After months of waiting and a lot of talk on X, talk radio, and podcasts, the 2023 NFL season is finally here. Last year, our Chicago Bears finished with the worst record in the NFL (I believe by design), and the 2023 edition of the Bears looks entirely different.
In 2022, the Bears' defense was one of the worst in the League, mainly because they couldn't stop the run. Most of last year's defensive line is gone, with only two returning players in defensive tackle Justin Jones and second-year defensive end Dominique Robinson. The rest of the interior DLine is made up of nose tackle Andrew Billings, a free agent signing, and rookie draft picks Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. The new defensive ends are pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, along with combo defensive ends DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green. I say "combo" because both are capable of playing inside on pass-downs. The last member is waiver pickup Khalid Kareem, who had been with Cincinnati and the Colts.
I like the overall makeup of the defensive line, but I feel they are still a pass rusher short. Both Robinson and Kareem have the "potential' to become better than average edge pass rushers, but to date, neither has done it. This group's run-stopping ability is excellent compared to a year ago. The interior group as a whole is much more athletic than what we saw last year. The two rookies (Dexter and Pickins) are excellent athletes who should eventually become very good DTs.
Like the DLine, the linebacker group is totally revamped with only one returnee in second-year man Jack Sanborn, who will be the number one Sam when they use three linebackers. The Mike and Will both came from free agency in T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds; both are Pro Bowl caliber players who bring with them a winning attitude from their previous teams. The Bears linebacker group is as good as any in the League.
The secondary has one new starter and has added some depth. The returning starters are corner Jaylon Johnson, nickel Kyler Gordon, and safeties Jaquan Brisker and Eddie Jackson. Rookie Tyrique Stevenson will man the corner position opposite Johnson. This group is young but very talented. Stevenson has the makings of being one of the more physical corners in the League, but he needs to settle down as he had too many penalties in the pre-season for being over-aggressive.
Opponents with target Stevenson, so he needs to be ready. I feel the depth is good, but also young and inexperienced. The key question is, are they prepared to play if one of the starters goes down? Two of the backup corners (Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell) got extensive playtime as rookies. It's the backup safeties that lack experience.
Like the defense, the offense has a lot of new faces. Only on the offensive line is the starting lineup for this week different than what was expected. With guard Tevin Jenkins out with a calf injury, Cody Whitehair moves over from center to start at left guard. The center will be Lucas Patrick, who was hurt most of last year. The odd thing is if we go back a year, Whitehair and Patrick were supposed to be the starting center and left guard, but because of injuries to Patrick, that combo never got to play together. These two have a lot of playing experience, but neither has the size and power of Jenkins, who, when healthy is one of the better guards in the League.
The right guard will be Nate Davis, who started the last four years in Tennessee and did an outstanding job. He missed a lot of time in camp, so fans are worried, but I feel Davis' presence will be felt when the bell rings tomorrow.
The tackles are young but have the "potential" to be the best group of tackles since John Tait and Fred Miller in the early 2000s. Second-year man Braxton Jones may have been a fifth-round pick a year ago, but he is premium round size, length and athleticism. Being he came from an FCS level school, his strength and power a year ago weren't up to NFL standards, but after a strong off-season working with Olin Kreutz and in the Bears Off-season program, Jones is much stronger. I expect a big season from him.
Rookie right tackle Darnell Wright has the traits to become one of the better tackles in football. He just needs experience. He may take a few lumps early in the season, but he will become a force. Once Jenkins gets back in four weeks, this group will be very strong if they stay healthy.
Like most of the position groups, the wide receiver room has a lot of new faces led by former Panther D.J. Moore. As I have said before and firmly believe, Moore can do for the Bears and Justin Fields what Stefon Diggs did for Buffalo and Josh Allen. Moore is at the exact same point in his career as Diggs was when the Bills acquired him, and their stats are almost identical for the first five years in the League. Moore will do big things for the Bears.
Fans were excited when the Bears acquired Chase Claypool from the Steelers at the trade deadline. Then Claypool didn't do much the rest of the season. That left a sour taste in many fans' mouths. It shouldn't, as Claypool is going to have a big year. Few WRs in the League have his natural talent. He's big, fast, long and physical. He's also the ideal X receiver in this scheme.
The slot will be Darnell Mooney. I say slot, but I feel that Mooney and Moore will both be playing the slot and Z receiver positions. I feel the coaching staff will mix it up so that it gives the Bears matchup advantages. The starting three wide receivers are very fast as Moore and Claypool are in the 4.2 range, while Mooney is a 4.37. It is one of the faster WR groups in the League.
Tight end is in much better shape than at any time in recent years. Cole Kmet is just coming into his own and will become a star in this League. Robert Tonyan is a tall and fast move tight end, something the Bears haven't had. He will bring to the Bears a dimension we haven't seen in a long time, if ever. In Green Bay, he was a key receiver for Aaron Rodgers the last two years with over 50 receptions in each season. Marcedes Lewis is almost ready for Social Security, but he just may be the best blocking tight end in football. He will help the run game improve.
The running back group lost Davind Montgomery but gained D'Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson. I feel that, as a whole, this group is very strong because of the way they complement each other. Each player has a different set of strong points. Used properly, they can keep a defense off balance.
Last, we have to talk about Justin Fields. It's now his third year in the League and second in this offense. Most of the national media have gone out of their way to say Fields will not be very good. They're full of it! Fields will take a big step in 2023 and improve in all areas. Do I see a 4000-yard passing season? No, and that's because of the weather we get in Chicago late in the season, not his talent. By the end of the year, Fields will be considered one of the better young QBs in the game. Count on it!
So, how good can the Chicago Bears be? I have said all along I feel they are a nine-win team this year. If they reach that number, they will compete for a Playoff berth but may not get it. Regardless, the arrow is pointing up for this franchise.