The Chicago Bears underwent wholesale changes at the conclusion of the 2021 NFL season. The team has a new general manager, a new head coach, and numerous changes to the roster. The Bears' outlook is uncertain at best as it enters its first training camp of this new era. This team will be slowly evaluated as camp moves into preseason games. With that being said, here are five things to keep an eye on as the Bears prepare for the upcoming season.
1. The development of Justin Fields
Aside from improved offensive line play (more on that later) and cohesiveness amongst the new group of receivers, this will be the most important aspect of improving this offense. Not that Fields did anything wrong during his rookie season, but he'll need to take the next step in Year 2. Last year's 11th overall draft pick completed 58.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,870 yards and seven touchdowns. But he also threw 10 interceptions and took 36 sacks.
Some of those were a result of bad decision-making, others were the issues with the offensive line and him simply adjusting to the nuances of the NFL game. And while improving the other 10 positions around him will go a long way, Fields must also clean up his own mechanics if he wants future success. Especially since he'll be learning his third offense in three seasons dating back to college.
2. The implementation of Luke Getsy's offense
The former Akron quarterback comes to the Bears after spending the last two seasons as the Green Bay Packers' passing game coordinator. That passing attack ranked seventh (253.8 ypg) last year and ninth (256.6 ypg) in 2020. The Bears haven't had a top 10 passing offense since 2013 (267.6 ypg that year). The hope is that Getsy's playbook will not only make the Bears a downfield threat again, but also boost a run game that's only finished in the top 15 once since 2018 (last season).
The talent is undoubtedly there to make that happen. But whether or not that goal becomes a reality will depend on how Getsy tailors his playbook to fit the skillsets of the players on the roster, the development and growth of Fields, and the improvement of the guys in the trenches.
3. Improvement by the offensive line
Including the 36 times Fields was taken down by the opposing pass rush, this group last year surrendered a total of 58 sacks in '21. Fields, Andy Dalton, and Nick Foles (the latter two are now gone) ran for their lives on many plays last season because the O-line failed to contain the initial pass rush. And because of the subpar play, many linemen from last year's team are no longer on the roster. The hope is that the changes for this bunch during the offseason will help in this endeavor, and if that's the case, it will help turn this offense in the right direction.
4. The scheme change on defense
Like the offense, the defense is also switching to a new playbook — from 3-4 to 4-3. And like the offense, this side of the ball has also seen many familiar faces depart the team. And there are big questions surrounding the few players that are still around from last season. What does the future hold for defensive end Robert Quinn? Despite setting the new franchise single-season record for sacks in 2021 (18.5), he has been the subject of trade rumors all offseason and was absent for minicamps and OTAs.
Will linebacker Roquan Smith remain a Bear after this season? The eighth overall draft choice from 2018 is entering the final year of his rookie contract ($9.7 million), but he's long outplayed that contract (524 tackles, 43 TFLs, 14.0 sacks, 17 QB hits, 17 pass deflections). So far, the team hasn't expressed a desire to give him a new long-term, and much-deserved, deal. The biggest question mark on this side of the ball, however, is regarding safety Eddie Jackson. Can he adjust to the new defensive alignment?
That question is especially crucial, seeing as how he struggled over the last two seasons in the 3-4 setup. Blown assignments, miscues in pass coverage, and just flat out looking lost at times was a far cry from the player who made back-to-back Pro Bowls (2018, 2019) and received an All-Pro nod ('18) earlier in his still-young career. These three will have eyes all over them come September.
5. Staying healthy
Plain and simple, these guys need to stay on the field. Injuries at many positions were a major issue for this team during portions of the Matt Nagy era, which only added to the shortcomings on both sides of the ball. Keeping everyone on the field, and in one piece, will make it much easier for the Bears to get back on the winning track. It sounds cliche, but it's the hard truth.
— 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.