It's abundantly clear that football is just around the corner as NFL teams report to training camp to prepare for the upcoming 2019 season. In the case of the Chicago Bears, they make their annual pilgrimage to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois, for the 18th straight season. This will be the second edition of this training camp for current head coach Matt Nagy. Last year was the Bears' first winning season (12-4, NFC North champions) since 2010 but they were unfortunately eliminated in the opening weekend of the playoffs.
The Bears underwent some small changes during the offseason, but for the most part, everyone from last year's squad is back and they hope to get this team to the next level. But before they can achieve glory in the fall, the Bears must get through the remaining dog days of summer. There's a ton of anticipation, and expectations, for the Bears as they head into their 100th season of play. Here are five things to know as the Bears report to training camp with the first practice taking place this weekend.
1. They're still talking about the kicking game
The post-Cody Parkey era is still rearing its ugly head with the Bears. They tried out roughly 10 kickers during the offseason program, but they'll begin training camp with just two under contract — former Florida Gators standout Eddy Piniero, and former Alliance of American Football (AAF) placekicker Elliot Fry. Neither man has attempted an official NFL field goal but both have potential. Piniero converted nearly 90 percent of his collegiate attempts and was named an All-American for his efforts. He spent last season on injured reserve for the Oakland Raiders.
Fry converted all 15 of his field goal attempts for the Orlando Apollos during the AAF's short-lived, eight-week season. While both have lasted this long through the process that doesn't mean Chicago won't bring in an established veteran kicker at some point. It's safe to say that this situation is far from resolved and a decision may not be made until the very end of the preseason.
2. There's a new defensive coordinator on the staff
Vic Fangio had already turned this defense around before Matt Nagy came to town, and last year he perfected it. Now he's trying to apply that same turnaround as the new head coach of the Denver Broncos. So the Bears decided to reach out to someone who would keep the defense the same for the most part. Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who's also a disciple of the 3-4 alignment, is now in charge of the Bears defensive playbook.
Pagano posted a 56-46 record with the Colts from 2012-17. During his time there Indianapolis made three playoff appearances and won two AFC South titles. Prior to that, Pagano served as Baltimore's defensive coordinator for one season (2011) and has nearly 25 years of coaching experience in the collegiate and professional ranks overall. Pagano inherits a defense that boasts a Pro Bowler at every level (two in the secondary) and numerous other talented players. There may be some wrinkles in the playbook and in-game philosophy but the expectation is that there won't be any major changes to a defense that led the league in fewest points and rushing yards allowed, as well as takeaways and interceptions.
3. There are injuries at the start of training camp
Safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, the Bears' top free-agent acquisition this year, will start camp on the active/physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers from a knee sprain. He sustained the injury at the end of the last minicamp session in June and hasn't been cleared for practice yet. The Bears are hopeful that he'll miss no more than a few days. Also expected to miss the first practice or two are tight end Trey Burton (sports hernia), wide receiver Anthony Miller (shoulder), and offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings (knee).
4. No position battles this time around
It's been a while since the Bears didn't have to worry about this entering camp. Outside of the aforementioned kicker competition, the starters appear to be set, although the backups will get early reps because of the players who are injured at the moment. But not having to sort out the top rung of your depth chart takes a huge load off any team at this time of year.
5. The rookies take the next step in their development
The minicamps and OTAs were mostly about the fundamentals. Now we'll get to see the Bears' 2019 rookie class really showcase their skills as the team finally dons full pads and gets some live contact going. This year's group, headlined by running back David Montgomery, has some high ratings coming into this season and now they need to prove that they can live up to expectations.
— Gabe Salgado 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of www.chicagobears.com)