Under normal circumstances, August in the NFL is a slog of practice, camp, practice, camp, and of course, more practice. But COVID-19 understandably flipped professional football on its head. All preseason contests were cancelled. Practice repetitions and contact between teammates at respective organizations’ facilities continue to remain limited, for safety. And now the 2020 regular season is somehow right around the corner; about a week away, in fact!
The pending reality of meaningful football on the horizon means all 32 teams must make several calculated (and certainly oft-difficult) decisions before the games count. The Bears are no different. They’re trying to ascertain the value (or lack thereof) of whomever is under center, find a temporary plan to survive without their lead back, and iron out what will surely have to be a cobbled-together coaching staff’s best collective coaching job.
But that’s of contention for later. They’ll figure out how to survive what was already going to be a difficult season under more unprecedented circumstances when the time arrives. For now, the Bears must have their set 53-man roster submitted by Saturday afternoon.
No questions asked.
The Windy City Gridiron staff makes their final calls for the collection of weapons and depth the Bears should be locking in for 2020. First up, the offense.
1. With David Montgomery sidelined for the foreseeable future, who do you see taking a more sizable role in the Bears’ backfield? How would you respond with the players they already possess?
Robert Zeglinski: I have to imagine Matt Nagy and company will try and get Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson more involved than they already planned to. It’s not as if there are many, if any, starter-level backs available on the open market. One dark horse player I’d especially look out with replacement snaps is the rookie, Artavis Pierce (if he makes the final roster). The former Beaver is a sneaky burner with big play ability in the open field. Chicago would be wise to get him involved as they wait for their primary bell-cow to return.
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. - The Bears will increase the reps from Cohen, Patterson will see work as a real No. 2 running back, and Ryan Nall will likely get some snaps here or there. If Nall proves worthy of more playing time, it would make sense for him to be the first back, while Cohen and Patterson could settle into their anticipated 2020 roles.
Jacob Infante: I see Patterson taking on a much bigger role in the ground game with Montgomery out. Cohen isn’t the safest bet to trot out as the full-time back for an NFL offense, as dynamic as he is. With Nall and Pierce both unproven at this level, I see the converted wide receiver filling in on more of a regular basis while Montgomery heals up.
Jack R. Salo: With Montgomery out, I would be surprised if Nagy still moves Tarik Cohen around as much as he does when Montgomery is in to play the traditional lead back role. Cohen should spend more time lined up next to Mitchell Trubisky, oops I mean Nick Foles, oh wait, I mean Trubisky, actually it’s definitely going to be ...
WhiskeyRanger: Assuming they don’t sign or trade for anyone significant, I’d expect everyone to see an uptick. Nall would likely take over the early down work, with Cohen and Patterson seeing an increase in usage as well. I’d also expect to see a higher percentage of short pass plays to make up for any decrease in backfield productivity with Montgomery on the sideline.
Erik Duerrwaechter: If the Bears elect to not acquire any veterans, then I see Patterson taking a larger role than what others think. They’ve made their intentions clear with the veteran being featured as a running back in this year’s offense. The receiver-convert brings physicality without giving up speed, which is a major reason why we’re seeing this transition now. Only time will tell if the Bears don’t make a move on any one of the veteran backs recently made available.
Ken Mitchell: I, for one, would like to see what Pierce can do in the big leagues. I think Detroit is the team to try him out on with their iffy defense.
Robert Schmitz: It’s Ryan Nall season, baby! Fans have been clamoring for the back out of Oregon State to get his shot at meaningful snaps since he joined the team in 2018, and with Montgomery potentially out for Week 1 I think the Bears will turn to the next-best traditional back they have on the roster — that’s Nall. Don’t get me wrong, they could bamboozle us with 15-16 Cordarrelle Patterson carries, but I very seriously doubt they’d ramp him up that quickly.
2. We won’t know who starts at quarterback for the Bears in Week 1 in Detroit until a day or two before the game, but where’s the fun in that? Who’s taking the lion’s share (no pun intended) of snaps against JV Belichick and his Honolulu Blue crew? Might Matt Nagy platoon his passers to start the season out of sheer crushing indecision?
Robert Zeglinski: If you think the Bears haven’t always intended for Nick Foles to start this season, from the moment they signed him in the spring, then boy do I have an orange bridge to sell you! And by virtue of neither Trubisky or Foles having separated enough from each other, nothing that’s happened during this training camp matters. Nothing. An utter sham of a competition from the jump. When the fourth-year starter, in his third year in the offensive scheme, is making the same usual mistakes, the edge goes to the comfortable journeyman acquired for a mid-round pick. As was always — always — planned.
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr.: I’ve maintained since the Bears traded for him that Foles will be the QB1. Since Trubisky hasn’t locked down the job after being able to work with his teammates this off-season, or asserted his control as the incumbent entering year three in this offense, I have no reason to believe the coaches won’t go with Foles in Week 1.
