As the rebuilding Chicago Bears prepare to begin their first training camp (rookies report on July 23) under the new administration of general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus, there are plenty of questions surrounding this team. Personnel changes, scheme changes, and a whole new culture on both sides of the ball mean this team is hitting the reset button. And as a result, the Bears will have to answer numerous questions as to whether or not they're ready to start winning again. But first, they need to get training camp and put the pads on as they continue to prepare for the upcoming season.
Because of the numerous changes, there are plenty of new faces on the team. There are also players who will have to adjust their styles to the new offensive and defensive schemes. It's a work in progress, with work being the keyword. As camp gets underway, here are five positions worth paying extra attention to.
It's officially the Justin Fields show now. The 11th pick in last year's draft was originally supposed to learn the position behind Andy Dalton, but an early-season injury forced the rookie into action early. And although Fields dealt with bumps and bruises himself, he went on to complete 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards (6.9 ypa) and seven touchdowns. But he also threw 10 interceptions and was sacked 36 times as a subpar offensive line didn't offer much protection. Fields had numerous "welcome to the NFL" moments in 2021, but with the changes made during the offseason, this season will be his chance to show that he's worth the hype.
Dalton and No. 3 QB Nick Foles are both no longer on the roster. The new backup is Trevor Siemian. It's a homecoming of sorts for the former Bronco, Jet, and Saint, who played his college ball at Northwestern in suburban Chicago. He's a rarity in his alma mater's history, as most NU quarterbacks haven't played much in the NFL (with a few exceptions), let alone seven seasons. While everyone is eager to see how new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy helps Fields take the next step in his development, the team also is pleased to have Siemian as their No. 2.
Nathan Peterman is the other signal-caller currently on the roster. He's been in the league since Buffalo selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but he's made just four starts (1-3 in those) and has thrown four times as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (3). No longer eligible for the practice squad, Peterman may just be an extra arm for training camp, but he'll get a chance to impress both the Bears' new coaching staff and other teams should he get on the field during the preseason.
After leading this team in receptions (81), receiving yards (1,055), and touchdown catches (4) last year, Darnell Mooney is poised to establish himself as the Bears' No. 1 wideout. Besides emerging in a big way last season, Mooney also is one of the few holdovers at the position from the 2021 roster with Allen Robinson II, Jakeem Grant, Damiere Byrd, and Marquise Goodwin all gone. So Mooney will not only be asked to shoulder a heavy load on the field, but he'll also be looked to for leadership in the wide receiver room.
The big additions are third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. and free-agent signees Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. Dazz Newsome (sixth-round pick last year) and Nsimba Webster are the only other returnees from last year, with David Moore, Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis, Isaiah Coulter, and Chris Finke the other veterans set to take part in training camp. Another rookie to keep an eye on is former Liberty Flame Kevin Shaa, who was a teammate of Malik Willis (third-round pick by Tennessee) last season.
Another new face that's sure to draw plenty of attention is N'Keal Harry. Chicago recently acquired the 2019 first-round pick (No. 32 overall) from New England for a seventh-rounder in 2024. The Bears are hoping that a change of scenery will help Harry fulfill the potential that was apparent when the Patriots drafted him. In three seasons, Harry made 18 starts (33 games played total), recording 57 catches for 598 yards and four touchdowns.
Mooney is the only sure thing among this group at this point with Pringle, Jones, and St. Brown lining up behind him in some order. That still leaves several jobs open so expect spirited competition from this group. How big of a step forward Fields and the Bears' offense as a whole takes this season will depend heavily on the development of this group.
This position group is pretty much starting from scratch — and with good reason. Not only did the Bears surrender a league-high 58 sacks last season, but the offense also ranked 30th in passing yards per game (188.6) while the quarterbacks threw more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (16). That's why there are only six holdovers – Larry Borom, Dieter Eiselen, Teven Jenkins, Sam Mustipher, Lachavious Simmons, and Cody Whitehair – from last year's roster, and two of those (Borom, Jenkins) are 2021 draft picks.
