With new coaches implementing new schemes on both sides of the ball, there will be countless storylines to monitor when the Bears report to training camp Wednesday in Bourbonnais.
Five players who will be especially intriguing to watch beginning Thursday when the team conducts its first practice at Olivet Nazarene University include the following:
|Jared Allen will move from defensive end to outside linebacker for the Bears this year.|
"I'm at home studying the playbook," Allen said during the offseason. "I haven't done that in 10 years, so it's actually fun. It's energetic. It's really cool. It's a totally different style. I don't have to hit people every single time, which is kind of nice, too. It's a completely different position."
Allen is eager for a fresh start after posting just 5.5 sacks in his first season with the Bears last year. He had averaged 14.5 sacks over the previous seven seasons—twice leading the league—and his 134 career sacks are the most by any player since Allen entered the NFL in 2004.
"[The position change] really refreshed me, especially coming off last year where—I'll be real honest—mentally I never really experienced that in my career and I had to own that," Allen said. "I told the guys that wasn't me. At 12 years to kind of start over, it's real cool."
The first offensive lineman in Bears history to be voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two NFL seasons, Kyle Long has started all 31 games he's played at right guard.
But Long practiced at right tackle and left tackle late in the offseason program and could continue to move around in training camp. The Bears often play linemen at different positions in practice because they want to be prepared to deal with injuries in games.
NFL teams typically dress only seven offensive linemen on game day and could be forced to play someone at an unfamiliar position if they lose a couple starters. It happened in 2012 when both Bears starting guards, Lance Louis and Chris Spencer, were injured in a game against the Vikings and tackle Gabe Carimi had to play guard for the first time in his career.
It will be interesting to see whether Long ultimately remains at right guard or switches to tackle. Either way, he's expected to once again help anchor the offensive line this season.
The first free agent signed by new Bears general manager Ryan Pace, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was acquired in part to bring toughness and attitude to the defense.
The 6-3, 280-pounder is a productive and versatile defender who played outside linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle the past four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. In 60 games, he recorded 92 tackles, 17 sacks, 24 tackles-for-loss, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
"There are a couple things that stand out with him," Pace said after signing McPhee. "First of all, he's disruptive. He hits the quarterback a ton. I think he's an ascending player. I like the violence that he plays with. He's got length, gets off blocks. I think he's a well-rounded player, too. He's a productive pass rusher but also a steady, consistent run defender."
The Bears signed Antrel Rolle in free agency to help bring stability and more veteran leadership to the safety position. Rolle arrives after spending his first 10 NFL seasons with the Cardinals (2005-09) and Giants (2010-14). He has appeared in 148 games with 139 starts and recorded 788 tackles, 26 interceptions, 70 pass breakups, eight forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and four sacks.
In Chicago, Rolle rejoins former Giants teammate Ryan Mundy, who started all 16 games at strong safety for the Bears last season. A three-time Pro Bowler, Rolle has been extremely durable throughout his career. He has started 80 consecutive games, the third-longest active streak among NFL safeties and has missed just one game over the last nine seasons.
Rolle played cornerback his first three NFL seasons before switching to safety in 2008. He helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI in 2011 and served as a team captain the past two seasons.
Another free agent acquisition, Eddie Royal gives the Bears a productive and experienced slot receiver who already has a bond with quarterback Jay Cutler, a former Broncos teammate.
Royal's most productive NFL season remains his rookie year, when he caught 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns while teaming with Cutler in Denver in 2008. Royal also played for Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase with the Broncos.
"I played with Jay before, so that was very important just having that comfort level with him," Royal said after signing with the Bears. "I played for coach Fox and played for coach Gase. I felt comfortable once I got here, just being around everybody. Playing for those guys before, I know that they know how to win."