As I write this, the Chicago Bears rookies are beginning to report to training camp for the 2023 NFL season. They will be followed by the veterans reporting on Tuesday, and the first camp practice will be Wednesday.
Just like every year in today's NFL, there has been a large turnover of players since we last saw the Bears play seven months ago. Hopefully, the new influx of talent will bring improvement and success to this team. Still, there are questions about this team that need to be answered. Some will be answered during camp and the preseason, while for others, we will need to wait for the beginning of the 2023 regular season in seven weeks.
Here are my four biggest questions surrounding the Bears as they head to camp.
1) Will Justin Fields Continue to Grow?
This is the number one question about this team because if Fields improves the way we hope he does, this Bears team can easily have a winning season and perhaps make a run at the Playoffs.
Yes, I know the National narrative is Fields is practically a bust, but 95% of the people who feel that way actually know very little about this Bears team. Yesterday, a two-time former NFL GM claimed that the best quarterback in the NFC North is Green Bay's Jordan Love. We all know that is absurd as how good or bad Love is this season remains to be seen. Nothing Love has done to date says he will be good, bad, or indifferent. We just don't know.
That same former GM also has Fields ranked as the worst QB in the NFC North. Of course, it should be pointed out that this former GM basically destroyed two AFC East franchises when he was GM of those two teams, so his opinion is actually a joke! But it goes along with many other national narratives that are out there.
My feeling is that Fields will have a great season. This is his second year in Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy's offensive scheme and the first time since he left Ohio State that he has played in the same system two years in a row.
Since last season, the wide receiver group, running back group and offensive line have all been upgraded, so if Fields just progresses the way a third-year player normally should, he will be vastly improved over a year ago. My gut feeling is that all the negative National narratives about Fields and the Bears will be history by midseason. Am I optimistic? Of course, because that's who I am, I don't live with negativity.
2) Is Chase Claypool the Wide Receiver Ryan Poles Thought He Was When He Traded for Him?
Personally, I feel Claypool will be excellent, but many fans think he's been a bust. I'm not here to lecture, but what many fans thought was going to happen when the Bears acquired Claypool was NEVER going to happen last season. Many fans want instant gratification when a trade is made, but in the case of this trade, Ryan Poles knew that the results would be this year, not last year.
Why? At midseason, Claypool was coming to a team with an entirely different offensive scheme than he played in at Pittsburgh. The fact is, the Bears' scheme is a complicated scheme to learn, especially if a player comes in at mid-year. It takes more than a couple weeks for a receiver to get up to speed in this scheme. Add to that the fact that Fields and Claypool had never played with one another. Fields then injured his shoulder, and Claypool had some soft tissue injuries. The chemistry needed for the pair to click was never going to happen in 2022. Now, with a full off-season to work together, they will be much more in sync with each other.
In this scheme, the X receiver is supposed to be big, fast, athletic, and able to stretch the field. Those are all traits that Claypool possesses. In fact, he has rare traits with 4.42 speed, a 40.5" vertical jump, and a 10'6" standing long jump at 6'4 – 238. He will not be the number one receiver, that job is D.J. Moore's, who is the Z receiver, but if Claypool has 60 to 65 receptions and seven or eight touchdowns, the trade is more than a success. Stay tuned; it will happen.
3) Is the Offensive Line Good Enough?
When the vets report to camp next Tuesday, we will see a much different starting five than we saw last season. The left tackle will be Braxton Jones, who gained a lot of experience as a rookie playing every snap last year. He will be even better this year.
Tevin Jenkins moves over to left guard. He has experience on the left side and showed last year that he is well on his way to becoming one of the better guards in all of the NFL. The center is old friend Cody Whitehair. He began his career at center, and until he had some problems with the shotgun snap with Mitch Trubisky, he was regarded as a winning center in the League. He dramatically upgrades the center position. At right guard, UFA signee Nate Davis takes over. Davis has 54 starts in his career and has been to the Playoffs. He will bring needed leadership and experience to the OLine room.
At right tackle, rookie first-round pick Darnell Wright takes over. He is a big and nasty player similar to Jenkins but with more athleticism. He will, of course, go through some rookie growing pains, but if we look at the combination of Wright and Jones, the tackle position is set for years.
The one common denominator of all five starters is that they are very athletic. To play an outside zone scheme effectively, athletic linemen are needed. That's exactly what the Bears have. If there is a question with the Bears' OLine, it's the depth at tackle. We will find out in camp if it is good enough. If the coaches feel it isn't, I'm sure we will see some new faces before we hit September.
4) Can the Bears Win with the Current Defensive Line?
Except for Justin Jones, the entire interior defensive line is new. The additions are nose tackle Andrew Billings and rookies Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. They add size, speed, strength and athleticism to the interior DLine. Last year there was barely any pass rush from the interior, this group should be much better, but we won't know for sure until we see them in preseason.
The Bears added two veteran defensive ends in DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green. Both are more noted as run defenders than pass rushers. Last year the run defense from the ends was inconsistent at best. The two vets will vastly upgrade the run defense. What is needed is an edge pass rusher who can scare an Offensive Coordinator. As of today, the Bears don't have that.
There are two holdovers who may be able to create pressure, but until we see it, we just don't know.
Trevis Gipson looked like an up-and-comer two years ago with 7.0 sacks as a second-year player. Last year he regressed and only had 3.0 sacks. He must revert to his 2021 form. Dominque Robinson was a rookie last year and has great potential, but the fact remains that he has played on the DLIne for only four years. He is still raw. The natural traits are there, but he has to take the next step this fall.
What is needed is the addition of a veteran pass rusher. Both Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus have mentioned this several times since the Draft, but nothing has been done as of today. I would expect a veteran to be signed within the next few days. If not, the only hope is that both Gipson and Robinson drastically improve.