For months we’ve predicted and prognosticated. We’ve discussed, debated and deliberated. We’ve talked and talked and talked about what the Bears may be this season, and what they may not be. And we’re almost ready to see the team take some more meaningful reps.
The Bears will report to training camp at Halas next week, and when they do they’ll begin the long grind to prepare for the regular season. Depth charts will come into focus. We’ll get a look at how Justin Fields progresses in Year Two of Luke Getsy’s offense. We’ll see if the defense looks any better in some preseason action.
But before any of that happens we’re going to take a bit of time to speculate just a little bit more. This is one half of a two part series that will explore some reasons why fans should be optimistic about the Bears in 2023, and some reasons why this year may not be much of an improvement from last year.
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On Tuesday we published three reasons to be pessimistic about the Bears this season, but now it’s time for the good news. Here are three reasons Bears fans can head into training camp wearing rose-colored glasses.
NO. 1: JUSTIN FIELDS FINALLY HAS A LITTLE CONSISTENCY
It’s hard to overstate how many obstacles Justin Fields faced over the first two years of his NFL career. Things began on the wrong foot when Matt Nagy opted to give Andy Dalton the majority of the valuable first-team reps in Fields’ rookie year. The plan was for Fields to spend a good portion of 2021 on the bench learning from Dalton, but the Bears had to ditch that plan quickly. Dalton hurt himself in Week 2 and Fields was pressed into duty. Fields looked unprepared and when Fields drew his first start in Week 3, coaches looked unprepared to build an offense around him. The team had a gameplan that appeared to be geared for Dalton’s strengths, not Fields’, and the result was one of the worst offensive performances in Bears history. Fields was sacked an astounding nine times, which led the Bears to finish the game with one net passing yard. One. From there, most of Fields’ rookie season was a struggle.
The 2022 campaign was essentially a big reset for Fields. Almost everything, big and small, was new. Of course, there were the big picture changes that came when Luke Getsy installed his offense with the team. The Bears also delved into the minutiae with Fields, making tweaks like changing which foot Fields puts in front when taking snaps out of the shotgun. Once again there were growing pains as Fields not only learned Getsy’s scheme, but Getsy learned how to design the offense around Fields’ strengths. Things finally came together for about a month in the middle of the season, but they fell apart again when numerous injuries across the offensive roster took their toll.
This year is the first time Fields doesn’t have to start from scratch, and over the early course of the summer program he already noticed the difference. He said he’s much more comfortable with the things the Bears taught him last season and as a result his timing with wide receivers is sharper. Timing is everything in a passing attack, so it’s no surprise that far fewer balls hit the turf at OTAs and minicamp this year compared to last year.
NO. 2: JUSTIN FIELDS’ SUPPORTING CAST HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER
At several points last season it felt like Fields was willing the Bears offense down the field single-handedly. Numerous injuries thinned the already talent-deprived skill positions. Sub par offensive line play had Fields running for his life regularly. And yet, Fields found ways to escape the pressure and either make a big time throw, or rack up huge yards with his feet.
The Bears were the worst team in the NFL last year with a 3-14 record, but seven of those losses came by one score or less. They were competitive in most games and rarely blown out. It’s easy to see how a few of those close losses could’ve been narrow victories if Fields just had a little more help.
Now he has that help. The offensive line should be better with Darnell Wright and Nate Davis joining the starting five. Fields had a legit WR1 in Allen Robinson his rookie season, but the Bears grossly misused Robinson with an uninspiring route tree that year. Now he’s got a legit WR1 again with DJ Moore in the fold. Based on how Getsy learned to build an offense to Fields’ strengths last year, fans should feel confident that the Bears will do the same with Moore. It’s not just Moore, either. Moore + Darnell Mooney + Chase Claypool + Cole Kmet + Robert Tonyan = the best top-five pass catchers Fields has had in his young career, by a long shot. Those guys should help Fields unlock a new level in his game.
NO. 3: JUSTIN FIELDS’ PROTECTION COULD BE SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER
Last season, Fields did a whole lot of running. It wasn’t always reeling off highlight-worthy scrambles for touchdowns either. Opposing pass rushers were in Fields’ grill early and often last season, which forced him to dance behind the line of scrimmage or dash to the sidelines. He was sacked a league-high 55 times, and the Bears admitted that a big chunk of his record-breaking rushing numbers came on broken plays, or when the pass rush forced him to bail.
The Bears made it a mission to provide Fields with better protection this season, starting with the free agent addition of Nate Davis and ending with the selection of Darnell Wright with the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. Now the Bears will line up, from left to right, with Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Davis and Wright.
There are real concerns that each player on the line may not work out as planned, but there are real reasons to believe each player could be a big success too.
Jones had a rough start to his rookie campaign as a surprise starter at LT. He gradually improved throughout the year, yet his ability to defend against the bull rush remained a soft spot. Jones knew it and dedicated himself to improving in that one area over the offseason. If he succeeds he could be a key cog on the line not just this year, but for many years to come.
Jenkins has seemingly succeeded wherever he’s played on the line. The Bears moved him from left tackle to right tackle and then to right guard over the course of last year’s summer program, and Jenkins took it in stride. There were times when he was the most dominant player on the line, despite having the least amount of experience at the position he was playing. That ability to adapt and succeed should translate to his move to left guard.
Whitehair hasn’t played center since 2020, but the last time he did, he played at a Pro Bowl level. The one gripe some had with Whitehair’s play at center was that his dead snap style sometimes led to errant balls in shotgun formations. So far this summer that hasn’t been a problem.
Davis was specifically brought in to improve the o-line at right guard. He’ll be the one man most in his element this season.
Wright was considered by many to be the most NFL-ready offensive line prospect in this year’s draft class. He’s a mauler in the run game and stout against the pass. The Bears have also commended his work ethic and ability to pick things up quickly. It’s early, but Wright stocks are through the roof at Halas Hall.
Everything starts up front in every offense. If the Bears o-line improves even slightly this year, the overall production of the offense should improve regardless of every other change made this offseason.