It’s been quite the hiatus for me from Bears commentary and discussion, due to a very busy summer involving an interstate move, as well as trainings and preparations for a new job, but football is upon us and here we are.
Needless to say, the energy around the Bears this upcoming season is truly electric. That’s what happens when you draft what you hope to be your franchise quarterback, especially one as decorated as Justin Fields. And I guess that is where I’ll start: QB.
After an embarrassing press conference following the season in January, the Bears selected their new quarterback direction in March with the man known as the “Red Rifle,” former Cincinnati starter and Dallas backup, Andy Dalton. The acquisition was met with much vitriol, largely due to the letdown it was since it followed very serious rumors that Russell Wilson had potential to be the new Bears’ signal caller. That angry tension was only relieved in late April when the Bears traded up with the New York Giants to draft Justin Fields out of Ohio State 11th overall.
Now there is an optimism unlike ever before.
When Trubisky was drafted, many were excited about the move, but there were myriad questions from the start. He played only 13 games in his post-high school career, and showed above average statistics against a weak conference.
Conversely, Justin Fields is coming from a renowned football school and program within a strong conference. He played 2 full seasons, plus 1 partial season in college, and before that had an illustrious high school career including being featured in a Netflix special and other quarterback camps. He has been at the top of his position his entire life. You can see why the anticipation is killing everyone. This is a special talent and all fans want to see is him to take the field in a game that matters.
But when he will play is a whole different matter. Coach Matt Nagy, widely known Andy Reid disciple has closely observed the development of Patrick Mahomes and has noted how Mahomes benefited from sitting form 15 out of 16 games in his rookie season to learn behind quarterback Alex Smith. He has mentioned how well this worked out for Mahomes multiple times this offseason, and it seems that he intends to follow up with that approach. He has referred to Andy Dalton as the starter, though many are hoping there is enough wiggle room to allow Fields to start week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football.
So far, Andy Dalton has held his own in training camp and Justin Fields has impressed. One could truly argue it is a tossup. A season ago, it was a tossup if Trubisky or Foles would be announced as starter, but that was a battle of the bad. Dalton really has shined so far, being a major improvement over the quarterbacks of yesteryear. Fields continues to improve and work hard on a daily basis. It could make the decision for Coach Nagy very difficult, but that is a good problem to have. We will be able to see more as the preseason games ramp up.
I would be remiss to not mention the Bears current third string quarterback, Nick Foles, who is basically still on the team due to a massive, multi-year contract. Foles did not perform as hoped last season, though it should be noted, the stretch of games he started was both the toughest stretch of the season, and the stretch where the offensive line experienced the most injuries. Needless to say, the Bears are trying their hardest to trade the veteran quarterback and former Super Bowl MVP, but the challenge remains to be the very expensive contract. Hopefully for the Bears’ sake, a quarterback needy team will be interested making a deal soon. I’m looking at you, Indianapolis Colts.
Now that the quarterbacks are out of the way, let’s take a look at the rest of the offense.
At running back, the Bears are very hopeful for the future of David Montgomery. He showed a lot of promise in his sophomore season and finished 5th in the league in rushing yards. That, despite a running game scarcely used by the head coach. During the offseason, he specifically worked on increasing his speed, and according to many witnesses at training camp, that hard work paid off. Expect major production this season from David Montgomery both on the ground and through the air, as he is an intriguing dual threat option.
Along with Montgomery, the Bears signed former Kansas City Chief, Damien Williams, as another dual threat speedster for this season. I don’t personally know much about his game, but many Bears analysts have been very excited about what he can bring to the table. Williams will serve nicely especially as Tarik Cohen is still recovering from the ACL injury he sustained last season. It is hard to know what to expect from Tarik Cohen this season, but many are hoping when he returns, the quickness will still be present.
As for wide receivers, Allen Robinson continues as WR1 after receiving the franchise tag in the offseason. He still appears to be disgruntled at his contract situation, though hopefully having improved quarterback play will intrigue him to stick around and sign a new contract when the cap extends next season.There are no concerns with Robinson, so I believe he will continue to dominate as WR1 this season.
Darnell Mooney is the name everybody is talking about. The 5th round pick had an eyebrow-raising season last year, and he looks poised to build upon that this year, especially with Dalton and Fields having improved accuracy over Trubisky and Foles. Mooney is easily WR2 going into the season.
The presumed WR3, Anthony Miller was traded to the Houston Texans last week, largely for his lack of production, but also due to his egregious act in the postseason game against the Saints where he punched CJ Gardner-Johnson after being specifically warned not to earlier in the week. Thus, I believe Marquise Goodwin will slot in as WR3. He has experience and has shown a consistent knack to get open with his blitzing speed so far in training camp.
