Has the offense made any progress? What position is the most concerning? 4 timely questions about the Chicago Bears. – The Denver Post


The Chicago Bears are two weeks into training camp for what surely will be a trying first season under general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus.

As the Bears inch toward their preseason opener Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs, our team of writers weighs in on four timely topics.

Note: This story published before linebacker Roquan Smith requested a trade Tuesday morning.

1. Roquan Smith’s hold-in is ___.

Brad Biggs: An early challenge for Poles.

There’s no doubt other players and agents will be watching closely to see how this plays out, but I don’t sense the Bears are at a point where the situation would adversely affect a season that will have plenty of issues created by outside forces. When I step back and look at this situation, it’s easy to understand both sides. Smith has put in four very good seasons and is seeking the kind of reward that brings long-term security. He surely would like to be one of the highest-paid interior linebackers in the NFL.

On Poles’ side, it’s fair to assume the GM would like to see Smith perform in a new scheme before making the kind of financial commitment required to complete a contract of this magnitude. The Bears’ handling of the situation — placing Smith on the physically unable to perform list — and how they talked around the matter when camp opened was peculiar for sure. If they were prepared to make Smith the highest-paid player at his position right now, a deal probably would have been done.

Negotiating a contract directly with a player is a difficult task. In my mind, whether a contract is done or not, Smith will be on the field in Week 1. He can’t afford to miss real games. I’d also keep in mind the team has the franchise tag at its disposal in 2023 if a contract isn’t done before the season ends. All of that is probably part of the negotiation.

Colleen Kane: Something Poles should resolve sooner rather than later.

I don’t think it’s a major problem — yet — that Smith has decided to stay off the practice field while waiting for a new contract. He at least has been at Halas Hall in meetings and watching practice from the sideline, and as a veteran player he should be able to catch up on the field fairly quickly. But at some point in the next few weeks as the Bears inch closer to the season opener, it becomes a problem that their best player hasn’t practiced with his teammates during training camp as they learn a new defense.

It’s an interesting situation because Smith as far as we know has been operating without an agent and because the linebacker is dealing with an almost entirely new Bears operation. Poles has expressed appreciation several times for what Smith brings on the field. But in March, while acknowledging it’s best to get contract extensions handled earlier, Poles also noted there was a possibility the Bears would wait a little bit as the staff gets to know the player better. But if they’re serious about Smith’s future with the organization, the Bears need to execute a deal soon.

Dan Wiederer: Dragging.

Smith has missed the first 10 practices of training camp as he sits on the PUP list and awaits a satisfying contract offer from the front office. That missed practice time is notable at the very least, especially with a new scheme being established under Eberflus and coordinator Alan Williams. But it’s probably not as significant as all the time Smith missed during a holdout in the summer of 2018 when he was a rookie.

The most difficult part of tracking this saga is not knowing exactly what Smith wants from Bears management to make him happy or what needs to happen for him to return to practice. So for now everything seems stuck in a holding pattern as the season draws near.

2. To this point in training camp, the Bears offense has been ___.

Biggs: Outplayed consistently by the defense.

If Vic Fangio were still the defensive coordinator and the Bears were coming off a season in which they had one of the highest-ranked units in the league, you could be more accepting. Just like the offense, the defense is brand new as well with new players all over the place. Justin Fields has not consistently connected with wide receivers downfield, and things have been particularly disjointed on straight dropbacks.

Fields has made some really nice unscripted plays in those situations, and his elite athletic ability will allow him to create huge plays that way during the season. He’s also tucking the ball in and taking off on a lot of plays. It’s not simply a Fields issue. The offensive line is a work in progress and could look dramatically different in 12 months. The wide receivers are a real question mark. But the ball needs to come out on time and with rhythm more frequently. Hopefully things look cleaner and more defined in the preseason.

Kane: Inconsistent.

But that’s to be expected. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and Fields have acknowledged there’s a lot of work to be done as they establish the offense. Patience is required. That probably is not the easiest thing for Bears observers who waited four seasons for the offense under Matt Nagy to get going. Mitch Trubisky’s 2019 training camp miscues — and the season that followed — surely haunt their memories.

The truth is we don’t know if this offense and Fields will be even mediocre this season. It’s fair to question what the Bears have in a wide receivers corps with many unproven players and now a string of injuries to N’Keal Harry, Byron Pringle and Velus Jones Jr. It’s fair to question what the Bears have in an offensive line that temporarily lost center Lucas Patrick to a hand injury and could feature some young players. But the new Bears staff and Fields deserve time to sort it out, and that could extend well into the season.

Wiederer: Unimpressive. Disconnected. Clunky.

Predictably so? Of course. The Bears have a second-year quarterback learning a new offensive system under a new coordinator with an unstable offensive line and a receiving corps low on proven playmakers and now dealing with a string of notable injuries. So, yes, the prolonged periods of inconsistency during camp have been notable if far from surprising.

Still, how much worry should there be over the offensive struggles with the season just a month away? Well, here’s how I’d frame it. The level of concern over the offensive shakiness should be directly related to the expectations one has for the Bears in 2022.

If you came into camp with low expectations — and that’s the logical and practical approach — then the overall concern should be pretty low. Through that lens you’re able to understand what a work in progress looks like and allow room for gradual growth over the next month — or two or three — without expecting a monumental rise.

But if you’re a true Bill Swerski-like optimist with grand expectations for Fields and Da Bears offense? Well, then your concern should be higher. Much higher.

The ceiling for this unit this season is probably middle tier. This is a group that can maybe finish in the lower teens in total yardage and points scored. The floor is more like what we’ve seen the last three seasons — a weekly headache with very little momentum generated.

Getsy expressed his current state of mind Friday: “The next three weeks we have got to take it to another leve. And that’s part of Justin’s development where he’s going to kind of lead that thing.” Stay tuned.

