Bears Insider

Caleb Williams leads 4 Bears whose offseason success will be vital to exceeding 2024 expectations

For various reasons, the offseason program will prove vital for Caleb Williams and four other Bears

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Phase 3 of the Bears' offseason program started Monday when Organized Team Activities (OTAs) kicked off at Halas Hall.

The Bears will have two weeks of voluntary workouts before hosting mandatory veteran minicamp on June 4-6. They will have a third week of voluntary workouts in the middle of June for rookies and younger players.

This offseason work will be vital for a team that added a lot of new pieces in the offseason, from offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and defensive coordinator Eric Washington to quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Keenan Allen.

The Bears will enter the 2024 season with playoff expectations, and their work from now through training camp will be critical to reaching those goals.

Exceeding those goals starts with Williams acing the early parts of his development program in the offseason and entering the season ready to take off.

Williams' offseason work will directly impact the 2024 Bears' success. But the work of a few other key contributors will also be vital to exceeding expectations this fall.

Caleb Williams and Shane Waldron

Everything starts and ends with Caleb Williams.

That will be the case until he has either ascended to star quarterback status or has failed to become the quarterback the Bears need.

Early reports on Williams have all been glowing as he begins his NFL developmental launch.

The Bears have a methodical plan to develop Williams, and the offseason program will focus on perfecting the operation, getting the cadence down, and polishing the fundamentals.

It will also serve as a testing ground for Waldron as he works to craft an offense around what Williams does well.

Waldron has said the Bears want to be "multiple" on offense. Every new coordinator has uttered that phrase since the beginning of time, but the Bears now have the offensive weapons needed to field a versatile attack.

The Bears have a soft launch to open the season. With a tough back half of the season, it will be imperative that Williams and the offense get off to a relatively clean start and rack up wins before a grueling stretch begins in mid-November.

Acing the early parts of the developmental plan will be critical for Williams to hit the ground running in Week 1. These next few months will also be vital for Waldron to ensure he has the right feel for what his personnel does well so he doesn't have to alter course midseason after a tough start like Luke Getsy.

Teven Jenkins

Since transitioning to guard in the summer of 2022, Jenkins has become one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL when healthy.

However, health remains a big question mark for the fourth-year offensive lineman.

Over the past two seasons, Jenkins has played and finished just 23 of 34 games. He enters a contract season needing to show he can stay healthy for an entire season (or more than 3/4).

Head coach Matt Eberflus and offensive line coach Chris Morgan have praised Jenkins' evolution as a player and professional over the last two seasons. He has seemingly gone from a player with a hazy future to one who will be a long-term Bear if the health question mark dissolves.

"In every aspect," Morgan said of how Jenkins has grown in the last two years after rookie minicamp wrapped up. "He's maturing as a person. He's maturing as a player. He's a dad now. He's a husband now. It's really cool to see how much growth there has been from him. He's done a great job of taking it day by day, becoming consistent. There's a lot of people involved in that, too. It has been really cool to see the organization get behind him. It's easy to get behind a guy who plays like he plays. We all love Tev. He's only going to get better and better."

Last summer, Jenkins suffered a calf injury during joint practices with the Colts and missed the first four games of the season.

A clean spring and summer will bode well for Jenkins' prospects of staying in Chicago long-term, but his health is also vital to the Bears' 2024 hopes. Chicago's offensive line has improved, but the depth is still thin.

The Bears need Jenkins to be healthy and on the field for as many games as possible to ensure Williams is protected and secure during his rookie season.

Tyrique Stevenson

Bears defensive coordinator Eric Washington said he believes the Bears have the "best back seven" in the NFL.

There's no doubt the secondary is the strength of the Bears' defense, led by star cornerback Jaylon Johnson and third-year defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker.

But for the Bears' defense to continue the ascent it started in the second half of last season, two young players must make big leaps.

The first is Stevenson.

Teams picked on the 2023 second-round selection repeatedly during his rookie season. Those are expected growing pains for young cornerbacks in the NFL.

Stevenson's early-season struggles were highlighted in Week 2 when he gave up six catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in the Bears' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The young cornerback got better as the year went along but finished the season by giving up five catches for 109 yards in a loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Overall, Stevenson gave up 72 catches for 836 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Out of 83 cornerbacks who played at least 361 coverage snaps, those numbers rank 82nd, 80th, and 83rd, respectively, per Pro Football Focus.

Stevenson has the talent, and cornerbacks typically make big strides in Year 2.

The Bears' defense needs Stevenson to elevate his game this fall, or their ascending defense might level out.

Gervon Dexter

The Bears didn't address the defensive line this offseason outside of drafting edge rusher Austin Booker in the fifth round.

Defensive tackle Justin Jones left for the Arizona Cardinals in free agency, leaving Dexter to man the vital three-technique spot in Eberflus' defense.

Dexter improved as the year went on last season, but he will have to be much more polished and consistent this season while becoming "the engine" of the Bears' defense.

Last season, Dexter totaled just 29 pressures and four sacks, per PFF. However, 20 of those pressures and all four sacks occurred after the Bears acquired star defensive end Montez Sweat at the NFL trade deadline.

Sweat's presence made life easier for everyone along the Bears' defensive front. But with the Bears failing to add another proven pass rusher this offseason, Dexter and DeMarcus Walker will have to raise their games to take some of the pressure off the Bears' $100 million man on the outside.

Without Jones, the Bears will need Dexter to give them consistent production from the inside. If he can't, the defensive line could be stuck in neutral after finally getting out of the blocks last season once Sweat arrived.

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