Bears enter 1st camp under Fox looking to put losing in past
CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Bears had just wrapped up a five-win nightmare season when chairman George McCaskey announced sweeping changes the following day.
He fired general manager Phil Emery, sent coach Marc Trestman packing. And he became downright emotional when asked about his mom Virginia, the team matriarch and daughter of founding father George Halas.
''She's (ticked) off,'' George McCaskey said after about a 10-second pause.
There were all sorts of reasons for the McCaskey family to be ticked off - a defense that ranked among the worst in franchise history, an offense that took a big step back, and enough off-the-field drama to fill a novel.
It all added up to a 5-11 record, with the Bears missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.
They hired 37-year-old Ryan Pace as GM after he spent 14 seasons working for the Saints, and brought in veteran coach John Fox, hoping they can build a winner.
The Bears parted with linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman, mainstays on a once-fierce defense. They also traded controversial and outspoken receiver Brandon Marshall to the Jets.
The Bears will be operating out of a 3-4 alignment on defense instead of a 4-3, with Fox and new coordinator Vic Fangio overseeing the switch. Veterans such as safety Antrel Rolle and linebacker Pernell McPhee have been added.
Pace took a gamble by signing defensive end Ray McDonald - with ownership's approval - in March despite a history of domestic violence accusations against him. Two months later, the Bears released him following a domestic violence arrest in northern California.
There are some major questions hanging over the team with training camp about to start. The first practice is Thursday.
Here are some things to look for.
RESTORING SUCCESS: Fox comes to Chicago with a reputation for turning around losing teams, and the Bears are counting on him to do it again. Unlike Trestman, who was coaching in Canada and had never run an NFL team, he brings with him 119 wins and seven playoff appearances in 13 seasons. He coached Carolina and Denver to Super Bowls, one of six coaches to lead two teams to the championship game.
CUT-TING IT: Not since he arrived from Denver in 2009 has Jay Cutler's future been so cloudy. Pace and Fox waited until March before they declared him the starter for next season. As endorsements go, it was lukewarm at best.
Even though he finished with his highest completion percentage (66 percent) and second-highest passing total (3,812 yards), Cutler continued to make the same mistakes that have defined his career. He led the league with 24 turnovers, including 18 interceptions.
He has been with the Bears through three head coaches and five offensive coordinators.
`MONSTERS' AGAIN: With Fox in, the Bears are going back to their roots and committing to the defense. That's something they strayed from under Emery and Trestman.
Chicago allowed the two highest point totals in franchise history the past two years. Last season, the Bears joined the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons as the only teams to give up 50 or more in back-to-back games.
CATCHING UP: Martellus Bennett is playing catch-up. The free-spirited tight end missed optional offseason workouts because he wanted a contract extension despite having two years remaining. Bennett did participate in mandatory minicamp and vowed to be at training camp on time whether he gets a new deal or not.
Contract talk aside, Bennett is coming off a season unlike any for a Chicago tight end. He set a team record for the position with 90 catches and had 916 yards and six touchdowns.
MOVING OUT: The Bears were hoping for big things after signing DE Jared Allen last season. He did not deliver. And now, he has a new position.
With the Bears going to a 3-4, Allen is moving to outside linebacker. This comes after a rough first season in Chicago in which he was slowed by pneumonia and finished with a career-low 5 1/2 sacks after seven consecutive seasons in double figures.
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