The Bears are about to begin the training camp grind this week, and when they do they’ll set the foundation for the 2023 NFL regular season. For the first time, the team will be able to put on the pads and the intensity level of practice will increase. Soon, the depth chart will begin to crystalize.
Many starting jobs are already locked in. No one is challenging Justin Fields at quarterback and DJ Moore is set as WR1. Others will have to fight for a job. Over the course of the summer, these position battles could be the tightest.
STARTING RUNNING BACK
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The contenders: Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson
When David Montgomery signed with the Lions, it briefly appeared like Herbert had the fast track to taking over the lead back. Shortly afterwards however, the Bears signed Foreman to a free agent deal. Foreman proved he can carry a starter’s load in Carolina last year when the Panthers traded Christian McCaffery. Foreman has made it clear he’s coming to Chicago with the mentality of winning the starting job, too.
Then the Bears drafted Johnson, further muddying the competition. Everyone in Halas Hall is extremely high on Johnson, and if he impresses enough in camp it wouldn’t be surprising to see him emerge as the top rusher.
As things stand now, all three RBs are serious contenders to earn starter snaps in training camp. It’s so close there’s a good chance that no man separates from the pack, and the Bears roll with a committee instead.
NO. 4 WIDE RECEIVER
The contenders: Velus Jones Jr., Dante Pettis, Tyler Scott, Equanimeous St. Brown
Oh what a difference a year makes. Last season the Bears were banking on Darnell Mooney and Byron Pringle stepping up as the top two pass catchers. Every spot after that was essentially up for grabs. This season DJ Moore, Mooney and Chase Claypool have the top three spots locked up, and the competition really begins for playing time when the Bears spread out the offense.
There are two distinct groups with the Young Guys and the Seasoned Vets.
Jones Jr. and Scott bring the most upside as speedy playmakers in the Young Guys camp, yet they’ve got more to prove. Jones Jr. is looking to rebound from a rookie season where almost nothing went right. Scott could use some polish and had some tough moments of his own during OTAs and minicamp.
Pettis is arguably the most reliable of the bunch, has demonstrated good chemistry with Fields and contributes on special teams. However, his ceiling is maybe the lowest of the group. St. Brown knows this offense best and the Bears love his run blocking. Yet his chemistry with Fields wasn’t as good as Pettis’ last season.
STARTING SAM LINEBACKER
The contenders: Jack Sanborn, Noah Sewell
Jack Sanborn was the Cinderella story of the Bears 2022 season. He started the year as an undrafted free agent, earned a roster spot with an impressive training camp, began earning snaps on defense in Week 8, then took over as the team’s starting middle linebacker after Ryan Poles sent Roquan Smith to the Ravens. In Week 10, Sanborn led the team in tackles.
The team isn’t going to hand Sanborn a starting job again, however. Tremaine Edmunds was the marquee free agent signing of the offseason, and he’ll take over middle linebacker. The assumption was Sanborn would take over as the team’s strongside linebacker, but combine the Bears drafting Sewell in the fifth round with Sanborn being unable to practice over OTAs and minicamp due to injury and all of a sudden a competition has emerged.
The Bears love how Sewell hits the ball carrier, and he flashed some speed and instincts during the early summer portion of the offseason program. If he can continue to impress at camp and sprinkle in a few takeaways, he has a real chance to win the starting SAM job.
This admittedly is not a competition to watch, yet. The Bears signed P.J. Walker to a free agent deal to back up Fields in part because they believe he can run the offense more similarly to Fields than Trevor Siemian did last year. Walker’s comfortability with Moore from their three seasons together in Carolina is a bonus.
It’s worth noting that Walker was inconsistent over OTAs and minicamp. There’s still plenty of time for his play to improve, and if it does he’ll hold onto his QB2 job. But if Walker continues to struggle, and former D-2 phenom and undrafted free agent Tyson Bagent catches fire, the Bears might turn to Bagent in case of emergency. It’s a lot of ifs, but it could develop into an interesting storyline down the depth chart.