Fox makes no bold predictions for Bears in his second season
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) While history says his teams make a jump in Season 2, John Fox wasn't making any bold predictions for the Chicago Bears.
He just knows they are in a better spot than they were a year ago.
''It's hard to predict what's going to happen,'' he said. ''But … I'm pleased with where we are this year. If I had to compare to something, it would be this time last year and I feel much better about where we are now than I did at this time a year ago.''
The Bears enter their second training camp under Fox and general manager Ryan Pace with a different look after a busy offseason. Their sights are set higher coming off a last-place finish in the NFC North at 6-10.
They did look more like a professional outfit after being engulfed by chaos the previous season. But they are seeking more.
Fox's record suggests they can expect that in Season 2. Carolina went from seven wins in 2002 to 11 and won the NFC championship in 2003, while Denver went from eight wins in 2011 to 13 in 2012.
Here are some things to watch during training camp:
TAKE TWO: Now that Kevin White is healthy after missing his rookie season with a stress fracture in his left shin, maybe he and Alshon Jeffery will form the dynamic receiver tandem the Bears envisioned.
Then again, Jeffery is a bit of a question mark after injuries limited him to nine games. He still led the team in receiving. But calf, hamstring, groin and shoulder problems raised questions about his durability even though he played in all 16 games the previous two years.
Jeffery also stayed away from the team's voluntary organized activities after being designated a franchise player during free agency.
REPLACING PLAYMAKERS: The Bears are down two of their top playmakers on offense now that Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett are gone. And they are banking on players who are somewhat unproven or have long injury histories to replace them.
The decision not to offer two-time Pro Bowler Forte a contract after eight seasons dealt a blow to both the running and passing games. It also created a big opportunity for Jeremy Langford, who showed promise as a rookie and finished with 537 yards rushing and 279 receiving. Ka'Deem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers and fifth-round pick Jordan Howard also figure in the mix.
At tight end, the Bears are entrusting Zach Miller after trading Bennett to New England. That's hardly a sure thing: Miller missed the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons because of injuries. But he re-established himself in Chicago last season, catching 34 passes for 439 yards and a team-leading five touchdown receptions. That led to a two-year contract in March.
DEFENSIVE BOOST: The Bears have been overhauling a defense that ranked among the worst in franchise history ever since Pace and Fox arrived. That continued during the offseason.
The Bears signed Danny Trevathan from Super Bowl champion Denver and added Jerrell Freeman from Indianapolis to fill needs at inside linebacker. They traded up to draft Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd with the ninth pick, believing his athleticism will give them a pass-rush threat who can also drop back into coverage.
The Bears, a franchise built on a foundation of defense, tied for 22nd in sacks and 30th in interceptions. But they believe they are poised to make a jump.
PROTECTION: Only one of the five offensive linemen who started the first three games in 2015 – Kyle Long – figures to be in the lineup for the opener. And he is at a different position, back at right guard after filling in at right tackle a year ago. That switch was made possible by the signing of Bobby Massie. The Bears have Hroniss Grasu at center, with Charles Leno at left tackle and rookie Cody Whitehair and veteran Ted Larsen at left guard.
CONTINUITY FOR CUTLER: The Bears lost their offensive coordinator when Adam Gase took the Miami Dolphins' head coaching job. But they at least maintained some continuity by promoting quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. That should mean a smoother transition for Jay Cutler, who had a career-high 92.3 passer rating and cut his interceptions from 18 to 11 in 15 games.
INJURY WATCH: Linebacker Pernell McPhee had arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, and it was not clear if he will be ready for the start of camp. McPhee slowed after a strong start last season, finishing with six sacks after getting five in the first seven games.
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