LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As the Bears enter the back half of the 2022 season, the biggest week-to-week question facing head coach Matt Eberflus and his staff will be how they handle a full wide receiver room.
The Bears added Chase Claypool at the trade deadline. Claypool made his Bears debut in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins, which forced Eberflus to make rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. a healthy scratch. Eberflus pointed to numbers on special teams as the reason Jones was inactive vs. Miami.
The Bears gave up a second-round pick to acquire Claypool, so it's clear they think highly of him and believe he'll be part of their long-term future. Claypool played 26 snaps in his Bears debut against the Dolphins. He caught two passes for 13 yards while also drawing a 28-yard pass interference penalty.
Eberflus promised an expanded package for Claypool against the Detroit Lions, but the third-year receiver played just 19 snaps in the 31-30 loss at Soldier Field.
Claypool's dip in snaps could be due to any number of reasons. He has only been in Chicago for two weeks, and the Bears' offense is very intricate. It will take time for Claypool to get fully immersed in the offense. Quarterback Justin Fields is working with Claypool "every day" after practice to get him up to speed in the Bears' complex offense.
"He’s getting better each and every week, I think, with the details and stuff like that within each and every route," Fields said of Claypool on Wednesday. "Again, just like I said three weeks ago, where he’s coming in and having to memorize the offense, memorize the formations, and not really having that base or foundation like the other guys on the offense have. You kind of have to work him in slowly.
"Our routes have a lot of details in them, so it’s tough for him to come in and learn every little detail of every route. Just working him in on the plays that he does have and trying to execute the best we can."
After the Bears' 31-30 loss to the Lions, Eberflus said that the Bears planned to get Claypool the ball more, but he was covered on most of the plays drawn up for him. However, that doesn't explain why Claypool's overall snap count decreased.
“I just think that all of our skill we try to get involved," Eberflus said. "It’s not going to work out every single week where everybody gets involved and everybody gets the touches that they need or want to have, but we’re certainly trying to do that for sure. We’re trying to get Claypool the touches and highlight his athletic skill, like with all of our players.”
Claypool wants to impact the Bears' offense. But he also understands it will take time for him to get fully acclimated to the playbook and that he can take his time, given how the Bears' offense is rolling right now.
"I think with our offense it's not like a big rush to try and get me on the field," Claypool said Wednesday. "Our run game is so good and we have so many different personnels that they don't have to try to throw me into the fire for the offense to be productive. The offense is going to be productive because the run game is so good."
Claypool's playing time wasn't the only eye-opening decision against the Lions, though.
Byron Pringle returned from injured reserve Sunday, giving the Bears seven healthy receivers. With Pringle active, the Bears made N'Keal Harry and Jones both healthy scratches. Pringle played 10 snaps on special teams to go along with 20 on offense.
Pringle missed most of training camp with an injury. He played in each of the Bears' first three games of the season before going on injured reserve with a calf injury.
The 28-year-old hasn't had much on-field time to gel with Fields and find a rhythm in the offense, but the Bears still elected to have him active over Harry.
"Just the process of us looking to see what’s best for us at that time to win the game," Eberflus said when asked about the decision to play Pringle over Harry. "We thought Pringle does a really good job of working in the run game, shortening down there and getting on linebackers, getting on safeties. He’s done a good job with that. He thought that was our best way to go.
"I would just say a physical guy who can really block the point in the run game," Eberflus later said of Pringle. "I think he’s a big body that’s open in terms of being able to big-body guys and be strong at the catch point. A good route-runner. That’s what we see."
The Bears' weekly decisions at wide receiver will merit monitoring. Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool are both roster locks for 2023. The rest is up in the air, but conventional wisdom would suggest the Bears would want to give Jones and Harry, two young players with potentially high upside, some more playing time as the season winds down.
That would force the Bears to make gameday roster decisions on either Pringle, Dante Pettis, or Equanimeous St. Brown.
That's something that isn't on the table for Eberflus.
"Yeah, we don’t do that," Eberflus said of playing players with an eye toward 2023. "I would just say that we’re just going to focus week to week on what we can do to win the game. We’re going to put our best guys out there to win that football game."
How the Bears manage their wide receivers over the final seven games will be something to watch.
Does Claypool's role increase? Can Jones and Harry find a way back on the field?
How the Bears answer those questions will be instructive as we head into a critical rebuilding offseason for general manager Ryan Poles.