Hub Arkush: Bears' final 53 loaded at top
Hallelujah, break out the champagne and let's all have a toast. Training camp is over, the fake games are done, and we are ready to meet our 2013 Bears.
As we predicted all along, in the end there was nary a roster surprise, unless you consider all six of the Bears' rookie draft choices and three undrafted rookie free agents making the team.
Of the veterans who Bears fans hope will lead this team to victory, Jay Cutler, Roberto Garza, Matt Slauson, Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, James Anderson, Tim Jennings, Major Wright, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester and Robbie Gould are all in the final years of their contracts.
The boss, Phil Emery has made it clear there will be no new deals done during the season which means if this group wants to win a ring together, it's now or never.
In more ways than we can count, Cutler is the key to the season. We've wasted a ton of time wondering whether he'd have one or two backups, when the reality is without him this is not a .500 football team. With him ... .
A ton more time has been wasted by folks who know nothing about quarterback mechanics talking about improving his mechanics. The Bears only reach the postseason if Cutler improves between the ears. He will be better because of Marc Trestman, and he is capable of excelling and getting back to the playoffs if he is willing to own Trestman's system and execute exactly the way he is told.
The Bears are the same at running back but vastly improved by "the system." Matt Forte was born to be a West Coast running back and could actually be an MVP candidate this year if the offensive line ... .
Martellus Bennett is an upgrade at tight end, but his addition has been overrated by too many analysts. He was a career backup in Dallas for four years, albeit behind Pro Bowler Jason Witten, and fairly average as the starter last year in New York. The Bears are better at tight end but not special, and still not deep enough.
But it is the offensive line that will decide the fate of this team, this year. The talent is upgraded by Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long, but the questions run deeper than just starting two rookies on the right side. Matt Slauson was not invited back by the Jets, and Roberto Garza is 34 years old.
The offensive line can't just be a little better for this team to contend, it must be significantly improved, and we have no idea yet whether it is.
The defense should be fine if Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Tillman and Jennings are Pro Bowlers again. Is that realistic? Maybe.
They will need help from Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin who need to significantly upgrade their games to make up for the loss of Izzy Indonije. If those two can provide consistent pressure it will keep double teams off Peppers and pressure off the secondary.
The key new arrivals are Jonathan Bostic, D.J. Williams and Isaiah Frey. If all three can just be consistent and better than average, the Defense will compete.
Where this group of 53 scares me is directly behind the starters everywhere but at running back. Ironically, while the offensive line is the biggest question mark, it probably has the best depth with James Brown, Jonathan Scott and Eben Britton.
Nate Collins is a solid third tackle on defense, but Zach Minter and Cornelius Washington are just prospects, and like Khaseem Greene at linebacker and C.J. Wilson at cornerback, they are not ready to play.
Trestman needs some production from Marquess Wilson and Joe Anderson at wide receiver, and whether they're ready to provide it is a huge question.
If absolutely everything goes right, this team can contend. But if just a few things go wrong, they'll be watching the playoffs again.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.