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Chicago Bears season preview: Year of transition?

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Around The NFL's season preview goes to the NFC North.

Change we can believe in


It remains to be seen if Adam Gase can fix Jay Cutler and a broken offense, but the hiring of Vic Fangio -- one of the game's most respected defensive minds -- was one of the great under-the-radar moves of the offseason.

The payoff might be a year or two away because the personnel was ill-suited to Fangio's 3-4 scheme, but there are some interesting nucleus players in free-agent acquisition Pernell McPhee and promising second-year corner Kyle Fuller. The release of Ray McDonald and the early season suspension of Jeremiah Ratliff have overshadowed the emergence of defensive tackle Will Sutton, who has been Fangio's most disruptive defensive force in preseason action.

Fangio will build upon those three keystones as he overhauls the defense in his own image.

Biggest concern


The passing attack was already in question after Jay Cutler got benched for the inimitable Jimmy Clausen down the stretch last season. Now the receiving corps is in shambles. First-round rookie Kevin White, expected to replace Brandon Marshall, is in danger of missing the entire season with a stress fracture in his leg. A calf injury has forced Alshon Jeffery to miss the entire preseason. Veteran slot receiver Eddie Royal is currently dealing with a hip injury, while Marquess Wilson is nursing a hamstring strain. Even if that trio is ready to suit up for Week 1, early season rust is a valid concern.

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Training camp surprise


Coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances, veteran cornerback Tim Jennings signed a four-year, $22.4 million in January of 2014. Just a year and a half later, the Bears' new regime decided they had no use for Jennings, releasing him on Monday. With veteran safety Antrel Rolle looking a step slow and rookie Adrian Amos taking inconsistent routes to the ball, Chicago's secondary appears to be a weak spot beyond Fuller.

What we'll be saying in February


Although the defense showed signs of life under Fangio, the Bears understand it's well past time to cut the cord on Cutler -- or at least bring in real competition. With Matt Forte due to reach free agency, a changing of the guard is in order for Gase's offense.

Predicted finish: Fourth place in NFC North, No. 14 in NFC, No. 30 overall in Around The NFL's Power Poll.

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