Bears rookies and quarterbacks reported to Halas Hall on Saturday ahead of training camp, with the rest of the team due to arrive Tuesday.
The first practice of training camp in the Matt Eberflus-Ryan Poles era begins Wednesday, with the Bears’ preseason opener Aug. 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field.
With the Bears in Year 0 of a long rebuild, quarterback Justin Fields will be the center of attention in training camp. His development this season will pave the way for the rebuilding of Eberflus and the Poles.
But there are other things to watch out for as things unfold at Halas Hall.
Here are five stories to watch as Bears training camp begins:
All eyes are on Justin Fields
The 2022 season is set to be the ground floor of Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles’ rebuild. The Bears have a roster that lacks depth and talent in top positions. A six-win season could very well be the Bears’ 2022 cap.
While not much is expected from the Bears this fall, every play of Justin Fields’ season will be under the microscope. Fields showed his star potential last season as he played behind a porous offensive line and for a staff that refused to let him do what he did best.
Eberflus brought in Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator. Getsy has spent the offseason installing an offshoot of Shanahan’s wide-area offense that promises to attack deep and get Fields moving, using the quarterback’s athleticism and arm talent in a way that Matt Nagy didn’t.
Everyone in the Bears organization praised Fields for his work ethic and leadership this offseason. Given the Bears’ slender wide receiving body and suspect offensive line, it’s fair to assume that much of the Bears’ evaluation of Fields will take place Monday through Friday, not Sunday.
However, there’s reason to believe a breakout season is coming in Year 2 for Fields.
“I had pretty high expectations,” center Lucas Patrick said of Fields during the OTAs. “You don’t get drafted as high as him in the National Football League just by having a wet noodle or slow feet. He’s really talented. I thought he was going to be really good and he exceeds my expectations.”
“You hear the stories about some of the big guys when they walk into the building, they’re ready to go,” quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. “They’re mentally prepared, they’re prepared with what they did the night before, and then they’re ready to go in. That’s what they do, and that’s what they want to be great at, so it’s do you see from him.”
While not much is expected from the Bears in 2022, many see greatness in Fields’ future and believe he will begin to blossom this fall.
It starts with improved accuracy and decision-making in Getsy’s offense. Fields and the offense stumbled in several offseason practices seen by the media, but they had two good days to close out the mandatory minicamp in June. This upward trend is expected to continue from Wednesday.
Robert Quinn was not present for the obligatory minicamp amid trade rumors.
The pass rush looks bleak if the Poles and Eberflus can’t get Quinn to commit to being a Bear in 2022. Without Quinn, the Bears will rely on Trevis Gipson to take a big leap forward in the year 3 and will demand more from rookie Dominique Robinson than originally expected. .
The Bears could also miss a player in the back of their defense to start training camp.
Second-round pick Jaquan Brisker is currently out of contract and was not scheduled to report to Halas Hall on Saturday along with the rest of the rookies and quarterbacks. Brisker’s side and the Bears are at odds over guaranteed money in the third year of the safety contract. It’s unclear when they’ll find common ground, and Brisker’s resistance could stretch into August.
Given how impressive Brisker was during the offseason program, the Bears need to get him signed and on the pitch as soon as possible, so his development isn’t stunted.
Find the right combination of offensive lines
The Bears’ offensive line seemed pegged at four spots at the start of the offseason, with right guard the only position with open competition.
That belief changed amid OTAs when Eberflus moved Teven Jenkins to the second team. Rookie Braxton Jones took over first-team left tackle duties, with Larry Borom moving to right tackle.
Eberflus said the Bears want to look at different combinations and will reassess the situation after the mandatory minicamp.
Jones, a fifth-round pick, has a lot of potential, but maybe it’s too much to ask him to step into Week 1 and maintain the blindside. It would be in the best interest of the Bears and Justin Fields if Jenkins gets the starting right tackle back and sends Borom down the left side. That would give Jones some time to get stronger and adjust to the speed of play at the NFL level.
If Jenkins isn’t the Bears’ answer to the right tackle, they might consider calling Jason Peters. The veteran left tackle who played 15 games for the Bears last season said he’s ready to play for a Super Bowl contender or up-and-comer in 2022.
With Fields’ development taking center stage this fall, the Bears need to put the best offensive line they can find in front of him.
Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet and….
For Fields to be successful in Year 2, he will need ample protection and reliable targets in the passing game.
Darnell Mooney will be the Bears’ undisputed No. 1 receiver this season. He has a great relationship with Fields and is motivated to become one of the NFL’s top receivers. Mooney’s biggest hurdle in 2022 will likely be trying to put numbers against play-planning defenses to neutralize him.
The Bears can make Mooney’s life easier if they can find two or three more pass-catching options for defenses to stick to.
One of them is tight end Cole Kmet, who knows he has a big opportunity to thrive in Getsy’s attack in the same way Robert Tonyan exploded in Green Bay. The Bears need Kmet to be an effective run blocker to carve out defenses in the action game.
Outside of Kmet, the Bears are hoping more opportunities mean more production for Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. They are looking to resurrect the careers of first-round pick N’Keal Harry and second-round pick Dante Pettis. The Bears appreciate the versatility of rookie Velus Jones Jr. and will be looking to get him the ball through space any way they can.
The Bears’ offensive weapons will be the focus of training camp as they look to give Fields enough playmakers to make a leap forward this season.
Surprised outstanding player
Almost every training camp has a player who comes out of nowhere to be the camp’s unexpected storyline.
Given the Bears’ relatively thin roster, a number of players could emerge over the next few weeks as surprise camp darlings.
Sixth-round pick Trestan Ebner has the explosiveness to fight his way onto the 53-man roster. The Baylor product is a two-time Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year who could give the Bears a boost in the rematch and as a wide receiver out of the backfield.
Don’t sleep on undrafted rookie receiver Kevin Shaa, who made several great catches during rookie minicamp, OTAs and veteran minicamp.
Nickel back Thomas Graham Jr. has impressed the new staff with his work ethic and appears to have evened Tavon Young in the starting cornerback competition.
Could Dominique Robinson appear early? Maybe Dazz Newsome is starting to make games?
We will find out in the next few weeks.