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Bears mailbag: Expectations for Justin Fields, did Ryan Poles help the offense, and much more

It’s been a while but the Windy City Gridiron mailbag is back in action. We’ll answer all of your burning questions and much more!

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since we’ve done a mailbag and what better time than post-draft to get the juices flowing? The Chicago Bears are coming off a (6-11) season, but more importantly they are amid a full-on teardown and rebuild. While expectations may be low for the 2022 season, there’s still plenty to ponder.

With just about a month left of the off-season program left before their final break until training camp, there will be plenty to learn over the next few weeks. That includes multiple voluntary OTAs for the remainder of May and the start of June before a mid-June mandatory mini-camp.

Have the Bears done enough around Justin Fields? What could the Bears have done at No. 7 overall if they still had their pick last month? And much more in a loaded Windy City Gridiron mailbag.

Heading into this off-season, many fans and analysts around the league expected an aggressive offensive approach from first-year general manager Ryan Poles. To be blunt, there hasn’t been much “aggression” when it has come to this off-season and his question to help Justin Fields and the offensive depth chart.

With all of that being said, I can objectively say I’m much more worried about the offensive line than I am about their lackluster group of receivers. Yes, their receivers leave quite a bit to be desired. Especially when comparing them to top offenses around the league. Even with some upside from guys like Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, and third-round pick Velus Jones Jr.

As we’ve seen in past years, the depth chart can be easily and quickly improved at the receiver position. I fully expect that to happen next year. What I’m much more concerned about is the uncertainty of the offensive line. Right now, they have three starting spots with a lot of questions. Both tackle spots and right guard are areas where I’m more than uncomfortable. Their depth is also almost non-existent, especially when you factor in that a guy like Dakota Dozier would have a real shot to start Week 1 without another free agent move.

I think their group of receivers can be adequate, especially in a better offensive system and with an above-average offensive line. Right now, the Bears don’t have that offensive line (at least on paper), which makes me feel not great about either position right now.

So, to answer your question, it’s more of a TBA at this point and a lot of that has to do with how the offensive line shakes out leading up to Week 1. Protection should be the top priority.

That’s a really good question and one that I’m sure a lot of Bears fans were asking themselves during the draft. In this scenario (at least for me), I imagined the Bears having the No. 7 overall pick AND Fields behind center. Had it not been for an “empty” run at the end of the 2020 season to get them into the playoffs, they could have easily been a lot closer to the No. 11 overall pick in last year’s draft, which would have not cost them a first-round pick in a deal.

Assuming that the board fell the same way as it did in reality, the Bears would have had their pick between a pair of top-end tackles in Evan Neal (Alabama) and Charles Cross (Mississippi State). They would have also had their pick of receivers with Jamison Williams (Alabama), Drake London (USC), etc.

At least for me, I like to project toward the future and I also like to think about positional value. What would have been easier for the Bears to “fix” next year? A receiver or a top-end offensive tackle? For me, the answer is easy. Which is why I would have gone with a tackle. The nice thing about this tackle class was that everyone had different grades on the top few names.

By the No. 7 overall pick, only one tackle had gone (Ickey Ekwonu), which left two potential top-end starters still in play at that pick. I know Neal went before Cross, but I had a higher grade on Cross, which is who I would have taken.

Fast-forwarding to 2023, tackle is going to be a tougher spot to fill. The draft class (at least on the surface) doesn’t appear strong at the top and teams rarely allow starting-caliber offensive tackles hit the market. The same can’t be said at receiver.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I think that all depends on who you ask, right? Something I’ve noticed over the past few years in regards to Bears fans — especially on Twitter — there seem to be two highly populated segments of fans.

  1. The optimistic fans who believe things will all work out until proven otherwise.
  2. The ones who consider themselves more objective, but can tend to lean too negatively.

I can honestly say I’ve been in both boats. I do tend to lean more into the second option now, which has me thinking that this is going to be yet another poor offensive year. From a projection standpoint, the Bears have one of the worst supporting casts (skill position players and offensive lines) around their second-year quarterback. Especially when you compare the five Round 1 starting quarterbacks from the 2021 draft class.

Does that mean that Fields is doomed? Absolutely not.

It also means that of all five first-round quarterbacks from last year, he may have the steepest hill to climb to overcome adversity. It was never realistic to expect all five of these guys to pan out, though.

Only time will tell how bad this offense will be, but as of now all we have to go on is what is on “paper.” I also think that’s why the overall national narrative on Fields is not a positive one. Development is key for any rebuilding team and will be extremely valuable for the Bears if they want Fields to pan out long-term.