Poles and Eberflus have added 10 new faces through free agency and the draft with so many spots in an unsettled two-deep. Whitehair, the returning starter at left guard after lining up at center the past five seasons, is the lineman with the most experience as a Bear. Former Packer Lucas Patrick was a priority in free agency because of his familiarity with Getsy and will be counted on to provide leadership at center. Dozier, who played in Minnesota the past three seasons, was penciled as the starter at right guard before suffering a knee injury in minicamp in June. He will miss the season, meaning a new starter will have to be identified in training camp. Mustipher, who started at center last season, probably has the upper hand for the spot, but rookies Zachary Thomas (sixth round) and Ja'Tyre Carter (seventh) also should factor into the competition.
The tackle spots are the ones that will get the most attention, especially when it comes to whoever is tabbed as Fields' blind-slide protector. Borom and Jenkins, 2021 draft picks, are the headliners as the team hopes both take significant steps forward in their second seasons. Borom, a fifth-round selection, played in 10 games last season and showed flashes, while Jenkins, the 39th player taken last year, didn't play in a game until December because of a back injury that required surgery. Both are getting clean slates under the new coaching staff but neither will be handed a starting job either. Rookie Braxton Jones (fifth-round pick) has already opened some eyes, and he'll get his shot to claim one of the starting spots, as will veteran additions Julién Davenport and Shon Coleman, as well as the aforementioned Simmons.
Sixth-round pick Doug Kramer, who played at Illinois, will vie for the backup center job behind Whitehair, which is an important spot especially if Mustipher is named the starter at right guard. And don't be surprised if the Bears bring in other free agents to add to the mix before training camp ends.
There's much to be determined when it comes to how the offensive line will look come Week 1. New offensive line coach Chris Morgan figures to be one of the busiest position coaches during training camp.
The biggest question for this group is what does the future hold for Robert Quinn? He set a new franchise single-season record for sacks last season (18.5, second in the league), but he's been the subject of trade rumors. Not helping matters is that he was absent for minicamps and OTAs, and he counts for nearly $13 million of this year's salary cap. On paper, the 32-year-old doesn't seem to fit into the massive rebuilding job Poles and Eberflus are undertaking.
Chicago traded Khalil Mack to the Chargers earlier this year to provide salary cap relief, while Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and Bilal Nichols (combined for 7 sacks in '21) left in free agency. The Bears also are switching from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 under Eberflus and new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, which means several players will have to make the transition to different roles and assignments. This scheme change also impacts the linebackers and to a degree the defensive backs.
Quinn's uncertainty aside, the only holdovers up front from last year are Angelo Blackson (43 total tackles last season), Mario Edwards Jr. (2.0 sacks, 5 QB hits), LaCale London (only played in one game last year), and Khyiris Tonga (24 tackles, 1 TFL).
So just like the wide receivers and offensive linemen, there will be plenty of new faces in training camp. The big names are Al-Quadin Muhammad, a former Colt who has plenty of familiarity playing for Eberflus and Williams, and Justin Jones, who was signed in free agency after the reported deal with Larry Ogunjobi wasn't finalized because of a failed physical. Both are expected to start, with the other two spots more up in the air, especially due to Quinn's uncertain status.
Trevis Gipson, who broke through with seven sacks last season, could take on a bigger role as a pass rusher should the team trade Quinn, and fifth-round pick Dominque Robinson is an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on. Undrafted rookies Micah Dew-Treadway (Minnesota) and Carson Taylor (Northern Arizona) are also on the roster, as are veteran Mike Pennel Jr. and Auzoyah Alufohai, who has been a career practice squad player to this point.
Besides making a decision on Quinn, the coaching staff has to figure out how all the pieces will fit together for a position group that takes on more importance with the scheme shift.
Yet another position group that has new faces, highlighted by the addition of second-round picks cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker. They could start alongside veterans Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson. Much has already been made of Johnson handling the transition to the new defensive scheme while the Bears are hoping that Jackson can rediscover his All-Pro form after two disappointing seasons. If everything breaks right, the Bears could have one of the strongest groups of starting defensive backs by season's end.
But first, Gordon and Brisker have to prove they are ready. Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley, DeAndre Houston-Carson, and Thomas Graham Jr. are the key holdovers who will be battling for spots on the two-deep, with free-agent signees Tavon Young, Lamar Jackson, and Dane Cruikshank also factoring into the mix. The competition for the nickel back spot, which takes on more significance in the Eberflus/Williams defense, is one to pay attention to. Young could have the advantage, but Graham and Vildor won't give it up without a fight.
However things shake out, the Bears' secondary will look quite different this season, and that process will kick into high gear during training camp.
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.