ve got to make the throw.
“There’s a lot that goes on. He can now get better at the other part of that – seeing what the defense is showing. Once we get to that point, I think what you’ll see is you’ll see the ball out a little bit sooner.
“You’ll see him being able to make more plays. But that takes time.”
Yes, it does take time. But Nagy’s club raised the bar significantly last season, and if new expectations are going to be met, Trubisky’s time has to be now.
• Write to Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush at email@example.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.