The 2022 Bears never even got off the ground. They didn't even have a plane built to attempt a takeoff.
A 3-14 season that ended with the No. 1 overall pick turned into an offseason of moves that theoretically set up the 2023 Bears for success.
The additions of wide receiver DJ Moore, linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, and right tackle Darnell Wright fueled an offseason of hope and excitement that created a tidal wave of expectations both for quarterback Justin Fields and the team as a whole.
There's no doubt the Bears are more talented than they were 365 days ago. They have a dynamic young signal-caller in Fields, a top-tier receiver in Moore, and a back seven that should be stout.
But a lot of questions remain.
With the critical season-opener against the Green Bay Packers just days away, here are the five pressing questions surrounding the 2023 Bears. Ones whose answers will determine the direction their season travels.
Will the line hold?
General manager Ryan Poles' main offseason focus was to surround Fields with the support needed to show that he is more than just an electric highlight reel. That the elite athleticism is a tool in a much larger quarterback bag, one that has many believing he's the franchise signal-caller Chicago has long sought.
After acquiring Moore in early March, Poles turned his attention to rebuilding an offensive line that had Fields running for his life in 2022.
The Bears signed right guard Nate Davis, kicked Teven Jenkins to left guard, and bumped Cody Whitehair to center. After selecting Wright with the No. 10 overall pick, the Bears' "best five" was set.
But Poles never adequately addressed the depth issue on his offensive line, leaving the Bears one or two injuries away from complete catastrophe.
The first injury has already happened as Jenkins suffered a leg injury midway through August and opens the season on short-term injured reserve. That injury has pushed Whitehair back to left guard and placed Lucas Patrick at center.
The Bears' presumed starting five Sunday now will be Braxton Jones, Whitehair, Patrick, Davis, and Wright. Not including the rookie right tackle, that starting five combined to give up 84 pressures and 16 sacks last season. Keep in mind that Patrick suffered a season-ending injury in Week 7.
In order for Fields to take a step forward as a passer and for the offense to run at maximum efficiency, the Bears need this group to stay healthy and be much better in pass protection than they individually showed last season.
Can they do it, or will the Jenga tower in front of Fields crumble as it did last season?
One of the lone non-Fields bright spots of the dismal 2022 season was the encouraging play of rookies Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon, and Braxton Jones.
Each took their first-year lumps, but responded well and took those lessons into the offseason to develop ahead of a critical second campaign.
The Bears need all three players to elevate their games in 2023.
Prior to his training camp injury, Brisker was the best player on the back fields at Halas Hall. The Penn State product promised to be a "new No. 9" this season as he aims for All-Pro honors. He seemed to sniff out almost every offensive play the Bears ran. He constantly blew up the Bears' bread-and-butter wide-zone run game and notched several intercpetions of Fields and then-backup P.J. Walker.
Gordon had a tough rookie season. The Bears asked him to do a lot and the mental strain of having to master two positions showed. Now focused solely on the nickel, Gordon has been playing with a quickness and freedom that signals a Year 2 improvement should be coming.
Jones was graded on a curve as a fifth-round rookie left tackle out of Southern Utah. There can be no curve in 2023. The Bears need Jones to show he is better equipped to handle the bull rush, can keep the heat off Fields' blindside, and is a franchise left tackle. If he can't do that, the Bears will have to prioritize that position in the 2024 draft. Jones had a detailed plan to get better entering the offseason. He checked every box and returned to Halas Hall a stronger, smarter, and more confident left tackle. That must translate to the field on Sundays.
There's one other member of the Bears who has to get better in Year 2: Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Getsy got a lot of flowers for the mini-bye week reevaluation of the offense. Scraping the initial plan and installing a comprehensive quarterback run game for Fields was the spark the Bears' lifeless offense needed. But defenses caught on after a few weeks and the next evolution never arrived. Part of that blame should fall on a limited offensive roster that likely tied Getsy's hands.
But with more weapons and a supposedly improved line, Getsy has to show he too will be better in Year 2.
DJ and ...?
Last season, Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet were Fields' only reliable pass-catching weapons. But even those two weren't consistent, and Mooney, in particular, didn't produce at the level he wanted as the No. 1 target.
Enter: DJ Moore.
The addition of an elite No. 1 receiver will make life easier on Fields. But the Bears will need someone to be the Robin to Moore's Batman in order for the passing game to take off.
The best bet is on that being Kmet. The fourth-year tight end strung together some nice games during the second half of last season and could be on the cusp of a true breakout campaign. Mooney should find his level now in a slot role that better suits his skill set. The Bears also have big hopes for what a healthy Chase Claypool can provide as a big-body, contested catch receiver on the outside.
Perhaps the Bears' No. 2 option is a mix-and-match adventure, with a different player taking up the mantle each week.
Moore is dynamic. He gives the Bears an "easy button" on offense they didn't have last season outside of Fields' legs. Throw him the ball on a quick slant and he can turn it into a 60-yard gain.
But in order for the passing game to reach its ceiling, a reliable No. 2 option must arise.
Does the defensive line surprise?
The Little Giants would have run over, around, and through the Bears' 2022 defense. The Bears' defense ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed per game at 157.3. They allowed an average of 220 yards per game over their final three contests when the writing hand long been on the wall.
The Bears also needed a minor miracle to effect the quarterback. They ranked dead last in pressures with 162 and sacks with just 23. Safety Jaquan Brisker led the team in sacks with four.
The only members of that defensive line that remain are defensive tackle Justin Jones and second-year defensive end Dominique Robinson.
The Bears brought in run-stuffing nose tackle Andrew Billings, and drafted two interior defensive linemen in Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. The addition of Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker should at least give them some bite off the edge.
The Bears' defensive front is the area that Poles was unable to fully address this offseason. It takes more than one offseason to rebuild a roster from the ground up.
This defense has talked of being dominant in 2023. The back seven has a chance to be one of the best in the NFL, especially if Brisker and Gordon take the aforementioned leap. But none of that matters if the front four can't stop the run and get after the quarterback on third-and-medium/long.
If the front four once again has no juice, this Bears' defense will once again struggle to get off the field.
MVP rise fuels playoff run?
Justin Fields was sensational at times during the 2022 season. He made entire stadiums hold their breath every time he tucked the ball and took off.
But he also averaged just 12 completions and 149 yards per game through the air. He had flashes as a passer -- think Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers -- but also put up several duds (see: Lions, Week 17).
Fields has the arm talent to win from the pocket. He can make all the throws. His deep ball is among the best in the league and his rare athleticism gives him a get-out-of-jail card most quarterbacks don't possess.
The 24-year-old quarterback was put in a no-win situation in 2022. He had no protection and no weapons. Despite all that, he thrived as a playmaker and showed people that the ceiling might be in the stratosphere if all the pieces come together.
The Bears and Fields should hope for progress in 2023. Fields needs to go from a questionable passer to a solid one before he leaps into the MVP conversation. Progress is often slow and not linear. If Fields takes one to two steps forward as a passer this fall, the Bears will be in great shape heading into 2024.
But what if it all clicks?
There's a world out there where Moore is spectacular, Claypool is the best version of himself, Mooney rebounds, and the offensive line holds strong, allowing Fields to be comfortable in the pocket and let it rip.
If everything aligns, a 3,000-1,000 season is not impossible. It's the rarest of possible outcomes, but if everything clicks, Fields could Lamar Jackson as the only quarterback to accomplish that feat.
That would put Fields squarely in the MVP conversation and likely have the Bears in the playoff hunt.
But there's a lot of ifs in that scenario.