The offseason is winding down, and the Bears will return to Halas Hall to open training camp in two short weeks.
General manager Ryan Poles received mostly glowing marks for his bevy of offseason moves. He added elite talent in DJ Moore and Tremaine Edmunds while also filling out the roster with proven veterans and high-ceiling rookies.
With training camp on the horizon, let’s open up the overreactions mailbag for the final time this offseason. We have takes, thoughts, and a few key questions to sift through:
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When the Arizona Cardinals released DeAndre Hopkins earlier this offseason, I was pretty firmly against the idea of the Bears making a run at the star wide receiver. They’d already added DJ Moore in the offseason, and edge rusher and offensive line depth remained bigger needs than another receiver.
But Hopkins remains unsigned, and it appears his most likely suitors are the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots.
Moore’s impact has already been apparent during non-padded practices this offseason. He is a multiplier who elevates the floor of the offense and makes life a lot easier on quarterback Justin Fields.
If Hopkins’ ask is palatable on a one-year deal, it might be worth it for the Bears to take a stab at the veteran receiver. Adding Hopkins would lessen the need for Chase Claypool to be a significant contributor this offseason. Slotting Hopkins into the three wide receiver set alongside Mooney and Moore would give the Bears a wealth of riches and widen the margin of error for Fields in a critical season for his development.
I don’t think the Bears will get involved in the Hopkins business, but it makes sense to at least test the waters as training camp nears.
I am surprised the Bears haven’t added an edge rusher yet. I thought Poles might make his move once Leonard Floyd and Frank Clark came off the board. But the market hasn’t moved, and I think the expectation is the price for Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Houston, and Co. will come down once camp starts. Of course, that leaves the door open for true contenders to suffer a key injury and swoop in with a better offer.
I can’t see the Bears going into the season with DeMarcus Walker, Trevis Gipson, Rasheem Green, Dominique Robinson, and Terrell Lewis as their edge rushers. But … crazier things have happened.
It depends on how we define coaching staff. If we’re talking about offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and defensive coordinator Alan Williams, then I would agree. But if we’re talking about head coach Matt Eberflus, I’d say Fields is facing a lot more pressure than the head coach who didn’t draft him and has a long rope since he’s tied to general manager Ryan Poles.
I personally think Getsy will face more scrutiny than Williams this season if their respective units struggle.
Getsy got a lot of flowers for the mini-bye reevaluation that incorporated a comprehensive quarterback run game that everyone had been pounding the table for over a year. Those wrinkles were impressive and helped unlock the playmaker in Fields. But Getsy didn’t build off those initial tweaks, as you’d hope.
The Bears’ offense went a torrid 3.5-game stretch powered by Fields’ legs, but defenses quickly caught on, and Getsy didn’t seem to have the necessary counter.
With a revamped offensive line and the addition of DJ Moore and tight end Robert Tonyan, the Bears’ offense has all the tools needed to carve up opposing defenses this fall.
A lot of that pressure will fall on Fields to take the necessary steps forward as a passer. The decision-making has to get quicker, and the hesitation to see and rip it has to disappear. But Fields also needs Getsy and his complex scheme to put him in a position to succeed and stay one step ahead of opposing defenses.
Fields will take the brunt of the criticism if the Bears' offense scuffles, but Getsy won't be immune.
As for Williams, he is still swimming upstream without a reliable pass rush. The run defense has to improve, and the Bears must find ways to manufacture pressure, but he isn’t coaching with a full deck. Improvement is needed on the defensive side of the ball, but he should face less scrutiny than Getsy.
With a manageable schedule and increased talent on the roster, the Bears should go from three wins to seven or eight. If they fall short of that mark and don’t have a serious injury caveat, this staff will face major questions next offseason.
Overreaction? Yes, but dream big.
If Fields throws for 4,000 yards and rushes for even close to 1,000, the Bears should be playing football in mid-January. That being said, it’s a lot to ask a guy who threw for 2,242 yards last season to make that big of a leap. A more realistic ask is to target 4,000 total yards and 35 total touchdowns.
DJ Moore put up three consecutive seasons of 1,100 yards playing with Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton, and Sam Darnold. The Bears need at least 1,100 from him this fall.
Claypool racked up 873 yards and 860 yards, respectively, in his first two NFL seasons. If he can come close to that 800-yard mark, the Bears will be thrilled, and this passing attack will have teeth. But let's temper expectations for the fourth-year wide receiver until we see the fruits of his labor. But if Claypool and Darnell Mooney come in between 700-800 and Cole Kmet hits the 600-yard mark, Fields should cruise past 3,000 yards.
But all of that assumes the expected improvement from Fields and that the Bears will be chucking it around more this fall. That second part is the holdup. Yes, the Bears have more weapons in their arsenal than they did a year ago, but Getsy’s scheme will still be a run-first attack.
Last season, Fields threw the ball an average of 21.2 times per game. He averaged just 149.4 yards per game. If Fields plays all 17 games at those averages, he’ll only hit 2,550 yards. So, the attempts, completions, and yards must tick up by a decent margin this fall for him to eclipse those numbers. To his 3,000 yards, Fields has to average 176.4 yards per game for 17 games. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s a number Fields hit just three times last season.
The offseason improvements will help, but the benchmarks set for Fields need to be manageable. Three thousand passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns are good marks. The rushing can make up for the rest.
As for the other proclamations, Gipson led the Bears in pressures last season with 30. That’s downright depressing. He notched only three sacks. The Bears will be thrilled if he could double his sack total, but even that seems to be asking a lot.
A year after recording a bagel in the interception category, I expect the ball to bounce Johnson’s way more this fall. Tremaine Edmunds should create more deflections from the MIKE linebacker spot, theoretically creating more opportunities for takeaways.
Five is a lot, but I think a contract-year version of Johnson will find a way to get his hands on the ball more in 2023.
No overreaction here, but this will be one of the bigger roster crunch questions when cut-down day arrives.
Moore, Mooney, Claypool, and rookie Tyler Scott are roster locks. I liked what I saw from Velus Jones Jr. during the offseason program. He showed an improved connection with Fields, a bit more route diversity, and caught punts cleanly. He’s a third-round pick, so he’d have to bomb in training camp to get the ax.
That leaves two.
I understand the appeal of Equanimeous St. Brown for last year’s team. He’s a good run blocker who knows the system and doesn’t ruffle feathers. But he doesn’t give you much in terms of pass-catching. Last season, St. Brown had a game-ending drop against the Miami Dolphins and ran an incorrect route that led to a Fields interception during a potential go-ahead drive against the Green Bay Packers.
Dante Pettis developed a nice rapport with Fields last season, which has grown this offseason. Fields hit Pettis for several deep strikes during the offseason program, while St. Brown didn’t make much noise until the final day of minicamp.
At this point, I’ll give the nod to Pettis and say that St. Brown is on the outside looking in entering camp. But it will go down to the wire.
It’s the offensive line, and I don’t think it’s close.
If this season is all about Fields proving he’s the long-term answer behind center, the revamped offensive line has to stay healthy and be effective.
On paper, the Bears’ “best five’ is much improved from the leaky group that was pulverized last season. But each member of the starting five has a question attached to them, and there is zero depth behind them.
Did Braxton Jones’ offseason work pay off? Can Teven Jenkins stay healthy? Is Cody Whitehair revitalized at center? Was Nate Davis’ pass protection improvement a career-year mirage? What is Darnell Wright’s learning curve?
How this group answers those questions will determine whether or not Fields and the offense are effective in 2023.