By Jacob Kornhauser on April 28, 2014
Following a somewhat disappointing 8-8 season in Chicago, expectations for the Bears are much higher this year. A lot of that comes as a result of the seemingly much improved defense. On both sides of the ball, there are plenty of players who need to prove themselves in different ways in the upcoming season. Here are five of them.
After two seasons, the former first-rounder has fallen well short of expectations. That's not all his fault as he was a 3-4 pass rusher drafted by a team running the 4-3. However, he put on 20 pounds of muscle in anticipation of his move to outside linebacker this season. If he can be effective there, then he will have been worth the first-round selection.
Wilson was a borderline first-round talent coming out of the draft, but fell to the Bears in the seventh round because he quit football during his junior year of college. The talent is still there and the Bears are confident enough in him that they cut receiver Earl Bennett in part to let him compete for the No. 3 receiver spot. This year will determine if he's the last piece of a three-headed receiving monster or just another receiver.
Bushrod wasn't bad last season and was certainly a huge upgrade in protecting quarterback Jay Cutler's blind side. However, he didn't quite earn his $ 7 million. He was inconsistent at times and will have to show more consistency in order to give Cutler more time in the pocket and allow the offense to grow even more than it did in year one under head coach Marc Trestman.
Last season, the Bears had the worst combined safety play in the league. Half of that group was Conte, who had a promising career prior to last season. Part of the problem was the fact that the Bears' defensive line couldn't produce a pass rush and so sometimes the secondary was left out to dry. Regardless, if Conte can't show the Bears something this season, he may not have a job anywhere in 2015.
Had the Bears not reformatted his contract, Cutler would've been the highest-paid player in football this season. He needs to start playing like it. Cutler took huge strides in 2014 while not injured and gave the organization enough confidence to hand him a seven-year extension. He's the face of the franchise -- now it's time for him to lead them to the promised land.
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