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Bears Mailbag: Roschon Johnson’s debut, Week 1 overreactions, and much more

After waiting nine months in between regular season games, most Chicago Bears would label Week 1’s 38-20 blowout loss as a disaster. The good news? We’ve still got 16 more games. The bad news? Week 2 can’t come soon enough. We’ll dive into all of your burning questions and try to ease the pain of Sunday’s loss!

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Week 1 is in the books, and all of that optimism that surrounded the Chicago Bears heading into the regular season has vanished into thin air. The rollercoaster that is the NFL regular season has many bumps along the way. That’s why they call it a week-to-week league. Can the Bears get back on track this weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or will we be talking about the potential for a (0-3) start in next week’s mailbag? We’ll tackle all of your burning questions and more in this week’s installment of the Bears Mailbag.

Both head coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy seem relatively committed to a running back by committee in 2023. What exactly does that mean, though? In the truest sense, it would equate to the hottest hand getting the majority of the touches each week. In a more realistic approach, it means that the cycle of depth might change, but it usually requires multiple weeks of a player dominating performances for a real change at the top to be made.

My guess would be that Roschon Johnson will be the second running back off the bench this week. He’ll likely see more first-half touches, and if all goes well, maybe he’ll end the day as the leader in total snaps at the running back position.

Another factor to keep in mind with the rotation at running back is how will this coaching staff view each runner’s strengths and weaknesses against a new defensive front. Johnson, for my money, is their most versatile player. He has shown good burst out of the backfield. He’s extremely impressive as a pass blocker and has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. His physical style is exactly what the Bears are looking for. Khalil Herbert is more of a speed threat and might be better suited as a change of pace back. Only time will tell how it all plays out, but I do expect Johnson to see a bigger role on Sunday. One thing that does need to change on Sunday? The offensive line’s ability to block for their running backs.

There haven’t been many days in the past decade-plus where I haven’t wondered that myself. Between the Bears and Chicago White Sox, my sports fandom has become a much more miserable experience than it should be.

For me, the frustration with the two teams comes in different forms. Especially with the Bears, it’s the continuing trends (i.e., losing to the Packers or constantly on a search for a franchise quarterback). Football is a different animal, though. Even when the Bears are bad, and I don’t want to think about them, there are still many interesting storylines to watch and follow. We get four months of regular season football a year and, if we are lucky, a first-round playoff exit. I try to maximize my football fandom by taking advantage of every game, fantasy team, pick ‘em, etc.

You’re far from alone, though. Hopefully, better days are ahead for this team, and we’ll look back in December with the exact opposite reaction to Week 1 as we did last year.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Head Coach Matt Eberflus Press Conference David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Corey coming out of the gate hot! I’ll go down the list & answer these the best I can.

  1. For as miserable as the Bears can make us, I don’t think they are the most inept organization in the league. There are times when it feels like it, but sometimes, I think that things come down to dumb luck. Take the Jets for example. Their track record of drafting quarterbacks in the first round has been brutal over the past few decades. They finally think outside of the box, land Aaron Rodgers, and bam, he takes four snaps and is done for the season. The same way that the San Francisco 49ers can trade the world for the rights to draft Trey Lance, completely miss, and then still recover because Brock Purdy— The last pick in the 2022 draft— Is some diamond in the rough. Sometimes, the NFL is just unfair. The McCaskey family has been far from perfect or even good, but sports have a weird way of following trends over decades and then breaking them with the snap of a finger. I’d call this more of a “bad luck from the football Gods” type of situation than the worst organization in the league.
  2. The Kevin Warren angle is an interesting one. For the first time in a while, the Bears appear to have a progressive leader at the top of the food chain. Warren said that his primary goal is to bring championships to Chicago. I’m still skeptical that he’ll have a huge hand in the football operations side of the house, especially with the stadium deal in serious flux. With that being said, maybe he does have the power to hire and fire as he pleases. For as unsure as I am about him as a top football mind, it can’t be worse than Ted Phillips and George McCaskey leading the charge, right? My guess (I can’t stress the “guess” part enough) is that general manager Ryan Poles will have a considerably longer leash than Eberflus and his coaching staff. If things go south this year and we are talking about another Top 5 pick type of season, it wouldn’t shock me to see them fire the entire coaching staff and for Poles to draft his own quarterback. We are far away from that becoming a reality or even a realistic talking point, but that’s where I’d lean heading into Week 2. Real progress needs to be shown, though. I think we can all agree on that.
  3. I wish I could help you out there... I used to have a contact at DirecTV, but that also went away a while ago. Best of luck on your quest for a “The Bears might be bad” refund!

In this scenario, the Bears would be breaking one of the things that George McCaskey said he would never do. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where any head coach is fired this early into the season this year, especially in Chicago. For as bad as things might feel right now, keep in mind that this is Year 2 of an extensive tear-down and rebuild. They tore things down to the studs last year, finished with a league’s worst record, and re-tooled part (but not all) of their roster.

