PFW associate editor Dan Parr answers five key questions for the Bears as they head into the 2011 season.
1. Will Jay Cutler establish himself as an elite quarterback?
Cutler was far from elite last season and the team came within one win of the Super Bowl, so he doesn't necessarily have to play at a Pro Bowl level for the Bears to have success. There's still a belief that Cutler is capable of taking his game to another level and that he has yet to realize his potential. If he steps it up and eliminates the occasional nightmare game that has plagued him in the past, the Bears should be in the race for another NFC North title. The Bears haven't surrounded him with the strongest supporting cast, however, and Cutler will have a hard time playing his best if the offensive line struggles like it did for much of last season.
2. Can two young players get the job done at tackle?
Breakdowns in pass protection plagued the Bears' offensive line last season, and it appears that the team will rely on two of its youngest players to seal off the edges this season. Second-year veteran J'Marcus Webb and rookie Gabe Carimi, the 29th overall pick in this year's draft, are likely to serve as bookends on the O-line. Indications are the team will give Webb the first crack at winning the job at left tackle and Carimi will get a shot to start at right tackle. O-line coach Mike Tice did a fine job of getting Webb, who started 12 games, ready last season and Tice has another significant challenge in helping these two make the necessary adjustments.
3. What are the effects of Olin Kreutz's departure?
Kreutz's Bears career came to a surprising conclusion, as negotiations on a new contract broke off when Kreutz turned down a take-it-or-leave it one-year deal. His departure, and the way in which things went down, didn't sit well with some Bears players, but the team moved on, signing former Seahawks C Chris Spencer to fill the void left by Kreutz. The Bears, and specifically the offensive linemen, are going to miss Kreutz's leadership.
4. Will Roy Williams have a resurgent year?
It didn't work out for Williams in Dallas, so he reunited with Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz after the Cowboys cut him. Williams' best seasons came in Martz's offense from 2006-07, when both men were with the Lions, and at 29, the Bears are hoping Williams will get back to producing like a No. 1 receiver in a scheme he once flourished in. The Bears have long needed a wide receiver with size, and, at 6-3, Williams provides that, if nothing else. He should be motivated playing on a one-year deal.
5. Will Zack Bowman reclaim the starting job at left corner?
Bowman was benched in favor of journeyman Tim Jennings in Week Three last season and Bowman didn't start another game the rest of the campaign. He's going to get a chance to compete for the starting spot opposite Charles Tillman in training camp and the preseason and the Bears are expecting him to respond well. The team showed great faith in him in camp last year, when they shifted Tillman to right corner, clearing a spot for Bowman to be the left corner. It was considered a promotion for Bowman, but it was all downhill for him after that.
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