By S.C. Zuba
165. That is how many days separate the Chicago Bears’ acquisition of Jay Cutler from Cutler’s official debut as a Bear.
Sunday night, Sept. 13, at Lambeau Field, in Green Bay, Wis., will mark the beginning of a new era for the Chicago Bears.
The preseason is over, and now the world will get to see what the Bears have been working on during one of the most eventful offseasons in Bears’ history.
The Bears will need to have mastered a few areas this offseason to have a truly successful season.
First and foremost, the offensive line will need to improve from its pathetic season last year. With the additions of Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer, the Bears are poised to turn their less-than-mediocre offensive line from last season into a dominant force this season. Cutler will only be as good as the players who protect him.
Second, Brian Urlacher will need to return to the Urlacher of 2006. Urlacher says he feels better than he has felt in a long time. He looks quicker, stronger and, more importantly, hungrier for that elusive Super Bowl ring that he has yet to obtain. Ultimately, the success of the defense hinges on Urlacher’s performance. Even with the poor secondary play last season, the Bears still ranked second in the league in take-aways, and the team looks to build off those numbers.
Third, the Bears’ wide receivers will need to dig deep and start to make plays on the ball. It is obvious Cutler will be able to get the ball to them; they will just need to finish the job. Devin Hester is looking for that breakout season that will strongly affirm him as a true No. 1 NFL receiver. The Bears certainly believe he can become that; the question is whether Hester believes he can become that.
Another receiver to watch for is Earl Bennett. Bennett, who was Cutler’s favorite target from his days at Vanderbilt, is looking to contribute to the Bears’ offense in his second season as a receiver. During his rookie season, Bennett struggled to digest the playbook, and rarely saw the field. Look for Cutler to find Bennett early and often this season.
Lastly, the Bears’ success (or lack of success) will ultimately rest on what Cutler is able to do under center. Not only what he can do physically, but also his decision-making and the way he chooses to lead this team. We all know Cutler has a cannon for an arm, but his maturity and decision-making are often questioned. This will be the most important season in Cutler’s career. He has a golden opportunity to go from being on the fringes of an elite quarterback to being one of the best, if not the best, in the league.
The Bears will be under the national spotlight this Sunday, and the way this game goes will be indicative of how the rest of the season goes. It is crucial to start off on the right foot.
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From the September 9-15, 2009 issue