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Bears face daunting task in 2014

Published: Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 9:18 p.m. CST

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Marc Trestman scored well in many areas in his first season as Bears coach, specifically in overseeing the dramatic improvement of one of the league’s weakest offenses and a significant thawing of the icy relationship Lovie Smith had with the Bears’ faithful.

A completely objective look at the Bears’ 2013 season, however, shows the team also took some significant steps backward.

Smith was fired for going 10-6 in his ninth year as the head coach but failing to make the playoffs.

Is it reasonable to laud Trestman for going 8-8 and also failing to make the playoffs after getting blown out in Week 16 by the Eagles and then losing at home on the last day of the season to the Packers when one win would have clinched the division title?

While Trestman should be applauded for the almost surreal growth of Josh McCown, upgrades to Jay Cutler and significant gains on offense, as the boss, he also has to shoulder the weight for the descent of one of the league’s better defenses under Smith to one of the worst in the NFL.

Where does general manager Phil Emery fit in all of this?

Irrespective of what Brian Urlacher may or may not have had left, the decision to not bring him back doesn’t look very good right now.

Would it be different if D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs had stayed healthy? Perhaps, but the fact is the last really good game the Bears’ defense had was against Seattle in 2012 – until the final minutes when Urlacher’s season ended with a hamstring injury.

Urlacher is irrelevant, though, because his tank was near empty, and the real problem is where does the defense go from here?

Week 1 starters Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, Williams, James Anderson, Tim Jennings, Major Wright and Charles Tillman are free agents, as is recent addition Jeremiah Ratliff.

Youngsters Chris Conte, Shea McClellin, Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene have been disappointing, at best, and that’s probably too kind to Conte and McClellin.

Julius Peppers had his worst year as a pro and appears to have lost something, and counting on Briggs to stay healthy in his mid-30s is now a crapshoot.

There isn’t a single player to rebuild the “D” around as the offseason begins.

Remember that as impressive as the offensive turnaround and the complete rebuilding of the offensive line were, Cutler, McCown, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall were in place for Trestman to build around.

It’s also impossible to ignore that while Trestman’s earned our trust as a man who knows offense, Cutler, McCown, Matt Slauson and Roberto Garza are free agents, and Emery has a tough call to make on what to do about Cutler.

Lost in the tremendous upward and downward mobility of the offense and defense has been the fact that Joe DeCamillis’ special teams suffered a precipitous drop from where they were under Dave Toub, and Devin Hester also is a free agent after eight years with the Bears.

Here is one more disturbing truth about these 2013 Bears: The winning percentage of their 16 opponents was .465, giving them the softest schedule of the six teams that finished 8-8. The only good news there is that earns them the 14th pick in the 2014 draft when they could have picked as low as 19th, where the Dolphins (8-8) stand.

A bit more alarming is the fact that of the 13 teams with worse records than them, only the Lions played an easier schedule.

For all the excitement these Bears created at 3-0, 4-2 and, even, 8-6, once the balance sheet is laid bare in front of us, it is hard to call this season a success or these Bears anything more than somewhat below average.

The trip into this offseason is as paved with uncertainty as any we’ve seen in a number of years.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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