LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For the Bears' passing attack to reach its full potential this fall, Chase Claypool must be healthy and productive.
The offseason addition of No. 1 wide receiver DJ Moore gives quarterback Justin Fields a go-to weapon capable of turning a 5-yard slant into a 50-yard explosive play. Moore's arrival automatically elevates the floor of a passing attack that attempted the third-fewest passes of any team since 1980.
It's Claypool who will dictate their ceiling.
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The fourth-year receiver was one of the best players on the field early on in training camp. He used his big frame to make contested catches over the middle of the field and showed good chemistry with Fields during red-zone work.
But Claypool aggravated his hamstring on Day 11 of camp and didn't play in any of the Bears' three preseason games. Hamstring injuries are notoriously temperamental. The Bears played it safe with Claypool, and he returned to practice in full last week.
There has been no ramp-up period needed as the Bears prepare to face the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on Sunday to open their season.
"I don't think so," offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said when asked if Claypool and Fields needed extra work after the receiver missed time. "I thought Chase had a really good camp up until the injury. So, they had a ton of work together. I don’t remember how long. I don’t think so. More so for Chase, getting his wind back and getting his feet back underneath him, which he did a week ago. Yesterday, he was back to full speed.
"He’s back in, he’s full-go. He’s been great. The last two weeks, there haven’t been any limitations."
The trade for Claypool is the most scrutinized move of general manager Ryan Poles' early tenure.
The Bears traded what turned out to be the No. 32 overall pick in the 2023 draft to the Steelers for Claypool. It's rare for a wide receiver to come over midseason and make an impact. It takes time to fully digest an offense, especially one with countless motions and adjustments like Getsy's. It also takes a mountain of reps to develop chemistry with a new quarterback.
That work is done off campus in the offseason.
Claypool poured over the playbook in the offseason, immersing himself in everything Getsy wants to do on offense. He made flashcards to ensure he was in the best place possible for the start of training camp.
That hard work paid off during the early portion of camp, and that Claypool was the receiver Poles envisioned when acquiring him at last season's trade deadline.
"I thought he was showing, that was his best version of himself," Poles said last week. "Making a lot of plays, bringing energy, physicality to the run game and the pass game. At that point, I felt really good. Got a little chipped up there and now he’s working back into it. I liked where he left off where he was at his pinnacle of camp, I felt really good about it."
The Bears expect big things out of Claypool this fall. If he performs, a big contract extension should be in his future.
Claypool knows the stakes are high.
"It’s the biggest year of my life, and I understand that," Claypool said at the start of training camp. "If anybody thinks my work ethic isn’t matching that, they’re deeply mistaken. I get motivated and motivated and motivated. It keeps building on top of each other. My work ethic grows from last year, it will grow after this year. I learn from things. I’m always growing, just like everybody in the room should be. They should always grow from their mistakes. The goal is the same. At the end of the day, it’s to win football games. My contract year aside, I want to win football games."
With Claypool and several offensive linemen out for a chunk of camp, the Bears' passing game struggled to find a consistent rhythm. The attack was the sharpest when Claypool was healthy and available. His blend of size, speed, and physicality gives the Bears' arsenal something different from Moore and Darnell Mooney.
Something vital for the Bears' offense to reach the lofty goals they set for themselves this summer.
After spending the back half of August watching from the sidelines, Claypool is back, and the Bears should have a fully loaded arsenal to greet the Packers with on Sunday.