Changes loom as Bears on final approach to training camp


Much like the draft, the annual start of an NFL training is about possibilities, looking at what is and what could be rather than anything looking back at what the previous season was.

The only NFL constant is change, and the Bears will present one high-profile case study in that reality.

“Well, I think a lot's changed,” coach John Fox assessed as the pre-camp portion of the offseason was winding down last month. “We have different players, some different coaches. I kind of hope they have changed.

“We were 6-10 and in last place, so, I'm hoping to change that, too.”

Training camp, starting on July 27, is the principal crucible in which that change is forged. This year’s camp, or at least the Bourbonnais portion of it, will be one of the shortest on record, concluding on Aug. 9 before the initial preseason game, vs. the Denver Broncos.

And what happens in training camp typically will foreshadow something of significance moving forward into the season, good or bad.

During camp last year it was noted that Jay Cutler went the first 11 practices without throwing an interception. He and coaches had made ball security the absolute No. 1 priority for him and it carried over into the season.

Deficiencies in pass rush were apparent in drills, and it was not until Lamarr Houston and Willie Young recovered completely around midseason from their leg injuries of 2014 that the Bears had anyone other than Pernell McPhee capable of worrying pass protections. Not surprisingly, the Bears failed to record a sack in either of their first two games.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Irrespective of player additions (potentially eight new starters on defense) and subtractions (losing two players — Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte — who accounted for 30 percent of the total 2015 yardage and touchdowns despite missing a combined eight games, or one fourth of a season), the expectations are there.

The principal reason, quite simply, is Fox.

The Carolina Panthers improved from seven wins in their first year (2002) under Fox to 11 and a Super Bowl appearance in 2003. The Denver Broncos in Fox’s initial year won eight and a playoff game (with Tim Tebow), then jumped to 13 win’s in Fox’s second, although the jump likely had at least a little something to do with landing Peyton Manning as anything else.

But the changes under Fox involved exorcising the losing mentality that had taken root under Marc Trestman and Phil Emery. To that end, Fox began addressing that culture issue last training camp and before, even to the point of privately making winning preseason games a priority rather than simply part of orientation.

“So much of it is a culture: how you practice, how you compete, how you do your job every day,” Fox said. “I’ll give you an example: I went back and looked at OTAs from a year ago. It’s much more competitive, much more high speed. This game is about playing it fast and you have to practice it fast.”

That speed was evident during offseason sessions, particularly on defense as well as in the person of Kevin White on offense, a true deep threat unlike any the Bears have had since Bernard Berrian a decade ago.

The problem is that while Fox has dramatically upped win totals in the second seasons of his two previous billets, two of the last three Bears coaches won fewer games in their year-two’s than in the takeover year — Dick Jauron from six win’s in 1999 to five in 2000, the latter a record-setting year of offensive ineptitude (216 total points) behind Cade McNown and Shane Matthews; and Marc Trestman, from eight wins in 2013 to five in 2014, also a record-setting year for ineptitude in more ways than can be chronicled here.

The biggest single Bears move this offseason was one not entirely of their choosing: losing offensive coordinator Adam Gase to become head coach of the Miami Dolphins and elevating Dowell Loggains from quarterbacks coach to coordinator after a successful season of Cutler development.

Nowhere will the pressure through camp and beyond be greater than on Loggains and, by extension, Cutler.

“We’ve got to be better than last year, that’s for sure,” Cutler said. “We’ve got to be better from last year and that’s kind of what we tell the guys, even though we are in year two and we’ve got some new pieces out here.

“We didn’t turn this offense over. We have the same terminology, same stuff. We’ve got to improve in the direction we want to go.”

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