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10 Bears we’ll be counting on this season

Matt Forte

Matt Forte

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BACK IN BOURBONNAIS

The Bears’ first training camp under new coach Marc Trestman begins in just a few days at Olivet Nazarene University. Here’s a quick look at what to expect if you’re heading down to Bourbonnais:

MARC IN THE MORNING

Set your alarms for early wakeups. One of the most significant changes from Lovie Smith is that Trestman is a morning person. Every practice but three — one being ‘‘Family Fest’’ at Soldier Field on Aug.  3 — begins at 9 a.m.

It’s a change that will continue after training camp when the Bears return to Halas Hall.

‘‘You know what? I am a morning person, but I was a little thrown off by it,’’ cornerback Charles Tillman said. ‘‘But it’s all part of the change, something that we are just going to have to get used to because Coach Trestman is here to stay, his rule is here to stay.’’

ON THE GO

The hectic pace of rookie minicamp and organized team activities will continue during training camp. Trestman follows a practice-fast, play-fast philosophy, especially when it comes to the offense, and wants the Bears consistently moving at a game pace. Walk-throughs will remain a valuable part of his process.

Unique special-teams circuits — with starters participating — were one of the more interesting parts of offseason training. Special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Joe DeCamillis has a strong presence.

MARK THE CALENDAR

The Bears’ first day of practice is Friday. Camp breaks Aug. 14.

◆ Practices on Aug. 5 and Aug. 11 will be at 3:15 p.m. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. those days. For morning practices, team-oriented drills begin around 9:45.

◆ The Bears’ first preseason game is Aug. 9 at Carolina.

—Adam L. Jahns

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Updated: August 22, 2013 6:53AM



To running back Matt Forte, ‘‘different’’ means good things are ahead. It means more looks and more responsibilities, more carries and more receptions. He hopes it means more touchdowns for him and the Bears’ offense — and more wins.

‘‘Different’’ is what the world is under new coach Marc Trestman, and Forte beams when talking about his part in it.

‘‘There’s so many different plays and different routes for the running back,’’ he said recently. ‘‘I’m excited about it because there are so many different aspects [where] I can get the ball and do something.’’

With that in mind, Forte tops the Sun-Times’ list of the 10 players most important to the Bears’ success in 2013. There’s plenty to consider with a new coach and the numerous changes the Bears have made, but it’s Forte who could have the most impact.

1. RB Matt Forte

You’re thinking, ‘‘Why isn’t quarterback Jay Cutler No. 1, since this is the biggest season of his maligned career?’’ But a healthy, productive Forte will be critical for Cutler and the Bears. He’ll be Cutler’s best friend, tasked with turning two-yard swing passes into first downs and creating mismatches in Trestman’s get-the-ball-out-fast offense.

Productive running backs have been a staple of Trestman’s NFL offenses and a vital part of what he ran in Canada. Forte may be the most versatile back Trestman has worked with in his career. Let’s remember all the praise Trestman gave Forte at the NFL owners meetings: ‘‘He has a skill set that goes full spectrum of what you want.’’ Forte has already won over Trestman. Cutler seemingly hasn’t.

2. QB Jay Cutler

Whether it blossoms or withers, Cutler’s relationship with Trestman will be scrutinized.

‘‘The big thing for Jay Cutler is just realizing that you have an unbelievable opportunity here to work with a guy who has really had success with quarterbacks,’’ said Rich Gannon, who became an MVP quarterback under Trestman with the Oakland Raiders. Cutler has impressed Trestman in offseason workouts, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to maximize the talents that make No. 6 a franchise quarterback in general manager Phil Emery’s eyes.

3. DT Henry Melton

The Bears’ defense may look the same, but it’s in transition. Linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman will be looked to for leadership with Brian Urlacher gone, while Melton has a chance to cement himself as the next star. Defensive end Julius Peppers will do what he does, but Melton’s interior pass rush helps everything.

Melton is affable and more of a leader than some think. He’s also that hard-to-find interior pass rusher with athleticism. He didn’t get the multiyear deal he wanted and will play under his franchise tender, but another Pro Bowl season could secure that and more for him.

4. LT Jermon Bushrod

You could argue that Cutler threw so much to Brandon Marshall in 2012 because of their friendship and Marshall’s immense talent, but consider the lack of protection from the offensive line, too. Cutler often had only enough time to go through one read before finding a defender in his face. Bushrod was signed to help fix that. It helps Bushrod that he has worked under offensive coordinator and line coach Aaron Kromer, too.

5. LB Lance Briggs

With Urlacher gone, Briggs will handle the defensive calls. He has the experience and intelligence, and it helps that nine of 11 starters return.

In 2009, Briggs made the Pro Bowl when Urlacher was injured for 15 games. He’s as durable as they come and still has big-play potential. The Bears will need him in many ways.

6. LB D.J. Williams

Williams takes over in the middle for Urlacher. By all accounts, his transition has gone well. The Bears aren’t asking him to be Urlacher, but they are expecting him to be more physically capable than Urlacher, who was hobbled by injuries in his last few seasons. Williams is still fast enough to go from sideline to sideline. He’s also motivated after being cut by the Denver Broncos and written off because of off-the-field issues.

7. TE Martellus Bennett

Cutler didn’t have a consistently viable secondary option last season, especially over the middle. So here’s Bennett. Marshall has said he expects the big tight end to take some of the load off of him. Bennett could be everything Kellen Davis wasn’t as a receiver but can block just as well. He’s an outspoken personality, but there are no signs that will be an issue, and it might help.

8. WR Brandon Marshall

Listing him behind Bennett might seem silly, but Marshall already has proved himself as one of the best receivers in the game. Trestman always has had productive receivers in his offenses — Jerry Rice had some stellar seasons with Trestman with the San Francisco 49ers — and Marshall will get ample opportunities, but there will be more balance.

9. OG Kyle Long

The Bears’ new offense features an inside-out protection scheme that puts plenty on guards Long, James Brown and Matt Slauson. Long, who missed most of the offseason activities because of an NFL rule, was taken at No. 20 with the expectation of making an immediate impact. He’ll be a starter at some point, if not by Week 1, and how he handles things in the interior of the Bears’ line will be crucial.

10. CB Tim Jennings

The success Jennings and Tillman had as a tandem in 2012 was a major component of the defense’s overall success. Tillman has been largely consistent over his career, while Jennings hasn’t. He settled into the scheme last year, showing a knack for big plays, especially in zone coverage. His league-best nine interceptions led to a Pro Bowl appearance.

It’s unfair to expect similar results from Jennings this season, but anything close — say, four or five interceptions — would be immensely beneficial.



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