Almost everything about the Chicago Bears is new.
New coaching staff. New front office. And unfamiliar faces throughout the roster on both sides of the ball.
As the Bears prepare to report to Halas Hall on Tuesday for their first training camp under coach Matt Eberflus, questions abound regarding the 2022 edition of the team. The Tribune’s team of Bears writers tackles four of them.
1. The biggest thing Justin Fields must show during training camp is ________.
Brad Biggs: Consistent growth.
A new front office and coaching staff that inherited Fields has expressed confidence in his ability to develop and blossom after a rocky rookie season. It won’t happen overnight. Highlight plays will be there during camp, but the Bears can’t put too much focus on them from one practice to the next. It’s a process and Fields is said to be fully invested in it. He has to show a greater ability to operate from the pocket, a hurdle all young quarterbacks face in their first couple of seasons. Those who prove adept in the pocket are the ones with the chance to flourish. Fields’ league-high 11.8% sack rate was alarming and can’t be pinned exclusively on the offensive line. The next-highest figure was fellow rookie Zach Wilson of the New York Jets (10.3%). Fields must get the ball out quicker, and improving his mechanics and ability to read the field from the pocket should help with that. He should be better in Week 1 than he is in the first week of training camp, and the Bears will hope to see incremental development from there. They don’t have the offensive personnel to be a powerhouse and they weren’t going to build that in one offseason. If they’re going to construct that around Fields, he needs to thrive at times this season. That process begins in camp.
Colleen Kane: Consistent improvement.
Fields hasn’t had an easy first 14 months in the NFL. He began last season as the backup to Andy Dalton and didn’t get needed first-team reps. He was thrust into action in Week 2 when Dalton was injured and struggled at times over the next two months as the starter. Then he battled injuries and COVID-19 over the last two months of the season. And now he’s adjusting to a new offense and coaching staff. So there obviously will be bumps in training camp practices in the weeks ahead, just as there were in some of the offseason practices the media watched. Nobody should be alarmed by that yet. The keys are steady improvement under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko and continued leadership of and chemistry building with his teammates. Fields has said multiple times his goal is not to make the same mistake more than once. If he can do that, it should result in growth that will help him improve in Year 2.
Dan Wiederer: Ownership.
Fields must continue to show, as he did during the spring, that he is in control of the huddle and a master of the new playbook. In meetings, he will have to stay on the same page with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko while remaining confident enough to speak up regularly and express his preferences and concerns. He has to continue to work on his timing and rapport with his playmakers and understand that the inevitable frustrations within the camp grind must be balanced by steady leadership to keep the offense’s evolution moving forward. Outside overreactions to bumpy practices and highlight-reel moments will be plentiful. The scrutiny of Fields’ preseason game action will be intense. But by the time the Bears hit Labor Day weekend, Fields’ progress and increasing comfort should be obvious and his playmaking instincts should be overshadowing his mistakes.
2. Matt Eberflus’ biggest goal over the next month should be ________.
Biggs: Finding answers for depth-chart questions on both sides of the ball.
The Bears can talk about creating competition, but that’s productive only if the process results in definitive choices. Recall the Bears had an open quarterback competition between incumbent Mitch Trubisky and newcomer Nick Foles in 2020 training camp. Trubisky was declared the winner during an unusual camp that had no preseason games because of COVID-19. Reality was neither quarterback stepped up. The Bears showed in the spring they’re willing to consider a variety of options on the offensive line, where Cody Whitehair (left guard) and Lucas Patrick (likely center) are the only clear starters. It would be beneficial to find a starting five before the second preseason game — or at least a group the coaching staff believes is the best fit. Eberflus used a large number of defensive linemen when he was the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator. Finding out who fits in a rotation and how is a must. Will Robert Quinn be present and ready to roll? How about Al-Quadin Muhammad, who was present but didn’t participate in the offseason program? They project as the starting defensive ends. A cast of unproven wide receivers will battle for playing time after Darnell Mooney. The nickel cornerback position could be up for grabs. That’s touching on just a few positions Eberflus and his staff need to monitor as camp gets cranked up.
