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Many Questions Remain for Phil Emery About Chicago Bears Defense

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COMMENTARY | When Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery locked up franchise QB Jay Cutler to a seven year contract worth up to $126 million, he went a long way towards establishing continuity on the offensive side of the ball.

In addition to signing Cutler, the Bears locked up LG Matt Slauson and CB Tim Jennings to four-year deals of their own. By bringing back Cutler and Slauson, the Bears ensured that 10 of 11 regular offensive starters would remain in their spots, with the lone question mark coming in the form of C Robert Garza, who has already stated he would like to be back next season.

Bears fans experienced rare success on offense that was never seen under former head coach Lovie Smith. Under new head coach Marc Trestman, Chicago finished second in the NFL in points per game (27.8) and eighth in yards per game (381.8).

Yet the team finished a very average 8-8 and, with such a consistently prolific offense, probably should have been better. Their measly record is due in large part to the defense, one that was historically bad and never experienced under Smith.

That's not a knock against Trestman, who, as previously mentioned, has built an offense that appears only to be getting better. With so many key players still young or in their prime, expect the numbers, health permitting, to improve on offense next season, and that has everything to do with Trestman's play calling and ability to maximize the talent he has.

But for the Bears record to improve, the defense must do so as well, and that falls on the shoulders of Emery. Many people have looked at Emery's first two drafts as Bears GM and applauded him for draft picks on the offensive side of the ball, such as Alshon Jeffery in 2012 and Kyle Long and Jordan Mills in 2013.

But it still remains to be seen whether or not Emery has a knack for finding and acquiring talented defensive players. During his end of the season press conference last week at Halas Hall, Emery mentioned that next year's defense would "certainly" be a younger one than this year's. Does that mean that key veterans such as James Anderson, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, and Charles Tillman definitely won't be back? Two of those guys (Briggs and Peppers) are under contract for next season, and received mixed reviews from Emery when asked about them.

Emery applauded Briggs' play and leadership in the locker room, adding he hopes Briggs is a Bear for life. In Peppers' case, Emery merely said he had an "average" season. Could that signal the end for the former All-Pro? Peppers is due to make north of $18 million next season, and there's no way Emery can justify paying a declining defensive end that much when you consider how many other holes there are on the defensive end.

Anderson and Tillman are just two of the numerous free agents the Bears have on their defense, a group that includes Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, Nate Collins, D.J. Williams, Kelvin Hayden and Major Wright. It remains to be seen who, if any, Emery will look to re-sign.

That list doesn't even include young players Jonathan Bostic and Shea McClellin, two of Emery's top draft picks that haven't panned out. Emery talked at great length how both could be looked at for position changes, Bostic from MLB and McClellin from DE.

Then there is the topic of Mel Tucker, the defensive coordinator and architect of one of the worst defenses Bears fans has ever been forced to call its own. Both Emery and Trestman offered their support of Tucker, who was faced with the difficult task of replacing seven starters on defense over the course of the season.

The biggest question Emery faces, however, is one that goes back to himself. Was this disastrous season due to injuries on defense? Or was it due to lack of personnel? Maybe the players Emery put in place initially weren't that bad, and the only problems centered around depth and playing young players before they were ready. After all, when Williams was lost for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle during a victory against the New York Giants, the team ranked eighth against the run. The landslide didn't really start until the next week against the Washington Redskins.

Every team tends to have certain amounts of turnover on both sides of the ball every season, but the Bears will (probably) keep the second-best offense fully intact. It will be interesting to see what Emery decides to do on defense, and Bears fans should be excited.

Billy Grayson is a Yahoo contributor from Chicago and diehard Chicago sports follower. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

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