Ron Rivera welcomes his old team to Charlotte as the Carolina Panthers play host to the Chicago Bears in the preseason opener for both clubs.
Carolina is probably a little better off than most think after an uneven 2012 season. Obviously getting more consistency from ultra- talented quarterback Cam Newton would go a long way in curing many of the Panthers' woes so maximizing his efficiency has to be paramount.
One way Carolina could have helped Newton was clearing up the question marks on the offensive line but that really wasn't addressed. Newton could also use more weapons outside. Veteran Steve Smith is still plenty productive but on the downside and Brandon LaFell is entering a contract year. Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn aren't the answers, however.
New Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman instead decided to create a defensive identity inside in the draft by selecting back- to-back defensive tackles in the first and second rounds. Star Lotulelei is a run-stuffer in the mold of Haloti Ngata, while Kawann Short is an athletic wonder, whose motor gets questioned on occasion.
For Chicago forget out of the box, the Bears went north of the border in an effort to get the most out of their enigmatic but extremely talented quarterback Jay Cutler.
Bears G.M. Phil Emery is just the latest NFL general manager to subscribe to the theory that most of the innovation in football, especially offensive football, is taking place outside the league in places like college, the Arena Football League and Canada, where Marc Trestman, who replaces Lovie Smith as head coach of the Bears, was a two-time Grey Cup winner as the pilot of the Montreal Alouettes.
It will be Trestman's job to get the most out of Cutler, who some have already labeled a coach- killer, pointing to his troubles in Denver with Josh McDaniels and Smith's departure from the Second City as evidence.
Curing Chicago's offensive line woes will go a long way in helping Cutler and the team brought in high-priced free agent Jermon Bushrod to secure the all- important left tackle position, as well as Matt Slauson and first-round pick Kyle Long to bolster the guard spots.
"He'll play very, very limited," Trestman said when asked how much Cutler would play in the preseason opener. "How limited, I don't know. It could be three plays, it could be one play, it could be eight plays. I'm not trying to be smart. We'll see how the flow of the game goes. If we go three-and-out, we'll decide if he goes back in for another three. He may not. It's really just a general feel on what we want to get accomplished that time."
Defensively, all eyes will be on veteran D.J. Williams and rookie Jon Bostic, who will compete for the right to be compared with future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, who retired in the offseason after contract talks with the Bears went nowhere.
Some Bears starters won't play at all, however, according to Trestman.
"I would not expect our starters to play very long," the first-year coach said. "We'll start pulling them out some time in the first quarter. We'll allow the guys competing for positions -- certainly special teams positions, which is critically important -- to get on the field and see how they work, see how they tackle, see how they play for the first time in a real game in a real football environment."
The Bears and Panthers have squared off on just two previous occasions in the preseason, last meeting in 1995 and 1996. In Carolina's inaugural year (1995), the Bears won 18-15 at Soldier Field before the Panthers rebounded the next season with a 30-12 victory in the Tar Heel State