Jacob Infante: It’s a close call at this point. While I could definitely see Trubisky kicking off the season, that he hasn’t pulled away with the starting job yet, despite being with the organization for four seasons, means Foles should be the starter. While Foles is far from the most exciting choice to roll with, he gets the job done more often than not, even if the results aren’t flashy. The Bears can’t afford to take a chance on a risky Trubisky if they want to storm out of the gate.
Jack R. Salo: I hate speculating on this. Reports from camp are that the competition is rather even, in a bad way, as in, neither quarterback has looked like they’re going to earn this role outright. The tie goes to the player who brings more to the offense, which is Trubisky with his running ability. Foles may play a certain Green Day song on repeat, if you catch the reference.
WhiskeyRanger: It’s Trubisky. With neither passer seemingly taking a decisive lead in the competition, it’ll likely go to the more physically talented, high-draft pick incumbent. Whether he finishes the year as the starter is up to the Football Gods to decide.
Erik Duerrwaechter: Let me write this in a matter we can all understand: If Matt Nagy resorts to the quarterback by platoon approach, fire him on the spot. Fire him and his entire staff. That would be the most idiotic decision I’ve witnessed in a franchise where many such poor decisions have already been made at quarterback
We will see Trubisky. Or, we will see Nick Foles. We will not see a platoon concept. Or so I hope and pray.
Ken Mitchell: There will be no platoon. I have no idea who will be named the starter, none at all. If forced to choose I will say Trubisky if for no other reason than that he feasts on the Lions (if nobody else).
Robert Schmitz: I think it’ll be Foles. As I’ve gone back and watched Bears tape this offseason, I keep noticing more and more ways that Trubisky has “hit his ceiling” in Nagy’s current West Coast-based offense — he’s late on his throws, he’s poor in his decisionmaking, he’s inaccurate when given clean pockets, he has a tendency to miss on the deeper actions you need when trying to stretch a defense... you name a mistake, and Trubisky probably made it quite a few times in his 2nd year in the offense, 3rd year overall. Nick Foles is a known, limited quantity, but that quantity can run Nagy’s offense successfully at a base level — that’s better than what the Bears have ever gotten from Trubisky, and it’ll be what makes the difference in the QB competition.
3. There’s been a lot of turned heads surrounding the revamped Bears tight end group of Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet. Kmet especially, as Chicago is clearly trying to sell him as a Face of the Franchise. Do you smell what the Bears’ coaches (and public relations staff) are cooking? Rate your feeling on a scale of 1-10. One embodying ambivalence, they have to prove it on the field, no exceptions! 10 being the marker of two borderline Pro Bowl or All-Pro tight ends on one unit, taking the NFL by storm, by hell or high water.
Robert Zeglinski: I’ll roll with a firm 6. Jimmy Graham’s days of elite rebounds over helpless cornerbacks and safeties are long gone. Father Time comes for us all, and he never fails in his mission. But Graham’s probably still a serviceable player if given enough targets. Kmet, meanwhile, is going to take the typical high profile rookie tight end route. He’ll start slow, have a few decent games here and there, break out toward year’s end, and become a human layup of a Year 2 breakout candidate in 2021.
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. - Graham is an aging veteran and Kmet is a rookie. Let’s go with a 7 for now. I’m optimistic that Graham will have a better season than he did in 2019, and Kmet has all the tools necessary to eventually thrive. I think the Bears’ entire group of tight ends in 2020 will surprise a lot of people.
Jacob Infante: I’m at about a 6 out of 10 right now. Graham isn’t what he used to be, but he’s an upgrade over what the Bears possessed at tight end in 2019. Given the importance of that position to Nagy’s offensive philosophy, that could be a difference maker. I personally wasn’t pushing for a tight end in the second round of the draft considering the general weakness of the class, but Kmet is a solid player who can develop into a quality starter down the line. I might have executed the personnel choices differently, but the important thing is that the Bears massively upgraded at the position. That should pay dividends down the line.
Jack R. Salo: I’m still regaining my sense of smell after testing positive for COVID-19 last month. That said, I am picking up what the Bears are putting down at tight end. I have a crush on these Bears tight ends. What do you tell your crush when they ask you to rate them out of 10? A solid 7, baby.
WhiskeyRanger: Let’s call it a solid 7. I’m not going to lie. A lot of that feeling is based on how terrible the tight end situation was last year. Even having a couple competent Y’s on the roster would be a boon to this Bears offense. Anything more than that, is gravy.
Erik Duerrwaechter: As of this moment, I am at a solid 7 out of 10. Graham has looked fantastic in camp, according to all those who have been fortunate to be in attendance. And I’ve always been high on Cole Kmet. He’s the complete package at tight end physically. It comes down to how fast he’ll take to Clancy Barone’s coaching with his position group.
Ken Mitchell: Last year I would have given the Bears’ tight end situation a 2 out of 10 going into the season, and I would have vastly overrated them. This year? I’m giving them a very optimistic 5 out of 10 because Graham can get open and catch, and Demetrius Harris both knows the offense backwards and forwards and can actually block. Kmet hasn’t played a professional down. Until he does I have no way of evaluating him.
