The Chicago Bears report to training camp on Wednesday and they’ll be taking the practice field the next day with a myriad of questions surrounding them.
Here are 5 storylines to monitor throughout the course of training camp and the preseason as the pivotal Year 3 of the Ryan Pace-John Fox regime begins.
Who will start at quarterback for the Bears?
The answer to that question now and for the foreseeable future is Mike Glennon. But as Bears fans know, the most popular man in Chicago has always been the backup quarterback. That was a true statement when the Bears were carrying backup quarterbacks the likes of Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel. How much more so will it be true with a first-round, second-overall draft pick waiting in the wings? It’s not very often that a team pays big money to a veteran free agent quarterback and yet that player is not the most talked about, most analyzed player in training camp. Sure, while Glennon will receive a lot of media attention and fan attraction, it’s rookie Mitch Trubisky whose every move will be scrutinized. Nobody can be sure what is going on between the ears of Pace and Fox. Is it an open quarterback competition? Is it Glennon’s job to lose? Is Glennon on a short leash? Will a change be made at the position based more on Glennon’s play on the field, or Trubisky’s development in practice and in the film room? These are questions to which we’ll need answers.
What will the Bears wide receiver depth chart look like?
The Bears’ wide receiver corps is a far cry from the days when it featured the physical specimen tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. With Jeffery departing via free agency, the Bears brought in a host of veteran free agents with the hope that one or more of them take the reigns and steer the carriage in the right direction. Cameron Meredith is expected to have the best shot at landing the No. 1 gig. The former undrafted free agent has been making steady progress and looked good in a part-time starting role last year. The Bears are hoping his size can make up for the loss of Jeffery. Third-year pro Kevin White knows that this is put up or shut up time. There will be extra pressure on him to remain healthy for a full season after missing most of his first two years with injuries. In limited action last year, he showed toughness and burst after the catch, but not much can be gleaned from such a small window. Other veteran receivers the Bears brought in for competition include former New York Giant Victor Cruz, former Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton and former Tennessee Titan Kendall Wright. Each of these men have had varying levels of past success and it is the hope of the Bears that competition brings out the best in the entire receivers room.
What can we expect from Bears rookie tight end Adam Shaheen?
You’ve heard the comparisons. Shaheen’s measurables and the way he dominated on the field in college have left some making comparisons to New England’s Rob Gronkowski, the gold medal standard-bearer for NFL tight ends. I would urge anyone wanting to make such a comparison to halt himself before doing so. I’m intrigued by what Shaheen brings to the field, but let’s let him play a few snaps on an NFL field against better competition than what he faced at Division II Ashland. Step 1 in the Shaheen project is to make sure he can play at this level. Given his size and toughness, I think he’ll pass that test with flying colors, but we won’t really know for sure until we see it on the field. Step 2 is to earn the starting job. Currently, that honor belongs to Zach Miller, who suffered a foot injury at minicamp last month. The chronicles of Miller’s injury past are well documented. When healthy, he’s definitely a pass-catching threat but he hasn’t been able to string together healthy seasons his entire career. Whether or not Miller stays healthy and retains his grasp on the starting gig, the Bears have plans to utilize Shaheen regardless.
How good can the Bears’ defensive front seven be?
No position on the Bears’ roster has me more excited or will capture more of my attention this season than the defensive front seven — and yes, that includes the revamped quarterback position. What was already an impressive unit last year has just been given more ammunition and could vie to be one of the top handful in the league if health is not an issue. 2015 second-round pick Eddie Goldman is a budding playmaker anchoring the middle of the defensive line. Akiem Hicks, last year’s veteran free agent pick up, will be joined by former Kansas City Chief Jay Howard, who signed a one-year prove-it deal, as bookends alongside Goldman up front. Those three alone ought to provide enough pressure up front to the offensive line to help stall the development of plays. When you include the wave of linebackers the Bears plan to deploy against opponents, the results can be scary good. Last year’s veteran additions, Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, will be returning to anchor the middle. Trevathan is coming off a season-ending knee injury but should be fine at some point soon. Freeman led the team in tackles and was consistently a ball hawk, finding himself around the ball carrier at all times. On the outside, the Bears currently have Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd coming off the edge. McPhee’s pass rushing ability is well documented and Floyd showed great promise as a rookie, racking up 7 sacks and learning to develop new techniques to aid his speed rush. Having a couple pass rushers is not enough, as the great teams come at you in waves. The Bears also have Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, and Sam Acho adding depth to the position. The front seven is going to be a fun unit to watch this season.
How will the Bears’ new secondary shape up?
The Bears knew they had something special brewing in the front seven in 2016 when the team finished in the top half of the league in total defense. But the real work to be done was upgrading the secondary, and that’s exactly what they attempted to address in the offseason. The Bears added veterans Prince Amukamara, formerly of the New York Giants, and Marcus Cooper, the former Kansas City Chief, to help upgrade the cornerback position that really only had Tracy Porter last season. The pressure is on Kyle Fuller as he enters his fourth season. He’s at times seemed at odds with the organization but until we hear otherwise, he’s here to compete. Last year’s rookie corner, Deiondre’ Hall, flashed some potential with his ball skills and long arms. The more interesting position to watch, though, is safety, where the Bears added veteran Quintin Demps to help shore things up. Adrian Amos returns for some stability, but I’m curious to see how youngsters like Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson develop.