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Emma: Key Variables Will Make Or Break Bears' Offense

By Chris Emma--

(CBS) Oh, wouldn't it be nice if there were certainties in the NFL?

Long before training camps commence and depth charts are even near formation, the win-loss records are predicted with so much randomness in the unclear picture. The Bears were preseason favorites to be brutal in 2015, then did about what was expected record-wise while standing competent for much of the campaign.

Predicting the NFL can be a fruitless exercise, because there are so many variables in this team game. Forecasting the Bears' 2016 stands as a tough task, because while the defense has seen significant upgrades at key positions, the Chicago offense has more questions than answers.

The Bears' offense could be a productive unit, with some weapons at important positions who could make a big impact. It also could be a tough season for the offense if some of those variables don't produce quite as planned.

Naturally, quarterback Jay Cutler is the centerpiece of those plans for the offense. Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have openly stated that the franchise is building around Cutler, who's entering the third season -- and last of which brings guaranteed money -- of a seven-year deal.

Cutler has been put in a position to succeed, from the supplying of some depth at receiver to hiring quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator. The Bears' offense centers around Cutler, and questions about him have subsided after he posted a career-best 92.3 quarterback rating in 2015.

The Bears are banking on production at running back, a position led by Jeremy Langford. While Langford can't be expected to completely replace Matt Forte, he will have to bring consistency to the offense. Backups Jacquizz Rodgers, Ka'Deem Carey and rookie Jordan Howard will battle to play roles, too.

Eight seasons saw Forte serve as the rock for the Bears offense, bringing impressive production -- especially when considering the poor supporting casts in place at times. Langford will be tasked with stepping up in his second season, or else the Bears will look elsewhere. In reality, Langford could be a huge hit or largely unproductive.

"We like where Jeremy's at," Loggains said. "He needs to continue to develop."

Tight end is a question mark too, with little depth behind Zach Miller. After the Bears traded Martellus Bennett for reasons outside of football in the offseason, Miller has become the go-to guy at tight end. He submitted a strong 2015 but must avoid the health problems that previously plagued him, otherwise a tight end position that was reliable with Bennett in the fold could be a non-factor this season.

Speaking of health, the pressure's on receiver Alshon Jeffery to consistently suit up each Sunday after only playing nine games in 2015 because of soft-tissue injuries. If he doesn't sign a desired long-term deal by the July 15 deadeline, Jeffery will be playing a prove-it season on the franchise tag.

Fellow receiver Kevin White will (hopefully) be entirely healthy for a makeup rookie season, and the Bears need Eddie Royal to be present in his role at slot receiver. Cutler needs his full arsenal of targets.

"I have a lot of potential," White said on Saturday. "I got to go out there and show it. I'm going to work hard every day."

Of course, it all starts up front with the offensive line, where there are even more questions at hand. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie will have to hold down their respective tackle positions, while youngsters Hroniss Grasu and Cody Whitehair attempt to develop in the interior. Kyle Long can be counted on for rock-solid play as he shifts back to right guard.

There will be a learning curve for Loggains too following his promotion to offensive coordinator. He's touted as an excellent quarterbacks coach but has limited experience as a coordinator. Loggains' lone full season of calling plays came in 2013, when his Titans finished 19th in points per game and 22nd in total offense.

Loggains will expound upon the Adam Gase offense and evolve its schemes into his own.

"Dowell has done it in the league," Fox said. "He is a sharp coach. He's done it before with the quarterbacks room as well as with the rest of the offensive players."

The Bears have plenty of pieces in place offensively to be successful -- not only in 2016, but beyond. The unit is younger and more talented under Pace's watch, and there's a clear plan in place for growth. Still, looking specifically at the short term, there are question marks as to how quickly the offense can reach its potential.

While Cutler is the centerpiece to the Bears' offense -- ideally for the final five seasons of his deal, which would take him through the age of 38 -- those many variables surrounding him have to emerge for the offense to attain continuity.

One could argue the Bears' offense will be explosive for seasons to come just as easily as admitting there's bust potential. At the least, Pace, Fox and Loggains like what's in place.

Just remember not to jump to any conclusions about the Bears' offense just yet. After all, this is the weird, wild NFL we're talking about.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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