Kane: Getting his players on board with his style of play.
Eberflus already seemed to set a clear standard throughout the offseason program for the way he wants his team to operate. He started to implement his HITS principle — hustle, intensity, takeaways/taking care of the football and smart situational play — and laid out how he and his coaches will measure players’ effort. He told his players they need to get their track shoes on, meaning they already should be in shape when they arrive at training camp. Now he needs to get them to buy in through the long haul of camp while also keeping watch on their physical and mental health as they build toward Week 1 at Soldier Field. As Eberflus takes on a CEO/manager-type role as a first-time head coach, he also needs to make sure his new staff is carrying out his mission and keeping players on task.
Wiederer: Setting a tone. Establishing standards. Raising the bar.
The Bears’ new coach did all of these things well through rookie camp, organized team activities and the June minicamp, expressing clear expectations for the effort-based team he is trying to mold and establishing scales for how players will be measured on their hustle, intensity and situational intelligence. Eberflus has warned players multiple times to “bring their track shoes” to camp, which is his way of stressing the need to run to the ball and finish plays strong. Those kinds of things are a prerequisite for success in his program, and the calculated intensity of the next six weeks must become obvious. As a first-time head coach, Eberflus has to learn the balance of how hard to push and when to pull back and get his fingers on the pulse of a new-look team he still is learning. But the push to set a tone must be a daily focus.
3. The Bears newcomer I am most interested to watch is ________.
Biggs: Kyler Gordon.
Everyone is curious to see how offensive coordinator Luke Getsy handles his role with a chance to build an offense from the ground up, but if we’re talking about players, you better have your roster handy because there’s a ton of new faces. The choice for me has to be Gordon, general manager Ryan Poles’ first draft pick. The Bears have been piecing it together at cornerback for a few years now, and if the spring is an indication, Gordon will have a chance to start on the left side with Jaylon Johnson remaining on his familiar right side. The pass defense struggled last season despite the Bears ranking fourth in the NFL with 49 sacks. There really isn’t competition for Gordon to win the starting job, and that’s fine. He has to prove up to the task and that he can be a solid contributor for years to come.
Kane: Kyler Gordon.
Given GM Ryan Poles’ lack of big moves in free agency, I’m naturally more curious about Poles’ first draft class, starting with Gordon, the No. 39 pick. The Bears had their issues at cornerback opposite Jaylon Johnson last year, so the development of Gordon — and fellow second-round pick Jaquan Brisker at safety — will be crucial as they try to rebuild their defense. Given the Bears’ questions at wide receiver and openings for new return men, I’m also intrigued by Velus Jones Jr. The 25-year-old rookie out of Tennessee got a seal of approval from wide receiver Darnell Mooney at the end of the offseason program. Mooney said Jones “can fly” and “can be a playmaker for us for sure.” The Bears need more playmakers, so it will be fun to watch if Jones can make any sort of impact in his first year.
Wiederer: Jaquan Brisker.
Bears fans should get ready to learn a lot about the rookie safety, who goes by “Quanny B” and plays with a combination of vision and controlled aggression that should be fun to watch. Brisker is set up to become not only a Week 1 starter as a rookie but also a long-term building block for the nasty, opportunistic defense Eberflus is trying to build. When the Bears drafted Brisker in the second round in April, their talent evaluation staff emphasized his toughness, range and ball skills. Brisker’s presence, both in his physical stature (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and the way he attacks the ball, was obvious during spring practices and should become more noticeable when hitting re-enters the picture. With his versatility, fearlessness and instincts on the back end, Brisker reminds me a little of a young Harrison Smith. That’s high praise for a promising safety who has high hopes for himself.
4. The national sentiment that the Bears will be one of the NFL’s worst teams in 2022 is
Biggs: Based on a handful of reasons.