Following Goodwin is a tossup between Damiere Byrd and Dazz Newsome, both young speedsters, the latter being a rookie. The biggest question for Bears fans is, “Who receives that final wide receiver slot?” Like seasons prior, it seems to be between Javon Wims and Riley Ridley. Ridley seems to have been more active this offseason than prior, perhaps due to the connection he had with Justin Fields when he started his college career at Georgia. Unfortunately for all the Ridley hopefuls, I see this spot going to Wims again. The coaches every year seem to like what he brings to the table as a semi-consistent option as receiver, but also a valuable run blocker and special teamer. That versatility is what will likely land him that 6th and final spot.
Tight End is an interesting position for the Bears this season. Cole Kmet enters his sophomore season, and according to several analysts, primarily Adam Jahns of the Athletic, he has been all over the field and playing very effectively and raising coaches’ eyebrows. I think he will catch a lot of attention this season league wide. I truly believe he will breakout.
Jimmy Graham is still here and is basically useful exclusively for red zone situations. Even at his veteran age, it is hard to not throw jump balls to your 6’7” tight end. Expect him to receive a lot of targets in red zone situations.
Tight ends from years past such as J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted are still on the camp roster, but I do not see them making the team, and if they do, it will be exclusively for special teams situations. The third tight end who has been gaining momentum is Jesse James, newly acquired from the Detroit Lions. He has been one of Justin Fields’ primary targets and has played very nicely with him at quarterback. Look for James to take the TE3 spot.
For the offensive line, there is a lot of optimism that, if healthy, they can be a top-15 unit. The selection of Teven Jenkins excited Bears fans, but 5th rounder Larry Borom is the one has stood out in this camp. Part of that is due to Jenkins’ ailing back, for which the trainers have kept him out of the entire training camp. Additionally, Ifedi and Daniels have been facing injuries as well, which is less than optimal for an already questionable offensive line. Whitehair and Mustipher have both been playing well and they will be critical pieces to the offensive line since the rest seem to have a problem staying healthy. The bottom line, is that if the line can stay healthy, they will compete to be in the top half of the league. If injuries pile up, the Bears could be in trouble.
On the other side of the ball, much is the same in terms of names you’ve been familiar with over the past few years.
The defensive line still has Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols, and Eddie Goldman has returned and according to reports, looks good. Khalil Mack is Khalil Mack, though hopefully we see a return to DPOY form for the veteran. And Robert Quinn is still there. Though that name may make your eyes roll, he has apparently looked much healthier and improved at camp. I would expect improvement from him, though it shouldn’t be a high bar to clear since he only had two sacks last season.
At linebacker, the Bears continue to have Danny Trevathan as a veteran presence, who, when healthy, still produced at a reliable level. Roquan Smith is coming off a fantastic season, and many expect him to continue to breakout and receive a max contract extension at the conclusion of the season. He has become the young captain of the defense and is deservedly wearing the green dot on his helmet.
The secondary is where the largest concern lies. Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson are both back as safeties, but Kyle Fuller was a cap casualty, so sophomore Jaylon Johnson will now be required to take up the CB1 position. Johnson showed promise to be a top cornerback last season, but injury has long been the concern with him. If he can stay healthy, he should continue to be an efficient, potentially top tier cornerback. On the other side of the field, Kindle Vildor seems to be turning heads and could be taking the CB2 role, while Duke Shelley will presumably take over for Buster Skrine as the slot corner. Thomas Graham Jr., a late round draft pick, and Desmond Trufant, a veteran offseason pickup, will provide as the depth for cornerback. Deon Bush and Deandre Houston-Carson will provide safety depth.
Probably the most prevalent story regarding the defense is the promotion of secondary coach, Sean Desai as new Defensive Coordinator. Can the Vic Fangio disciple replicate the Fangio defense seen in Chicago in 2018 and in Los Angeles (ran by Brandon Staley) a season ago? All we can do is wait and see, but there is optimism. Several reporters have noted a new energy in the defense and hopefully that energy can be the spark needed for a total revitalization. Returning to 2018 standards will be almost impossible, but at least something closer to that than what we have seen the past two seasons will be the goal.
Everybody was waiting to read this portion of the article: the portion about special teams...\
I have very little to say. Pat O’Donnell should continue to be a top tier punter and hopefully Cairo Santos repeats the accuracy of last season under a new and expensive contract. Hopefully some of the speed drafted this year, Khalil Herbert and Dazz Newsome can serve as kick and punt returners respectively in the absence of Cordarelle Patterson.
So when I sit back and look at this Bears season, the primary goal is to cultivate the young talent. Sure, playoffs would be exciting, a Super Bowl, I will gladly take, but truthfully, the goal this season is to develop the young guys. Have the team be as prepared as possible to take the reins of the division, and maybe the league starting in 2022, when Justin Fields will be the permanent starter. Get him as much experience as you can, same for Jenkins, Borom, and Newsome, as well as continuing the growth of Kmet, Montgomery, Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson, etc. Look around this team. There is a lot of youth. There is a lot of promise. Let’s not rush it. Enjoy the season and enjoy the promise of the future.
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For more Chicago Bears news and updates, follow the author (@FuriousGeorge94) on Twitter. Make sure to check out the author’s podcast, Frustration Nation, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.