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The Marc Trestman era officially get underway Sunday at Soldier Field as the Chicago Bears play host to one of the most underrated teams in the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals come into the season riding the waves of back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since the 1990’s. Cincinnati also possesses one of the games top young receiver in A.J. Green and a suffocating defense led by Geno Atkins that does not get near the credit they deserve.
Trestman, 57, will be making his NFL head coaching debut. The NFL assistant coach journeyman, who has been known as a quarterback guru, led the Montreal Allouettes to back-to-back Grey Cup titles in 2009-10 in the Canadian Football League. Trestman has been linked to the personal success of Bernie Kosar, Rich Gannon and Steve Young, just to name of few signal callers under his guidance, has his work cut out for him as he tries to revive an inconsistent Bears offense and quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Bears bolstered their offensive line through the draft and free agency this offseason with the addition of Jermon Bushrod (FA), Matt Slauson (FA) and rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills.
Long, the Bears first round pick (20th overall), and Mills (5th round) have been two of the biggest surprises out of training camp. Both rookies are expected to start on the right side of the line on Sunday.
Another rookie which has shown flashes of brilliance has been second-rounder Jonathon Bostic. The middle linebacker is listed behind D.J. Williams on the depth chart, but Williams started all four preseason games while Williams sat out with a hamstring injury.
As the Bears start a new era with Trestman leading the way, Sunday also marks the end of another era. Arguably one of the best players in Bears history will be absent from the field for the first time in 14 years, Brian Urlacher. The eight-time pro-bowler decided to retire in March after he could not come to agreement on a new contract with the team.
Bostic may eventually be the one to replace Urlacher in the middle, but for now the team will turn to Urlacher’s running mate for the last 10 seasons, Lance Briggs, for guidance and leadership.
Offensively Cutler will be challenged to find a wide receiver or two not named Brandon Marshall, who set career-highs in receptions and yards last season. Running back Matt Forte is expected to excel in Trestman’s style of offense and the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett (FA).
Second-year wide-out Alshon Jeffery is also expected to have a big year and should deter some double teams away from Marshall’s side. Jeffery was plagued by injuries last season.
Keys to the game:
Bears offensive line against the Bengals defensive front. The offensive lined looked leaps and bounds ahead of the curve in the preseason compared to last season, but will have the ultimate test on Sunday. The Bengals front line may be the best the Bears will see all season. Not exactly the test you want in week one with two rookies starting but it should provide a great measuring stick.
Bears defensive backs against the Bengals passing attack. Pro bowlers Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings will be tested early and most likely often as Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will look to third-year wide out A.J. Green in the aerial attack. The two pro bowlers held their own in two meetings against Lions star Calvin Johnson last season, so the duo should be up to the task on Sunday.
Jay Cutler. Cutler in his fifth season in a Bears uniform is in a contract season. Some of Cutler’s best games in a Bears uniform have been in home openers. With a bolstered line in addition to a reliable pass-catching tight end there are no more excuses for Cutler. Look for Cutler to come out and attack the Bengals defense to set an early tone.
Prediction: Bengals may be the better team by the end of the season, but Bears should come out with a little more fire and intensity in front of the home crowd on the lakefront. The Trestman era will start with a bang. Bears 33, Bengals 24.
TRAVIS DAVID is a contributor for FOOTBALL NATION and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tdavid_21.