There isn’t a lot of love being given to the 2022 Chicago Bears on a national level. General manager Ryan Poles inherited a team with plenty of roster holes, not a lot of draft picks, and a crippling amount of dead salary cap space to deal with, but he had a thorough offseason plan, and he stuck with it.
We may not know if Poles’ plan has any legs until the 2023 season, because this year’s version of the Bears underwent drastic changes from a season ago. There’ll also be a learning curve for his players as they acclimate to the new coaching schemes, so just battling to stay out of the NFC North cellar could be what awaits this team.
Last year the Bears went 6-11, and according to our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook, the current over/under win total for them is 6. The Bears will need a lot of things to go right to hit that over number this season, but the most important thing to happen in 2022 is quarterback Justin Fields making strides. If he takes a sophomore step that some are predicting, then the Bears will be flirting with seven wins.
The overall roster still has question marks on offense and defense, but Poles added plenty of competition, and competition often brings out the best in true competitors. It’ll be up to head coach Matt Eberflus and his coaching staff to get the most out of what should be a try-hard group of players.
Eberflus’ HITS principle (Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways, and playing Smart) has permeated through the locker room, and the players have completely bought into the new culture.
There’s talent on the roster, but much of it is unproven. The receiving corps has been criticized a bunch, but the Bears believe they have added enough for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to work with. Chicago’s top wideouts should be Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, and rookie Velus Jones Jr. They traded for N’Keal Harry, but he landed on injured reserve to start the season.
Their No. 1 tight end will be Cole Kmet, but veterans Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco will provide depth. Kmet has had a nice offseason, and he’s primed for a big 2022.
The running backs room should be a strength of the team behind David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Trestan Ebner, and for the first time in a while, a fullback, Khari Blasingame, will be leading the way.
But the quarterback, the pass catchers, and the running backs will only be able to affect the game if the offensive line comes together.
Chicago’s No. 1 free agent pick-up on offense was center Lucas Patrick, but a broken thumb could keep him off the field until the early part of September. With him sidelined, it has been holdover Sam Mustipher running with the ones at center.
Veteran Cody Whitehair has the left guard spot locked up, with rookie Braxton Jones currently slated to be the starting left tackle. Late free agent signee Riley Reiff has been competing with Larry Borom for the right tackle spot, but Borom should have that in hand now. The right guard position had some offseason intrigue, but second-year pro Teven Jenkins has laid claim to that spot.
The defense doesn’t have as many questions, especially now that the Roquan Smith hold-in situation is in the past. Smith will be lined up on the weakside with free agent acquisition Nicholas Morrow manning the middle. The strongside seems to be veteran Matthew Adams, but undrafted free agent Jack Sanborn had a heck of a preseason, and Sterling Weatherford was added via the waiver wire.
Up front, the Bears’ top three defensive ends will be Robert Quinn, Trevis Gipson, and Al-Quadin Muhammad, with their defensive tackle rotation being Justin Jones, who was Chicago’s priciest free agent pickup, the returning Angelo Blackson, and newcomer Armon Watts looking for a fresh start.
The secondary could be one of the most improved position groups, with rookie safety Jaquan Brisker and corner Kyler Gordon joining safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson. The versatile Gordon may get his reps at nickel, which means Kindle Vildor is back starting this season, but in a scheme that better suits his skills. The depth of this group was bolstered by free agent Dane Cruikshank, the surprising Lamar Jackson, and the returning DeAndre Houston-Carson.
While Poles’ free agency plan was patient, he attacked the NFL Draft with several maneuvers that netted him an 11-man class after beginning the weekend with just six picks.
Here’s a quick snapshot on how the Bears’ 2022 draft class projects for this season.
- Kyler Gordon has been running both as the starting outside corner and the nickel, which bodes well for him starting somewhere Week 1 as long as he’s healthy.
- Jaquan Brisker has been starting at safety since about Day 1, and that’ll continue when they host the 49ers on opening weekend.
- The explosive Velus Jones Jr. figures to be in the mix as the No. 4 receiver, with a possible package of plays for his unique skill set, plus he’ll be returning on special teams.
- Braxton Jones went from backup left tackle, to starting LT, to No. 2 after Reiff was signed, but his good camp has him back with the ones.
- Defensive end Dominique Robinson has flashed plenty, but he’ll need more seasoning before making an impact.
- Zachary Thomas made the initial 53-man roster, but the late addition of former first-round pick Alex Leatherwood pushed Thomas off the roster. However, he has been brought back as a practice squadder.
- Trestan Ebner’s explosiveness and versatility has been on display this offseason, and he’ll be in the mix as a returner and backing up at tailback.
- Doug Kramer was placed on injured reserve, but before he was lost for the season, he was getting reps as the No. 2 center.
- Ja’Tyre Carter has seen time backing up at guard, and for now, he’s on the 53, but things could change.
- Elijah Hicks missed some time with an injury, which put him behind a few other safeties, but he did enough to stick in their initial 53-man roster.
- The Bears liked what they saw in punter Trenton Gill so much that they released the other camp leg, and then he impressed all preseason so much so that my podcast partner gave him the nickname The Gillotine.
I’d love to see this team push for a playoff spot in the NFC, but my realistic expectations are closer to 6 wins ... with a young and hungry team starting to make the league take notice in the second half of the season.
How do you see the 2022 season going for the Bears?