After an up-and-down season led to a 10-6 finish that did not include the playoffs, the Chicago Bears surprised many observers by firing head coach Lovie Smith, despite his becoming the second coach in the Super Bowl era to take the team to the big game.

So the Bears enter a new era in 2013. Marc Trestman will try to join Bud Grant and Marv Levy as coaches who have had success as NFL head coaches following successful tenures in the Canadian Football League. He’ll do so with a heavily re-tooled offensive line and a defense that will be without Brian Urlacher for the first time since he was drafted in 2000.

Jake Perper, owner and head writer of Bears Backer, so far likes the direction the Bears are headed. Here are the thoughts he shared:

Zoneblitz: Chicago finished 10-6 in 2012, but missed the playoffs. How would you characterize the season?

Perper: The 2012-2013 season was one of the most interesting seasons in Chicago Bears history. You had the sense that this team really had the chance to go all the way because of their high scoring defense, but their offensive identity plagued them once again. I would characterize the 2012 season as disappointing to say the least after what they were able to accomplish on the field even with all the key injuries.

Zoneblitz: What did you think of the team’s decision to fire Lovie Smith?

Perper: I think Lovie did a wonderful job in his time in Chicago, but his time was running out. With a new general manager in town Lovie was clearly on a year-to-year basis with the team. He was a humble guy, who just couldn’t get the right coordinators to come in to coach up the offense. You only get so many chances and in this league and he just couldn’t get it done. He would be one great defensive coordinator for an NFL team I’ll tell you that much.

Zoneblitz: How about Phil Emery’s first season as general manager?

Perper: I thought he did a solid job. He added depth at key areas (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and cornerback). He ignored the offensive line and tight end core and that proved to be a big mistake. I think he wanted to give some guys some chances specifically Gabe Carimi and Kellen Davis, but they failed at making the most of their opportunities. I think they should have drafted or signed a young linebacker last season especially with Urlacher’s time coming to an end.

Zoneblitz: What is your impression of the Marc Trestman hiring?

Perper: I kind of had the feeling all along that the Bears were going to add an offensive-minded coach and when I read about all the guys the Bears were looking at Trestman really intrigued me. He has done nothing but good things in the NFL and most recently in the CFL. Trestman really likes what he sees in Cutler already and that could only mean good things for the Bears. A coach that properly knows how to use Cutler and his offensive weapons could lead this team to the promise land .

Zoneblitz: What do you think of the decision to move on from Brian Urlacher and how is the team prepared to replace his leadership and the play of Urlacher and Nick Roach at linebacker?

Perper: I think the way the whole thing was handled was on both side was wrong, but I think it was time for the Bears to move on. A one-year $2 million contract for the 35-year old Urlacher is plenty much and for him to be upset at the Bears for offering that and then go on to say he would play somewhere else for that much is just wrong in my mind. It’s going to be tough to replace a vocal leader like Urlacher on the field and in the locker room, but the Bears might have found themselves a gem in former Broncos star D.J. Williams. Expect them to draft a linebacker that they can groom for the future.

Zoneblitz: With quite a bit of change at some key spots and age still a factor, how do you feel about the defense heading into 2013?

Perper: I think the defense will be just fine. It will be a change for these guys without #54 in the middle and without Lovie Smith running the show. But Mel Tucker runs a similar scheme to the Cover 2 defense that the Bears have been playing. I think if they can stay healthy and once again get an effective pass rush from Henry Melton, Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton there’s no reason this defense shouldn’t be back among the top defenses in the NFL. Second-year defensive end Shea McClellin needs to take the next step this season to help this Bears’ defense however.

Zoneblitz: The offensive line has been a huge issue. What do you think of the additions of Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Jonathan Scott? Has the team sufficiently upgraded that unit?

Perper: I love the signing of Bushrod. He is what the Bears have needed on the o-line since their 2006 Super Bowl run. Losing guard Lance Louis to the Dolphins really hurts, but the addition of veteran Matt Slauson really helps the depth at that position. Slauson projects as a starter at left guard. They should look to add another guard either through free agency or the draft.  J’Marcus Webb should take over at right tackle while Jonathan Scott will serve as the swing tackle. Gabe Carimi could get a legitimate chance to start at right guard where he played rather well at late last season.

Zoneblitz: The additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery last year and Martellus Bennett this offseason give Jay Cutler some pretty solid weapons to pair with Matt Forte. What is your sense for how the offense is shaping up for 2013?

Perper: You saw last year many flashes of greatness from this Bears’ offense. They certainly have the weapons now for Jay Cutler. Bennett will give Cutler a big target down the middle of the field that will help stretch defenses and keep drives alive. We saw too many times last season Cutler depend on his tight ends and they failed him. If given proper time Cutler should finally take that next step. Matt Forte will be used more in the passing game as well which will only open up things for this offense.

Zoneblitz: How far off are the Bears from being a playoff contender in 2013 and beyond?

Perper: I don’t think this Bears team is far off from being a playoff contender. I know they’re in a so-called “transition” period, but let’s be real they have weapons now on offense and that defense still can play at high level. The window is closing for the defense though. Briggs, Peppers, Tillman and Jennings aren’t getting much younger. I know it’s ridiculous to think they can put it all together with a whole new coaching staff, but there is a lot of familiarity on this team. They certainly have a chance to make the playoffs, but it won’t be easy in a tough NFC North.

Zoneblitz: Who on the roster do you see having a breakout 2013 season?

Perper: Safety Brandon Hardin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. These young players both played their first seasons with the Bears a year ago. Hardin suffered a neck injury in pre-season and was lost for the season. He was a third-round pick last season out of Oregon State. The 6’3″ safety has serious potential and could easily push Chris Conte or Major Wright for a starting spot. Don’t be shocked to see him starting sometime next season. Jeffery was effective in his first season, but was injury prone and showed his rawness a little often. He should shine next season opposite Brandon Marshall. He is a smart kid who keeps to himself. He should be a key weapon this upcoming season.

Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Bears do through the rest of free agency and the draft?

Perper: Well with little cap room available the Bears aren’t going to make many flashy moves, but they still have a lot of work to do. They need to re-sign defensive end Israel Idonije. They’ll likely work on a long term deal with defensive tackle Henry Melton to try to free up some cap room. But as far as depth moves and the draft go I see them adding a guard, defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and quarterback. Those are their top needs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take a speedy wide receiver late in the draft with Devin Hester and Eric Weems likely playing just special teams this upcoming season. Defensive depth seems to be the most pressing need other than the offensive line and backup quarterback spot.

Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Perper: Thanks for having me. Bear Down!

Follow Bears Backer on Twitter at: @BearsBacker
Follow on Twitter at: @ZoneblitzCom

Previous In Depth: New York Giants
Next In Depth: Cincinnati Bengals