LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Things are different around Halas Hall these days. The Bears' roster is more talented. The expectations are higher. The vibes are stronger.
One of the biggest changes to a roster that went 3-14 last season is the revamped arsenal surrounding quarterback Justin Fields. Last year, the Bears entered training camp with eight receivers vying for four or five spots behind No. 1 receiver Darnell Mooney. Equanimeous St. Brown and Dante Pettis settled into the No. 2 and No. 3 roles before Chase Claypool arrived in November.
The results were suboptimal as no Bears' wide receiver cracked the 50-catch or 500-yard marks. Tight end Cole Kmet led the Bears with 50 catches, 544 yards, and seven touchdowns. Mooney, who played in just 12 games, paced all receivers with 40 catches and 493 yards. Pettis led all receivers with three touchdowns.
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That had to change.
Acquiring Claypool, a physical receiver with a big frame, was Step 1. But more had to be done. So general manager Ryan Poles cashed in the No. 1 overall pick for DJ Moore, acquiring the star receiver in a blockbuster trade with the Carolina Panthers in March. Poles added another excellent pass-catching tight end in Robert Tonyan and drafted a dynamic deep threat in rookie receiver Tyler Scott.
The NFL is a passing league, and the Bears have finally got the memo.
"I think it changes everything for the offense," Fields said of the new-look receiving corps led by Moore, "I think just knowing those guys’ roles and how they’re going to be used in the offense. They can take more reps at those certain positions so they’re able to get on the same page, we’re able to have certain conversations on what guys are running certain routes, to talking about if you see a certain coverage they’re going to do this or that. It is going to help our team, having those guys set in certain positions rather than trying to find out which receivers do what things best."
Assuming health, the Bears' depth chart will have Moore, Mooney, and Claypool at the top of it come Week 1. That's a massive upgrade from what the Bears trotted out in Week 1 last season.
While the defined roles will help give the Bears' passing game more stability, it's the versatility of their top three receivers, as well as Kmet and Tonyan, that has them excited about the potential of the new-look arsenal.
"I think as far as formations, you can mix and match a lot," cornerback Kyler Gordon said about facing the Bears' new receiving group. "They’re versatile. It just allows the offense to do more and create those matchups and mismatches that they really want. You got a bunch of guys who can do a lot of different things. You got Chase’s height, his catch radius, his speed, he can go outside or inside. Same with EQ or a bunch of the guys."
That lethal versatility has already been on display during the first week of training camp. Fields has continued to build on his fast-growing connection with Moore. The Bears have shifted their new No. 1 receiver around the formation, showing how they plan to deploy him during a critical season for Fields' development.
Claypool, now fully healthy, has also moved around more than expected, including a few red-zone wrinkles where he lined up in the backfield. The Bears have also split Tonyan and Kmet outside during red-zone drills as they look to take a giant leap forward in an area they struggled in last season.
"Mismatches. It’s just mismatches," head coach Matt Eberflus said of Tonyan and Kmet. "And we move those guys around, put them at 1, put 'em in the slot, put 'em connected to the core. Having two guys is going to be big. It’s going to be big in situational football. When you’re trying to convert on third down. It’ll be big in the red zone. Those guys have big catch radiuses and you can use your body to always stay open. It’s an important piece for us."
After failing to surround Fields with a capable group of weapons in 2022, Poles went out and added the necessary pieces to form a formidable aerial attack.
By their own admission, the Bears' passing attack was relatively simple and basic in 2022. With the new versatility and talent in the wide receiver room, that's not expected to be the case this fall.
"It's like you're building a house, right?" offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. "And you build the foundation first, and then as you keep building the house, you get the fancy things that get to go with it. We're in that process. We're still in the early phases of it, but we're building towards that."
The thing the Bears are building toward? An offensive attack that presents defenses with a test that's nearly impossible to pass -- one led by a confident Fields and a wide receiving corps built on lethal versatility.