3. The situation with Teven Jenkins is ___.

Biggs: Pretty clear when you survey what they have done on the field and with roster moves.

Jenkins was playing right tackle with the starters at the beginning of the offseason program. That lasted for a few weeks, and then he was with the second unit. Just before training camp opened, the team signed a pair of veterans with a ton of experience in Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield. Reiff is almost certain to start at one tackle position, and Schofield has been primarily with the first unit at right guard the last week. When camp opened with the newcomers, Jenkins was not with the starters.

That means going into camp, the Bears identified a critical need for multiple potential starters and did not consider Jenkins worth a first look with the ones. That tells you a ton right there before considering Jenkins missed seven consecutive practices with an undisclosed injury. By declining to announce the nature of the injury, the Bears are leading people to wonder if it’s a back issue.

Jenkins has been on the field for the last two practices. I wouldn’t rule him out yet, but he’s a long shot to crack the starting lineup at this point and until we see the team’s evaluation of him shift, you have to wonder about his future at Halas Hall.

Kane: Odd.

Eberflus isn’t the first coach to be guarded with injury information. His policy, for what he says are competitive reasons, is to give details on injuries only if they are more serious than day to day. In some cases, keeping quiet on injuries is not a big deal. In others, like those of Jenkins and running back Tarik Cohen last year under the previous regime, it only hurts the player.

The Bears could have helped quell trade speculation surrounding Jenkins if they publicly announced a couple of details on the undisclosed ailment that kept him out for seven practices — if he indeed was injured. Instead, rumors of a rift between Jenkins and coaches and the idea the Bears wanted to unload the 2021 second-round pick abounded.

When he spoke to reporters Saturday, Jenkins quashed the talk of discord with coaches but didn’t offer many details about his absence. It’s uncertain where he fits on the offensive line now that he’s back, considering the Bears also are considering Reiff, Braxton Jones and Larry Borom at tackle and Schofield at right guard. The best Jenkins can do to fend off further speculation is perform well enough on the practice field that he challenges for a spot.

Wiederer: Unresolved. And still perplexing.

What are we to make of Jenkins’ camp to this point? So much has been left open to interpretation and speculation given how evasive the team has been in explaining Jenkins’ plight.

The second-year offensive lineman missed seven consecutive practices from July 27 to Aug. 5. Jenkins and Eberflus said the absences were injury-related. But neither will specify the exact injury Jenkins is dealing with.

Reports also have circulated that the Bears are open to trading Jenkins, which certainly hasn’t increased his comfort. “It’s life,” Jenkins said Saturday. “Life’s hard.”

The Bears entered camp with starting roles open at both tackle positions. And Poles has been clear since his arrival that he wants to create competition across the board and identify players who are willing, eager and able to fight for their roles.

Jenkins has done little over the last two weeks to establish himself as a contender for either starting job and has fallen well behind Jones, Reiff and Borom with four weeks remaining until Week 1.

Has this situation reached a point of no return? Will the Bears move on from Jenkins before Labor Day weekend is finished? At this stage, it’s beginning to seem more likely that Jenkins won’t be with the Bears in September than it is that he ever will earn a starting job.

4. The Bears’ most concerning position group is ___.

Biggs: Offensive line.

But you could make a compelling argument for quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line or cornerback. The Bears will struggle to gain any traction offensively unless they can make some real gains in the trenches. Rookie fifth-round pick Jones is vying for a starting job, which is intriguing. Free-agent addition Patrick is out at least a couple more weeks after surgery on his right hand. Considering he snaps with that hand, that makes you wonder if he can play center Week 1.

If you’re an early believer in Poles, you’re probably pinning your hopes for the line on the fact he and assistant GM Ian Cunningham are former offensive linemen. Other than four Day 3 draft picks and the modest free-agent addition of Patrick, not much was done for the line before Reiff and Schofield were signed just before camp, and they look like bridge players.

It’s a roster in transition across the board, and the focus for 2022 will be on the development of younger players. If some of the younger linemen show real improvement, this line could be in position to be better in 2023. Right now, it’s a real question mark.

Kane: Wide receiver.

Darnell Mooney has the potential to have another really good season. That’s about the only thing I’m certain of when it comes to Bears wide receivers. The recent injuries to Harry and Pringle are a blow to an uncertain position group. Eberflus noted Pringle’s quadriceps injury might not extend into the season, but he still is missing time building chemistry with Fields.

Equanimeous St. Brown, who comes in with an understanding of Getsy’s offense but not a lot of career production, and Jones are certainly interesting candidates. And Poles’ approach of targeting players with something to prove is great if they capitalize on that hunger. But will they?

I also could have answered this question with cornerback or offensive line. Multiple injuries at cornerback — including to nickel options Kyler Gordon, Thomas Graham Jr. and Duke Shelley — are concerning, as are the options on the outside opposite Jaylon Johnson.

The offensive line questions were relieved a bit with the veteran additions of Reiff and Schofield, even though those two were street free agents until the start of training camp.

But receiver is the most concerning because Fields needs playmakers to build success in his second season, and we don’t know yet if he has them beyond Mooney.

Wiederer: Receiver.

If Fields is going to make a big developmental leap in 2022, he’ll need ample help from his playmakers. And that can’t just mean targeting Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet over and over again. The Bears need to find clarity in the receivers room quickly, establishing an identity and figuring out which players fit which roles.

Mooney is the undisputed No. 1 receiver. But beyond that, the Bears are mixing and matching and desperately seeking answers. Injuries to Pringle, Harry, Jones and Dante Pettis have only set back the building process. And with only 14 practices and three preseason games remaining before Week 1, the push to solidify everything will have to accelerate. Especially for Fields.



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