At this point, I’d be absolutely stunned by an Eberflus firing in-season. That said, I could see a coaching change next off-season if they win another three games this season. Patience is key, but at the same time, it would be clear that Eberflus wasn’t the guy in a situation where he finished year two with a (6-28) record. To be clear, I don’t think that will happen. I believe the Bears will eventually right the ship and find a way to (at least) double their win total by the end of the year.

As far as Getsy is concerned, I wouldn’t even begin to think about him as a head coach (even a fill-in) until he can run a league-average offense. Considering how far away the Bears are from that, I don’t think he would be even worth considering in this scenario. If anything, I would actually say a mid-season firing of Getsy would feel more possible, albeit not super likely, versus them firing a head coach.

If you had asked me this question before last week, I would have said they are good at keeping games clean from penalties, limiting game-changing mistakes, and most importantly, having their team fight like hell for the full 60 minutes. Sunday was very uncharacteristic for many reasons, which is why I think we need to let this season play out a bit more before making sweeping proclamations.

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never been sold on this coaching staff being a playoff-caliber group but I still think it’s far too early to tell, considering the circumstances. Obviously, things need to drastically improve from what we saw on Sunday and their overall record from last year.

I’d say that we should revisit this topic in November or December. Let’s see where the team is at. Maybe Week 1 was a fluke. Maybe they get off to a slow start and have an impressive turnaround like the Detroit Lions did one short year ago. Maybe this entire thing keeps trending in the wrong direction, and we are talking about potential head coaching candidates in December. All in all, it’s far too early to make many concrete judgments. Even as frustrating as Week 1 turned out to be.

Here’s what I’d like to see change, though.

  1. Give Fields some easy throws early and get him in a rhythm. A good way to do this? Don’t run the ball (70%) of the time on first down.
  2. Defensively, stop playing a soft Cover 2 zone on third downs. Blitz a bit more often and challenge teams to beat you with pressure.

This is a much more talented team than a year ago. To a certain extent, I believe it’s up to the coaching staff to pull that out of them.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

I know that this is more of a tongue-in-cheek question, but I still think it was a fun one to answer. First, let me be clear. I don’t think the Bears should or would trade Fields one game into the regular season of Year 3. If they didn’t trust him or like him enough now, they would have dealt him in the off-season and had their pick of quarterbacks in this past draft.

With that being said, it’s an interesting thought, right? The Aaron Rodgers era lasted all of four snaps in New York on Monday night. A sack from former Bear Leonard Floyd not only ended Rodgers’ night, it ended his season and, quite possibly, his career. The hype train for the Jets has been real this off-season. They landed some nice free agents and already had a very nice-looking roster. All that was missing was the quarterback. Sound familiar?

Now, they have to pivot. Do they roll with Zach Wilson for the remainder of the season? That seems most likely but also the least ideal situation. If the Jets called and offered a first-round pick right now for Fields, I fully believe Poles would say “No.” and immediately hang up the phone. Again, why would they trade a guy they felt confident enough to trade the No. 1 overall pick just six months ago? It’s fun to think about the possibilities of the Bears having three first-round picks, but the reality would be another tough season and rooting for certain teams to win to secure the No. 1 overall pick, yet again. All in all, I would not want to be Joe Douglas and the New York Jets right now.

That’s somewhat of a tricky question right now. I think we can say with some certainty that both sides of the trenches are going to need more work. In an ideal world, they get some quality development from their younger players like Gervon Dexter Sr., Zacch Pickens, Darnell Wright, and Braxton Jones. Even so, there are still likely to be multiple holes to fill on both sides of the ball.

A way-too-early look into free agency shows a strong edge group headlined by Rashan Gary, Montez Sweat, Josh Uche, Danielle Hunter, and others. As we know, the reality is that many of these players will either sign long-term extensions or get franchise-tagged. Even so, there are bound to be some good options to choose from once free agency opens. The interior defensive line is a little more suspect but does have some fun names. Those include Chris Jones, Christian Wilkins, D.J. Reader, Derrick Brown, and Denico Autry. Again, the chances that many of these guys hit the market are slim.

On the offensive line, the selection (even as of now) is much less promising. Yosh Nijman, Jonah Williams, Trent Brown, and Donovan Smith headline the name at tackles. Shaq Mason, Damien Lewis, Jonah Jackson, and Robert Hunt are the top names on the interior. Assuming that the Bears can find answers at both tackle spots, it makes sense to keep adding talent on the interior.

Building up the trenches is tough. That’s why most successful teams have stacked years of drafts where their top picks are on both sides of the line. The Bears have a long way to go and might have to get creative in free agency to help it along. Hopefully, by the end of this season, we’ll have a more optimistic perspective on their needs heading into the off-season. Regardless, Poles has plenty of work still ahead.