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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Matt Eberflus’ first offseason as Chicago Bears head coach is in the books. And as NFL offseasons go, Eberflus experienced it all — there were good practices, there were bad practices, there were players let go, there was a player holding out, and there was even a slap on the wrist from the league for practicing too hard.
Now the fun begins. Well, after a five-week summer break. Before we get to what should be a competitive training camp, let’s look back at the best and worst from the offseason program.
Three things to be excited about from the offseason:
- The “buy in” — This doesn’t always go well for a new coach. And you can usually sense it early on. When Marc Trestman became head coach in 2013, there was some excitement on the offensive side of the ball, but it didn’t take long to realize that the longtime defensive veterans were not on board. It would have been hard for any coach to get that buy-in from the defense after Lovie Smith was fired, but Trestman was definitely not the guy.
Another example of things going south quickly: Urban Meyer in Jacksonville last year. You just knew that wasn’t going to work.
We’re a long way away from knowing if Eberflus will work in Chicago, but it sure seems like he has the early buy-in from the players. Sure, he has somewhat of a built-in advantage with a young roster and an abundance of new players, but I don’t sense any resistance from veterans like Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson to the “H.I.T.S.” philosophy. We know the quarterback is on board. And even in Quinn’s case, his reasons for potentially playing elsewhere likely have more to do with the timing of his career than any opposition to this coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ speech about Quinn at the Brian Piccolo ceremony in April was among the best I’ve ever heard and surely resulted in some mutual respect.
Of course, the true test will come when the Bears start losing games. That’s when we’ll know how strong Eberflus’ culture really is, but the early returns are positive.
2. The rookie class — Same thing here. We’ll know a lot more about these rookies when the pads go on and games are played, but damn, the early vibes are pretty good. You usually have one (maybe two) draft picks every year that you pencil in as a starter by June, but I can’t remember a year in which the Bears had four rookies already running with the starters. Sure, some of it is out of necessity, but Jaquan Brisker sure looks like the best safety on the team and Kyler Gordon looked the part at cornerback before missing some time with an undisclosed injury. Velus Jones Jr. might not be defined as the No. 2 wide receiver because he’ll be used in many different ways, but it’s obvious that they are depending on him to carry a significant load on offense. And Braxton Jones — a fifth-round pick — working as the No. 1 left tackle already? The Bears either have a huge problem there or Ryan Poles worked some magic in his first NFL Draft as GM. The results from all of these players have been positive. It’s not like they’ve been thrown into these positions and struggled.
3. Justin Fields — I would describe Fields’ offseason practices as inconsistent, but his obvious raw talent is still on display. Wednesday’s practice — when Fields was lights out — was a much-needed reminder that he’s still the most exciting and promising player on the team. As I said many times last year, he’s the most important person in the entire franchise. Regardless of the wins and losses this year, Fields’ presence alone should have fans excited about watching games this year. His weekly development will ultimately determine how quickly the Bears can become true contenders again.
Three things to worry about from the offseason:
- Offensive inconsistency — Fields is a part of this too, but we exit the offseason program having witnessed more bad than good from the offense. That’s not exactly surprising given that it’s a brand new offense with a questionable offensive line and underwhelming skill-position weapons, but if we’re being honest, some of these practices were a tough watch on that side of the ball. One thing to keep in mind though: OTAs are virtually useless for the running game and that should be the Bears’ offensive strength with a strong running back room. It will be interesting to see if there’s more consistency once the pads go on in training camp.
- The hole at right guard — It’s impossible to ignore. Sam Mustipher just looks undersized at that position and Dakota Dozier was carted off the practice field this week. The Bears either have to sign more help there or eventually give some of the rookies a shot. The guess here is that either Zachary Thomas or Ja’Tyre Carter eventually get some looks with the first team in training camp.
3. Robert Quinn — The worry here isn’t so much that the Bears can’t survive without Quinn in 2022, it’s more about not being able to get enough value out of moving him. The cap savings would be nice, but isn’t a necessity, and Quinn is still a pretty good player. If nothing else, his veteran presence has value on a team that doesn’t have many of them. The Bears don’t want to give Quinn away for just a late-round draft pick, but they are going to need some luck for the right market to materialize. And if Quinn doesn’t show up to training camp, their hands could be tied, the same way they eventually were with Nick Foles when they released him.
- This Braxton Jones story could be a good one. I can’t remember a fifth-round offensive lineman getting first-team reps for the Bears by June. The closest example that comes to mind is Jordan Mills, who was a fifth-round pick in 2013 and was thrown in with the starters at right tackle during the preseason. But June? Before the pads even go on?
We know this: Jones looks the part with his size and athleticism. And he has impressed the Bears with his intelligence, work ethic and ability to pick up new techniques. But he’s also making a huge jump from Southern Utah to the NFL. I can’t wait to see if he passes the test when the pads go on.
- Darnell Mooney sure looks like a No. 1 wide receiver. I’ve questioned his potential to elevate to No. 1 wide receiver status, but it’s clear he has put the work in with Fields. While the defense has been much better than the offense, Mooney hasn’t had any problem getting open or making tough catches. That’s a very encouraging sign. Now he just needs some help.
- More rookies I’m bullish on, but still need to see in pads: Zachary Thomas, Carson Taylor, Jack Sanborn, Dominique Robinson.
- It was interesting to hear Eberflus already address the topic of playing starters in the preseason: “Yeah that’s obviously been discussed several times and we have not come to that conclusion yet. We want to see the development in the players and it might be on an individual basis to start that off. So we’ll see and I’ll visit with the other head coaches to see what they’re doing and go from there to see if we can pair it up the right way. So we’ll talk about that.”
Realistically though, how many players do the Bears have that they wouldn’t want to see in the preseason? Quinn would qualify if he reports to training camp, but who else? Even in Roquan Smith’s case, don’t you want him running around in the new defense at least a little bit? You’re not going to sit Justin Fields in a new offense, right? Perhaps after getting them at least a little work, you could think about sitting players like Smith, Montgomery, Mooney, Lucas Patrick, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Jackson and perhaps even a rookie like Brisker who you know you are going to rely on. But I find it hard to believe the Bears are going to be in a position where they are going to sit many players for the entire preseason.
- Something to share: Please check out this tweet from Dale Crawford, a youth football coach for the Humboldt Park Patriots on Chicago’s west side.
Playing football isn’t exactly cheap, but costs shouldn’t prohibit any kid from having a chance from being a part of something that can change their life. Please consider supporting the Patriots and other youth football programs. As it turns out, Coach Dale is also a longtime Hoge & Jahns listener. Good luck to the Patriots this season!
- Coolest thing I heard this week: Ice Cube shouting out my guy Chris Tannehill on 670 The Score. Tannehill put together one of his signature opens for Ice Cube’s appearance on the radio station and Ice Cube was genuinely impressed, saying, “A couple hip hop stations could learn a thing or two from that.” It literally gave me goosebumps as I was driving home listening to that because I know what that must have meant to Tannehill, who really is the best sound producer in Chicago.
What you may have missed…
We had a full week of Bears minicamp breakdowns on the CHGO Bears Podcast. I encourage you to go back and listen to all the episodes to catch up on everything we saw each day.
What’s on deck…
The dead period is here. It’s the only time on the NFL calendar when nothing is going on. But we’re not going anywhere. We’ll still be bringing you daily shows, previewing the Bears roster and their opponents each day. Some vacation time will be mixed in, but you’ll still be getting five Bears podcasts a week.
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