LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears heard plenty of talk about their possible regression during an offseason brought on by Cody Parkey's double-doink field goal miss.
Their solution for backsliding following a 12-4 season is how much they believe in quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's development.
It's up to Trubisky to do more than manage an offense. He needs to lead the Bears' bid to a repeat as NFC North champions to remove pressure from other aspects of the team.
"He's leaps and bounds further than he was last year," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "Now we know what he likes, and so we're just trying to put it into action."
The Bears have kept Trubisky under wraps in preseason, and his improvement in Year 2 of Nagy's offense wasn't easily discernible while he faced his team's dominant defense in training camp scrimmages.
Trubisky improved from a 77.5 passer rating to 95.4 last season, and threw 24 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions. He'll need to step up more if problems occur from defensive changes or with a running game relying now on unproven rookie David Montgomery and free agent acquisition Mike Davis.
The Bears need to become more of a complete team, and for Trubisky to guarantee this he has to be better at diagnosing defenses in his third NFL season.
"I think that gives you confidence as a player because when you know where to go with the football you can kind of control the defense more with your eyes and rhythm, and anticipate throws as opposed to reacting," Trubisky said.
A year ago at preseason's end, the Bears made the trade to turn around their fortunes by acquiring Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders. It transformed a formidable defense into a dominant one. Now Trubisky and the offense look to take their turn.
"The defense bailed us out last year a lot and we want to do our job more often this year," running back Tarik Cohen said.
If Trubisky really has improved, Bears on both sides of the ball think they can deal with a much tougher schedule and become Super Bowl contenders.
"We're really chasing that goal right now," safety Eddie Jackson said. "We're not just talking about it."
Trubisky has something he didn't early last year with a healthy wide receiver Allen Robinson. Now two years removed from ACL surgery, Robinson has developed into a favorite big-play target.
Trubisky, offensive and defensive players and coaches have sung Robinson's praises daily.
"At the end of the day, I want to be the best receiver in this league," Robinson said. "That's never not been my goal.
"So each and every day I come out there and try to put in the work to do that."
After Parkey was dispatched, Eddy Pineiro emerged the winner in a kicking battle with Elliott Fry, and countless other candidates earlier. Pineiro has a strong leg, but has never kicked in a regular-season NFL game.
Patience with Pineiro won't be extensive.
"Everybody knows that we've got to get this thing right," Nagy said.
Nagy built a reputation last year for trick plays, or gambling with 2-point conversions and fourth downs. Plays often centered on Cohen's quickness, but the acquisition in free agency of return man/receiver/running back Cordarrelle Patterson provides more potential for fooling opponents.
"I think that's probably our biggest strength, is unpredictability," Nagy said.
Having new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano lessens the blow of losing Vic Fangio to become Broncos head coach. Pagano, who has been in the NFL 16 seasons, changed parts of Fangio's scheme, but his personal touch gives players confidence.
"You can tell that this guy's been around the game for 30 years, has had some great teams, some great defenses, and I look forward to playing for the guy," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "He gives you that feeling of understanding and want to. You want to play for Chuck."
Scheme change seems to be of little problem, but this could change once real games begin.
"I mean, you've still got the same group of guys out there, almost, you know what I mean?" Mack said. "The same energy and the same effort, and the play call can't really change that."
The trade of Jordan Howard let Nagy implement his back-by-committee approach with more versatile players.
Davis and Montgomery can catch the ball and gain rushing yards by being elusive or powering through tacklers. Bears running backs last year averaged only 3.8 yards a carry.
"You can't have 1- and 2-yard gains," Nagy said. "You've got to have some chunks so you can pick that (offense) up.
"We need to be better in the run game. That's a focus for us and our guys understand that."