Emma: 5 Bears Training Camp Storylines To Follow
By Chris Emma--
(CBS) What seemed like a long 2014 season for the Chicago Bears gave way to an even longer offseason.
Gone is the old regime, with coach Marc Trestman, almost his entire staff and general manager Phil Emery being shown the door after an abysmal 5-11 season. In came veteran coach John Fox and an experienced staff, brought in by new general manager Ryan Pace.
Change is in the air at Halas Hall, and that's all set to move south in a week when the Bears take to Bourbonnais for training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. However, plenty of storylines still linger from last season, with greater significance because of the new regime.
Let's look at five important storylines to watch in Bourbonnais as the Bears report on July 29 and hold their first practice the following day.
1.) The Cutler conundrum
Would it really be a Bears training camp without questions about quarterback Jay Cutler? It seems to be something new every year, whether it's adjusting to unfamiliar personnel, gaining continuity with new offensive coaches or just attempting to stabilize a future in Chicago. This time around, it's all of that plus more.
Speculation abounded that Cutler would be on his way out this past offseason, but no suitors seriously materialized. Because of that, the franchise committed itself to Cutler for the upcoming season, but what stands ahead remains to be seen. Cutler has already been given $48 million of the $54 million that was guaranteed under his seven-year deal that he signed in January 2014, and he could be fighting for his spot this upcoming season.
However, Cutler has a quality working relationship with offensive coordinator Adam Gase, and the Bears appear comfortable working their offense around their starting quarterback, at least for this season. Once again, the microscope will be on Cutler in training camp.
2.) Forte's swan song?
One of the toughest realities that exists in football faces Matt Forte this season. The shelf life of a running back is short. Forte's 29 and will be 30 when the season ends, a number that general managers fear when it comes to running backs. Forte is on the final year of a contract with the Bears and is taking each carry this season knowing it could be his last.
The Bears haven't been willing to commit to Forte beyond this season, despite amassing 1,846 all-purpose yards in 2014. Even if Forte has a career year, it remains to be seen whether he will get even a short-term deal in Chicago after the age of 30. With that in mind, the Bears must get a good look at rookie running back Jeremy Langford and second-year back Ka'Deem Carey in addition to grinding it out with Forte.
Bigger decisions will be made after this season, but all remains uncertain for Forte's future in Chicago as training camp arrives.
3.) How to tackle Long's future
Stability for the Bears' offensive line could be helped by a move of one of their own. Kyle Long has been a Pro Bowl guard but perhaps may be a better fit at tackle. A third-year lineman, Long has been a mainstay at right guard but was seen working at right tackle -- opposite of Jermon Bushrod -- during OTAs in June.
Fox must make the decision in training camp as to whether he wants Long on the inside at guard or the outside at tackle, because this is where the important calls are made that all factor into a team's success or failure in a season and sets up the future. Maybe Long can be a better asset at tackle. We may find out in Bourbonnais.
4.) Fitting the 3-4
New Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is widely touted as one of the best coaches of the 3-4 defense in football. His 49ers defenses were known for their tenacity and physical play, but coaching this season in Chicago will be different for Fangio, who has to place square pegs in round holes here.
Veteran defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young are now outside linebackers in the Bears' new defense. Mike linebackers Christian Jones and Shea McClellin are still relative unknowns, especially in this new defense. And defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton have limited experience at this level, while Eddie Goldman is a rookie.
Beginning in training camp, Fangio must identify the best fits for each position, assess the versatility of situational pieces -- third-down edge rushers, hybrid linebackers who can drop into coverage on passing downs, etc. -- and then move into the season with confidence that he has the right combinations.
5.) Adapting to Fox
The two-year Trestman era in Chicago will be remembered for its chaos in the 2014 season and a lack of institutional control that led to widespread change, including the ouster of Trestman. Now, a new coach is in charge, one with a respectable resume.
Fox has taken two different teams, the Panthers and Broncos, to the Super Bowl. He's a 13-year veteran head coach who maintains his own established methods of leadership, and it's all something the Bears must get used to. When you factor in the lack of control that clouded the 2014 season, adapting to new teaching will be noteworthy.
Fox was trusted by management as the man to bring the Bears a winner, and the players must trust him, too. That all begins in training camp, which is just around the corner.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.
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