Bears fans should be hoping for one thing out of this season — A clear picture as to who Fields is.

A quarterback’s second year in the league is much more important than his rookie year. It’s also usually a tall-tale sign of what’s to come regarding their career trajectory.

For reference:

  • Josh Allen in Year 2: 3,089 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, an 85.3 rating and 510 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns.
  • Deshaun Watson in Year 2: 4,165 pass yards, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, an 103.1 rating and 551 rushing yards with 5 touchdowns.

In your projection, Fields would be splitting those two almost down the middle. Obviously, you have to account for a 17th game in there, but all in all I think the organization and fans alike would feel pretty good moving into Year 3 with that type of production. Especially considering what he has to work with.

I know this may not be overly popular right now but I have them going (6-11) again. I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again... Their record is much less meaningful than the development that happens on this roster in 2022.

Some may argue that the two are mutually exclusive, but I disagree. Overall, I think the Bears have a bottom 10 roster heading into training camp. Even more concerning is that their overall depth is not there. A few injuries at some key spots and things could get ugly. (See the offensive line as a prime example)

With all of that being said, I think the development of their young players reigns supreme. If they can figure out a long-term spot or two on their offensive line (outside of Patrick and Whitehair), that would be a big win. If Pringle and/or Jones Jr. can prove to be a quality No. 2 receiving option, that helps a lot too. The same goes on the defensive side of the ball. If Gordon and Brisker are early-round quality starters and they have someone like Justin Jones, Caleb Johnson, or Charles Snowden develop into a plus-starter, those are needed happenings and more importantly, fewer needs that they’ll have heading into next off-season.

As far as Fields go, I think the line listed above is a very reasonable expectation in Year 2. A lot of that will depend on the offensive line, but I do expect him to take a quality second-year jump. If he does and the front office feels comfortable heading into Year 3, things get a lot easier in this rebuild.

A lot will need to go right but they also have a lot of “lottery tickets” on the table this year by design. Only time will tell how many they can “cash-out,” but the arrow should be pointing up heading out of the 2022 season by default. If not, we’ll revisit this and see where they need to go from there.

For what it’s worth, I was on record for saying that I was completely fine with Nick Foles as the team’s backup this year. Poles and company had other plans in the form of Trevor Siemian.

Now, I don’t think Siemian is near as athletic as someone like Fields, but I do think he’s a lot better of an overall scheme fit than someone like Foles. I just didn’t think the Bears would put a ton of value into the backup quarterback spot in Year 1 of a rebuild.

It’s also worth noting that Siemian was the primary backup to Jamies Winston last year. Winston may not be as athletic as Fields either, but he’s not a statue back there. All in all, Siemian gives you a nice in-between and also brings some starting veteran experience that can help if Fields goes down at any point over the next two years. I’m also not sure there were many (if any) better options for the price they got Siemian at.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Snowden (and edge rusher as a whole) was one of the areas that I highlighted last week when I was taking a deeper dive into the post-draft roster. Right now, the Bears have three guys in Robert Quinn, Al-Quadin Muhammad, and Trevis Gipson who should all rotate quite a bit as the primary three edge rushers. Outside of that, they have veteran Jeremiah Attaochu, fifth-round pick Dominique Robinson, 2021 undrafted free agent Sam Kamara, 2022 undrafted free agent Carson Taylor, and Snowden.

Assuming that Quinn isn’t traded before Week 1, their top three is pretty much set in stone. I continue to mention their top three because new head coach Matt Eberflus had just two defensive players play 80% (or more) of the team’s snaps on the defensive front. Those two players? Deforest Buckner and Muhammad. I’d expect quite a bit of rotation along the defensive line to keep players fresh. That will also allow this coaching staff to put each player in the best position to succeed.

Looking back at how Indianapolis and Kansas City handled their Week 1 rosters, I would guess that the Bears will keep five, maybe six edge rushers. That leaves two, maybe three spots for guys like Attaochu, Robinson, Kamara, Taylor, and Snowden to compete for.

It has also been said that Attaochu could slot in as the SAM, which gives him some positional versatility. Assuming they keep five edge rushers, the final spot may come down between a mix of Snowden, Attaochu, and Robinson. I still see Attaochu as the odd-man out on a rebuilding team and in my first roster projection last week, I had Snowden making the initial squad. It’s also worth noting that Zack Pearson of the Bear Report had Snowden as one of his “standout players” in rookie mini-camp last week.