Top three training camp battles for Chicago Bears

Justin Fields highlights Chicago Bears training camp preview

By: Dylan Clemons

The Chicago Bears are coming into this season with more questions than answers. Head Coach Matt Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace are very much on the hot seat after an 8-8 season. Largely, the disappointment stemmed from an embarrassing 21-9 playoff loss against the New Orleans Saints. The loss ended up being the last game quarterback Mitchell Trubisky would play for the Bears, with him now in Buffalo.

The Bears then signed veteran Andy Dalton to a one-year contract, whom they told will be the starter. Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. They then drafted quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th pick in the NFL draft after trading up to get him.

In my opinion, that should be the number one training camp battle for the Bears, but Nagy pretty much squashed that by saying Dalton will be under center Week 1. So with that said, let’s now jump into the top three training camp battles for the Chicago Bears.

Offensive Line

In my eyes, the Bears have three out of the five starters locked up heading into training camp on the offensive line. The first of which is one of the Tackles. They drafted Teven Jenkins out of Oklahoma State with the 39th pick of the NFL Draft. It was a surprise to many, that he had fallen to the second round, considering he was projected by most to be a 1st round pick. However he played mostly at the right tackle position in college, but the Bears project him to be the left tackle of the future.

Another guaranteed starter in my opinion is Pro Bowl guard/center, Cody Whitehair. He has started at both positions in his career but has mostly played center. The third starter is James Daniels, who was drafted by GM Ryan Pace in 2018. Daniels was only able to play in five games last season due to a torn pectoral. But heading into last season, Daniels had a 73.3 run-blocking grade according to PFF, which ranked 16th best in the league.

That leaves the last two offensive line spots up for grabs between four players. The Bears brought veteran Germain Ifedi back on a one-year deal. He started all 16 games for the Bears last season, mostly at guard, after being a tackle for four seasons in Seattle. He scored a 65.5 grade from PFF, which was by far the highest in his career.

The last three Linemen are wild cards in all of this. Undrafted free agent Sam Mustipher, from last year, started seven games and showed flashes of being a starting-caliber center. Alex Bars another undrafted free agent from two years also started in eight games last season. At times Bars looked overmatched at guard, and I project him to be a depth piece. The last guy in on this battle is Larry Borom, whom the Bears used round five draft capital on. Borom projects to be somewhat of a project, so I expect him to be on the bench at the start of the season.

For what its worth, I think the Bears starting offensive line should be, Teven Jenkins and Germain Ifedi at the Tackle positions. Cody Whitehair, and James Daniels at the guard positions, with Sam Mustipher as the starting center.

Cornerback

In one of the most bizarre off-season moves in the NFL, the Bears released veteran pro bowler Kyle Fuller to save cap space in which they severely needed. They also had veteran slot cornerback Buster Skrine leave in free agency as well. 

Cornerback is the thinnest position on the Bears roster heading into training camp. They signed veteran Desmond Trufant to a one-year contract this off-season. Trufant has had a solid career, being named to the Pro Bowl in 2015. But since that time, he has struggled to be able to stay healthy. Trufant has only played in 15 total games over the past two seasons for the Falcons and Lions.

This is putting a ton of pressure on second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who also struggled to stay healthy only playing in 13 games due to a shoulder injury. But when Johnson was on the field, he was very solid. According to PFF Johnson ranked 6th in incompletion rate at 21%. Johnson will come into this season as the number one cornerback on the roster.

All of the other cornerbacks on the roster are very inexperienced. It looks like Kindle Vildor, and Duke Shelley will battle it out at the slot cornerback position. They each started a combined three games last season, and each had their moments. Vildor actually had seven tackles in the playoff game. My bet is on Vildor to win that battle. The Bears also drafted Thomas Graham Jr. in the 6th round of the draft, who may end up seeing early playing time. Former first-round pick Artie Burns is also on the roster, as he tries to battle back from a torn ACL he suffered in training camp last season.

Slot Wide Receiver

Heading into the last few seasons this was easy, it was Anthony Miller’s job to lose. Well, after another disappointing season, in which Miller could not stay out of coach Nagy’s doghouse. Miller has been involved in multiple trade reports this off-season

In 2018 the Bears traded up in the second round to draft Miller. Miller caught seven touchdowns in his rookie year, but since then has only four touchdowns combined the last two seasons. Last season Miller played 86% of his snaps from the slot, which ranked ninth in the NFL according to playerprofiler.com

With Miller’s time in Chicago possibly coming to a close, that opens the door for someone to take those slot snaps. The first player that comes to mind is free agent accusation Damiere Byrd who came over from the New England Patriots. The speedster that runs a 4.3 40 yard dash didn’t play a whole lot of snaps in the slot for the patriots, but that has a lot to do with long-standing slot receiver Julian Edelman. In my eyes, Byrd projects to me as a slot receiver with his small body type, only weighing 162 lbs.

Veteran Marquise Goodwin also signed with the Bears this off-season after opting out of the 2020 season due to covid-19 concerns. Goodwin has mostly played on the outside as well, only lining up in the slot for about 15% of his snaps in 2018 and 2019. The stats that sticks out the most to me is, Goodwin had a 1.88 target separation which ranked 5th in the NFL for that season. 

It is tough to project who is going to win the starting slot role considering we don’t know Anthony Miller’s future with the team. If Miller is on the roster for Week 1, I’d expect him to be lined up in the slot most of the snaps. If he is traded by Week 1, I bet that Damiere Byrd will be the third receiver behind Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney heading into the season.

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