Lake Forest, Ill.– A little over a week remains until the Chicago Bears report to training camp at Halas Hall and with a new regime set to takeover, there is plenty of intrigue that surrounds the Bears heading into the first season of the Ryan Poles-Matt Eberflus era.
The Bears offseason featured a number of transactions that saw Poles and Eberflus lay the foundation for the future moving forward. However, the biggest foundational piece of all, quarterback Justin Fields, a draft pick of the previous regime, was already on the roster.
Entering 2022, the Bears roster does have potential but there remains a lot of work to be done, much of which starts in training camp, with a number of questions that will arise. As training camp draws closer for the Bears, let’s examine five questions that will need to be answered.
1) Did the Bears surround Justin Fields with enough talent for a second-year jump?
How the Bears new front office opted to build around Fields heading into the quarterback’s second season has been a polarizing topic. Some claim the Bears haven’t done enough to give Fields what he needs to succeed, others are of the opinion that the new regime did more than enough by investing in the offensive line and wide receiver positions.
Throughout his rookie season, Fields showcased poise, accuracy, and athleticism, including the ability to get outside the pocket and extend plays with his legs. While Fields still needs to develop chemistry with wide receivers Bryon Pringle and Velus Jones Jr., by entering training camp as the unquestioned starter, Fields will have a chance to build this chemistry rather quickly.
The Bears message is clear when it comes to Fields: The franchise has given him the keys to the kingdom but now, it’s up to Fields to make the most of it.
2) With a defensive reset, who will become a building block?
Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, and Danny Trevathan. The Bears moved on from all five this offseason via trade, free agency, or release, leaving the team with just two starters from the famous 2018 defense: Safety Eddie Jackson and linebacker Roquan Smith.
Now entering a new era, Jackson and Smith are the veterans in the room, alongside names like pass rusher Trevis Gipson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson. In the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bears added to the secondary, drafting cornerback Kyler Gordon (Washington) and safety Jaquan Brisker (Penn State).
With a new identity on defense, the Bears are looking for building blocks. Linebacker Nicholas Morrow signed a one-year deal in free agency. A former college safety, Morrow is rangy and athletic, giving the Bears a versatile chess piece to move all over the field. Second-year cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. has a prime opportunity ahead of him in 2022 to prove that he can play in the slot at a high level.
The Bears rebuild on defense is far from complete but if one or two players emerge, Chicago’s outlook on defense will look vastly different heading into 2023.
3) How will competition among the offensive line set the tone for the regular season?
Among positional battles in training camp, the offensive line will be a key position to watch. Fifth-round pick Braxton Jones has impressed this offseason, leaving many to wonder if he could possibly be the starter at left tackle to open up the 2022 regular season. Then there’s 2021 second-round pick Teven Jenkins, who has seen consistent reps with the second team throughout offseason workouts.
A major question mark at right guard also needs to be addressed, leading to questions about whether or not the Bears would consider shifting either Jenkins or 2021 fifth-round pick Larry Borom inside to right guard. While in college, both Borom and Jenkins primarily played both right guard and right tackle, both players more natural fits.
What happens along the offensive line will be one of many defining factors for the Bears throughout the 2022 season. With just two spots locked in, left guard and center, the next month and a half will reveal a lot about the direction of the Bears front five.
4) Which free agent signing will have the biggest impact?
The Bears were active in free agency, signing a number of players to low-risk, high-reward deals. Key acquisitions included defensive linemen Justin Jones and Al-Quadin Muhammad and wide receivers Bryon Pringle and Equanimeous St.Brown. Muhammad and Jones will likely open the regular season as starters, with Pringle and St.Brown battling for the opportunity to start.
Chicago’s free agency intentions were clear: Roll the dice and see what would become of each individual signing. Early returns throughout offseason team activities and mandatory minicamp that Jones is playing with an unparalleled level of confidence going into 2022, which could mean the Bears could see legitimate returns on Jones, who was a fallback plan for the franchise in free agency.
5) Will the Bears rookie class be better than expected?
When the Bears doubled down on investing in the secondary, drafting cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker in the 2022 NFL Draft, Chicago landed two day one starters with first-round talent. The Bears other nine draft picks have a high enough ceiling to develop into depth pieces or serviceable starters.
Ryan Poles first NFL Draft was an encouraging one. Outside of Brisker and Gordon, the Bears added wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. (Tennessee) and offensive tackle Braxton Jones (Southern Utah) as players who could start on day one. 11 draft picks, the franchises most since 2016, the Bears coaching staff has ample talent to develop.
While Gordon and Brisker are expected to contribute immediately, with the right coaching, the Bears can enter 2023 with a rookie class that has a solid foundation established but with ample room for growth.
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