Arkush: Bears answer offseason questions quickly

Chicago's Shea McClellin (99) and Zachary Bowman (38) takes down Dallas's Miles Austin in the first quarter. The Bears won 45-28 Monday, December 9, 2013 at Soldier Field. (H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)

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When general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman met with the media Thursday morning, it was presumably to summarize and put a bow on the 2013 season, and set the table for a very busy offseason as prelude to 2014.

When Emery opened the session with the news the Bears had signed four-year contracts with cornerback Tim Jennings and offensive guard Matt Slauson, and a seven–year deal with quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears roller coaster ride of a 2013 regular season was temporarily relegated to afterthought.

The single biggest question facing the Bears organization has been answered, and answered emphatically.

The championship hopes of this current generation of Bears players, and the coaching and front office careers of Trestman and Emery, have been entrusted to one of the most controversial players in the NFL.

Can a player still be a great prospect after eight years in the league? The Bears apparently believe the answer is yes.

There is no question about Cutler’s arm, release, mobility or athletic ability. He has all the tangibles to make himself an elite quarterback in the league.

But why hasn’t it happened over his first eight seasons?

Some believe the problems have been his coaches and supporting casts. Others believe it’s been his attitude and personality.

Realistically, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

All that matters now is if Trestman can leverage Cutler’s tangibles and help him perform on a consistent basis like a Brett Favre. Cutler will never be a surgeon like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. That’s just not his style.

Brett Favre won a Super Bowl and multiple MVP Awards, and stylistically he’s the elite quarterback Cutler’s unique skill set most closely matches.

To his credit, Cutler insisted Chicago is the only place he wanted to be and that the only way he was wading into the free agent marketplace was if the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Now he has to win.

The next biggest news to come from the Bears braintrust were the admissions by Emery that he had probably erred by projecting Shea McClellin as a hand–on–the–ground, pass–rushing defensive end, and that the middle linebacker spot he drafted Jon Bostic to play will probably not prove to be his best position in the NFL.

It should be good news to Bears fans that Emery is now acknowledging that, but there also has to be concern that those mistakes could be compounded by what they do next.

The general manager and coach talked about finding ways to take advantage of McClellin’s “special skills,” and Trestman indicated that could conceivably be at the strong–side linebacker either in the Bears' 4-3 defense or in a 3-4.

While Trestman indicated he thinks the Bears have the expertise and coaching ability in the building to play a 3-4, and that they’ll consider all options, it’s still very unlikely the Bears make the switch in defensive schemes.

Since Trestman and Emery were both effusive in their praise of Lance Briggs and belief that he will continue to be a Pro Bowl-type weak-side linebacker, it appears that could leave McClellin and Bostic competing for the strong-side spot.

While Trestman and Emery avoided making definitive statements about anything, both were adamant they will get younger on defense.

When I asked Emery if the natural extension of that was that it bode poorly for the futures of veteran free agents Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams, James Anderson, Jeremiah Ratliff and potential salary cap casualty Julius Peppers, he responded that wasn’t the case at all.

Since those four and Briggs are the oldest players on the defense, it is best case a puzzle as to how the Bears get younger without replacing some or all of them with younger players.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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