The Bears won only six games in 2021 while ranking 27th in points per game. Offensive woes are nothing new for the team. The front office and coaching staff were overhauled, but new GM Ryan Poles inherited an old roster with salary-cap issues and no first-round draft pick. He also traded the team’s marquee star in pass rusher Khalil Mack. Without any splashy additions in free agency and no top pick to create national buzz, it’s no wonder observers from afar are skeptical. The only thing the Bears have not done is publicly declare they are in the beginning stages of a rebuild with a clear focus on resetting the cap situation and getting younger. With fair questions about the cast around Justin Fields, both on the line and at wide receiver, many doubt the Bears are in position to compete in 2022. What should be factored into the equation is the schedule appears easier than it was a year ago and new coach Matt Eberflus should get maximum effort from players looking to prove themselves as options for the future. Locker rooms often rally around the idea their team is the underdog and isn’t afforded ample respect. Maybe the Bears can tap into that at points during the season. Training camp gives them the opportunity to work toward proving the national sentiment wrong.
Kane: Not totally unfair.
The Bears lost some big talent in the offseason, including edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Allen Robinson. And GM Ryan Poles, with a calculated approach toward building for the future, didn’t make splashy moves in free agency. The Bears have huge questions at offensive line and wide receiver and many young, unproven players on defense. So, no, this doesn’t look like a winning team in coach Matt Eberflus’ first season. But the Bears had a plethora of issues last season when they went 6-11. And it seems possible — if not likely — that quarterback Justin Fields should improve in his second season, now in a new offense under a new coaching staff. So I think the Bears could match their record from last year, if not improve by a win or two, making them more a middle-of-the-road group than the bottom dwellers some predict. But that’s giving the benefit of the doubt to an unproven coaching staff.
A litany of lists and power rankings this spring and summer pegged the Bears as more likely to wind up with a top-five pick than a wild-card berth. And why would anyone be bullish on this squad, especially at this stage? The Bears finished 6-11 last season and then gutted the front office, coaching staff and roster. They enter 2022 with an unproven quarterback in Justin Fields, who lost his final seven starts as a rookie and had almost twice as many turnovers (12) as touchdown passes (seven). Only two players from the 2018 division-championship defense are still around: linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Eddie Jackson. A new coaching staff is trying to get its feet on the ground with a roster low on high-end talent. Bill Polian, who helped lead the Bears’ general manager search in January, stressed the need for championship teams to have 10 to 12 blue-chip players, and it’s hard to name more than five on the Bears. The NFL has surprise emergences every season, of course, and perhaps the Bears can have one of those storybook breakthroughs. But projecting such a thing would be misguided until there is much more clear-cut evidence the team is ascending.
Biggs: Based on a handful of reasons. The Bears won only six games in 2021 while ranking 27th in points per game. Offensive woes are nothing new for the team. The front office and coaching staff were overhauled, but new GM Ryan Poles inherited an old roster with salary-cap issues and no first-round draft pick. He also traded the team’s marquee star in pass rusher Khalil Mack. Without any splashy additions in free agency and no top pick to create national buzz, it’s no wonder observers from afar are skeptical. The only thing the Bears have not done is publicly declare they are in the beginning stages of a rebuild with a clear focus on resetting the cap situation and getting younger. With fair questions about the cast around Justin Fields, both on the line and at wide receiver, many doubt the Bears are in position to compete in 2022. What should be factored into the equation is the schedule appears easier than it was a year ago and new coach Matt Eberflus should get maximum effort from players looking to prove themselves as options for the future. Locker rooms often rally around the idea their team is the underdog and isn’t afforded ample respect. Maybe the Bears can tap into that at points during the season. Training camp gives them the opportunity to work toward proving the national sentiment wrong. Kane: Not totally unfair. The Bears lost some big talent in the offseason, including edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Allen Robinson. And GM Ryan Poles, with a calculated approach toward building for the future, didn’t make splashy moves in free agency. The BeaMNG-TribPub Wire ()