Robert Schmitz: I’m at about a 6 — I can’t believe the hype until I see it on the field, but reports about Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet, and Demetrius Harris have been nothing short of glowing. I have high hopes and low expectations for this group, but cautious optimism this year feels a lot better than blind optimism last year. Here’s hoping for improvement!
4. Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Ted Ginn Jr. are all safe. Case closed. Wrap that bad boy up and put it on your mantel. The back half of the Bears’ receiving corps comes down to Darnell Mooney, Riley Ridley, and Javon Wims. Pick two of three (unless you feel strongly about six). Does whoever you exclude find their way into a special teams role? Do either of your chosen two have a sizable share of targets on offense? Or are they more bottom feeders and talents-hopefully-in-waiting ... perhaps? Maybe?
Robert Zeglinski: The easy answer would be to say the Bears keep all six of these players, now that Patterson is a running back. In the interest of playing along with the question, Wims is a straightforward cut. Former seventh-round pick with minimal flash going into his third season postured against two high recent mid-rounders in Mooney and Ridley? Yeah, I’m not taking that bet for Wims. Expect to see Mooney burn defensive backs early and often once his professional place is solidified.
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr.: With Patterson seemingly with the running backs now, despite him still being listed at receiver, I think that bodes well for the Bears to keep six true receivers (Robinson, Miller, Ginn, Ridley, Mooney, and Wims). Wims may need to secure his place by being more active in the third phase much like Josh Bellamy did a few years ago, because Mooney has been the talk of camp. Regardless of how the room shapes up, it’ll be Allen Robinson as the No. 1, with Miller getting the next biggest share of targets.
Jacob Infante: Give me Mooney and Ridley. Mooney’s dynamic athleticism and his underrated ability to go up and grab the 50-50 ball at 5-foot-11, 174 pounds makes him a perfect Taylor Gabriel replacement. I take Ridley over Wims simply because of his upside. Neither of them are going to produce much on special teams. You might as well go for the receiver with the best chance of becoming a valuable asset through the air. Ridley is the better route runner and has the greater draft pedigree. While I could see a possibility for the Bears to carry enough receivers to let Wims hang on — especially if they view Patterson as a pure running back — I would let Mooney and Ridley get first dibs if forced to choose two.
Jack R. Salo: At this point I’m wondering what NFL coaches and executives know about Ridley that we don’t. With his talent, several mock drafts had him going in the third round. He then slips to the fourth round and Ryan Pace takes the bait. Ridley then appears in five games in 2019. Five. Not only that, it took injuries for him to finally suit up. Send him to the practice squad. If somebody poaches him then so be it. Wims knows the offense. Give him a chance.
WhiskeyRanger: It’s a tough call to make with the limited looks at the team that we’ve gotten. You’d think that Ridley and Mooney being recent fourth and fifth-round picks would give them an advantage, to go along with their valuable skillsets (polished route runner and speedy deep threat, respectively). That leaves Wims. He was a seventh-round pick in 2018 and has stuck around the bottom of the rotation ever since. Then again, in regards to skillset and physical makeup, he does project as the best fill-in for Robinson, which has value. That said, should the Bears roll with five receivers (with Patterson in the backfield), I’d say Wims is the odd man out, possibly making it to the practice squad. Ridley and Mooney likely carry more value to this roster. Anyone else is competing for the practice squad, if it wasn’t obvious.
Erik Duerrwaechter: Darnell Mooney, then Riley Ridley. The former is the safest by far. In fact, Mooney has already seen some time with the ones on offense. There are major plans for him on the Bears’ offense this season. I would not expect to see Mooney much on special teams. Ridley, a 2019 draft pick, should see more snaps this as well on offense. As for Wims, the odds are stacked against him. My receiving corps is as follows: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Ted Ginn Jr., Darnell Mooney, Riley Ridley, and Cordarelle Patterson. I don’t see Wims being able to win a spot over any of those players.
Ken Mitchell: I think all of them make the team. That’s five or six receivers, depending on if you count Patterson.
Robert Schmitz: I actually think the Bears’ will look to keep 6 wideouts this year (especially with Patterson playing runningback), and of them I think it’ll be Darnell Mooney working his way into the starting offense the quickest. I have no idea what Ted Ginn’s role on this offense will be, but Mooney offers enough speed and route-running prowess (if reports are to be believed) that he could both let Anthony Miller kick out wide and work out wide himself when the time comes. Wims and Ridley remain solid depth options, Wims being the primary replacement for Robinson (the “big dude” WR) and Ridley as the replacement for Miller (the “route runner”), but I don’t know if any of the 6 will factor in as heavily on special teams as the DBs might.
Click on our names to follow us on Twitter: Jeff Berckes; Patti Curl; Eric Christopher Duerrwaechter; Kev H; Sam Householder; Jacob Infante; Aaron Lemming; Ken Mitchell; Jack R Salo; Steven Schweickert; Jack Silverstein; EJ Snyder; Lester Wiltfong, Jr.; Whiskey Ranger; Robert Schmitz; Robert Zeglinski; Bill Zimmerman; Like us on Facebook.