There is a perception around the 2016 edition of the Chicago Bears defense. Justifiably, I think that they will be greatly improved.
The prognosis on offense is less clear. Jay Cutler is the Chicago Bears quarterback of the present and future. There is enough young talent at running back and wide receiver that both could develop into solid position groups, and tight end, while clearly not a strength of this team, doesn’t have to be a liability.
But the likelihood of future success on offense is very much an unknown right now because it will all be dictated by the play of an offensive line that is at best a work in progress.
The one sure thing in the Bears' front wall, Kyle Long, is watching from the sidelines with what is hoped to be a minor calf strain. Long should be fine by opening day.
While he struggled at right tackle last year, he is clearly one of the best guards in the game.
Bears coach John Fox is comfortable enough with his Pro Bowl guard that he sees the silver lining in his time off the field.
“It’s huge," Fox said about the extra reps for other players in Long's absence. "We use, and you get sick of hearing it, but I’m going to keep using it, and that’s next man up, the old Wally Pipp story.
“Everybody starts off a nobody, sometimes you don’t know that until they get the opportunity. So it gives you a chance to look at other guys and we don’t wait for anybody.”
Make no mistake, Fox is not looking for a Lou Gehrig to replace Long. He is just pleased with the opportunity to get a longer look at some of the new kids on the block because right now by his definition they are a collection of nobodies.
“Cody Whitehair is a rookie draft pick and Ted Larsen is a new guy to us," Fox said. "So they are getting the reps there and are getting more familiar with our system and it gives them an opportunity.
“When Kyle gets back, obviously he’ll plug back in, but those reps are very valuable for those guys moving forward, whether it’s in a backup role or someone gets nicked in a game and they got to go in.”
Actually with Matt Slauson in San Diego, one of those two will have to start at left guard and Whitehair looks like the favorite.
Fox also acknowledges the uncertainty around Hroniss Grasu at center.
“He had a bit of a setback when he had the injury (last season)," Fox said. "I thought he was coming along petty good, He did miss that time, that is hard coming back from injury, especially as a rookie. But I liked his growth and development during the off-season program, and I like what I've seen from him so far this year.”
Bobby Massie is one of the potential stalwarts of Ryan Pace’s 2016 unrestricted free agent class and a huge 6-6, 320-pound run-blocking specialist who will be an upgrade over Jordan Mills – and maybe even Long at right tackle – but was deemed expendable by Arizona after four seasons.
The Bears will run right a lot behind Long and Massie, but can the newcomer protect Cutler?
And lastly there is the ultimate protection question: Can Charles Leno, Jr. reward the confidence Fox and Pace clearly have in him at left tackle?
There is more than one pro scout out there who questions where that confidence is coming from.
Depth is a huge question as well. Amini Silatolu will challenge for playing time at guard once his knee is completely rehabbed but the swing tackle at the moment appears to be Nick Becton.
No offense to the Becton family but ...
So the long and short of it is this: If Massie, Grasu, Whitehair and Leno, Jr. are all at the front end of solid NFL careers, the offense should be at least somewhat improved.
But if any one or two of them prove to be less than the real deal, the Bears have a real problem.
• Hub Arkush is the Executive Editor of Pro Football Weekly. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org