By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Summertime has hit its peak before it eventually gives way to the cool off that comes with of Fall.
With a mind on being fortified by the time that change comes, football season unofficially begins with the opening of training camp, which has begun for a handful of NFL teams already and will be a league-wide affair by the end of the weekend.
For the Chicago Bears, always willing standard-bearers in the league, that meant that rookies reported to camp this past Monday and veterans did so two days later. This Bears camp is easily one of the most anticipated training camps for the franchise in this millennium as Super Bowl dreams are fueling the energy at Halas Hall and in Bourbonnais.
Interestingly, the scene is set for the franchise heading into its 100th season to maybe have one of its best seasons in its history. But this coming season, combined with pre-season and training camp, will make for a long marathon that the Bears will have to endure one step at a time.
The first step in training camp is for players to show out and coaches to wisely tab the best 53 players for the season. Head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace will not have an easy job in figuring out their top 53 because competition is heavy throughout the roster. These battles are a critical first step, not only does it benefit for depth reasons but also for setting the tone to what is an important season.
Offensive Foundation — Offense will be a primary focus for some of the bigger position battles, but at quarterback and offensive line the team is set. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has to take steps forward in his development, primarily as a passer.
Very few quarterbacks in the league possess Trubisky’s ability to pickup yards via their legs and be an elusive downfield runner like he is. As much of an asset as his legs are, it is also a liability for his health through the entire season.
Chase Daniel will be the primary back up quarterback again and he has the tools to cover an injured Trubisky for a few games if need be, but the Bears need Trubisky. Again, its all about the steps forward Trubisky makes as a passer that adds strength to the Bears’ Super Bowl contending argument. Part of his development will be aided by what could be a very good offensive line.
All five starters are back this year aside from a couple wrinkles, guard Kyle Long will be going into a training camp after an offseason fully healthy. Last year the center was Cody Whitehair and on his left was James Daniels. This year there is a very good chance they swap positions which should make them even better as players. Harry Hiestand, the offensive line coach, is a tremendous teacher and there is a lot of good competition for the back up roles.
Overall, the offensive line was a strength for the Bears last year and they have potential to make a noticeable improvement in year two.
Depth Concerns — Running back is a brand new position group, so mainly the concern is from lack of production at the NFL level. Tarik Cohen is an explosive play-maker but his size limits his numbers of touches.
Third round draft pick David Montgomery is penciled to be the starter and he had a terrific college career. Can Montgomery transition that great career to being a quality starter in the NFL, if he can the depth concern diminishes greatly. A full-time starter and a part time back is not enough depth in the NFL, having Mike Davis and perhaps Kerrith Whyte Jr. should be solid pieces to fortifying the position. Nagy needs to get more production out of the running backs on the ground to make the game easier for the offense as a whole.
Tight end at the top looks the same as last year at the top with Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen. Assuming this is the case, which it is, that leaves likely two more spots for tight ends on the roster without a lot of proven commodities to choose from. Undrafted free agent Dax Raymond, Ben Braunecker and converted offensive lineman Bradley Sowell look to be the favorites for those last two spots.
Production is extremely limited between those three at the NFL level. Along with kicker, more on that later, tight end could be a position the Bears look to fortify once the final roster cut happens.
Whole Lot of Wide Receivers — Piggy backing off the tight end depth question marks, the exact opposite can be said about the wide receivers. This position group will have quite the competition with too many guys vying for a few spots.
Usually teams go into a season with five or six receivers on the roster. Three guys that will be on the roster are the starters from last year in Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel. Cordalle Patterson is another name that is safe to make it and right now is designated as a wide receiver, he could potentially be put in a different position group somewhere else on the roster but if not then he is number four.
Next up is the rookie Riley Ridley who was drafted in the fourth round, pretty safe to say he makes it otherwise Pace will face some backlash. Ridley makes that five and perhaps that is all the Bears will keep on the roster.
If the team keeps another the likely guys are Emmanuel Hall, the athletic marvel that went undrafted, and last year’s seventh round pick Javon Wims. This battle could be interesting since Wims was a preseason star and flashed well in his limited time in season, Wims can also play special teams. As for Hall, he is not going to be hidden on the practice squad so the Bears will either have to stash him on IR or keep him on the roster.
Why keep Hall on the roster, his speed often draws player comps to Mike Wallace or Tyreek Hill. Of all the position groups, this might be the most fun one to watch unfold.
Part 2 of our training camp preview comes tomorrow with looks at the returning defensive stars, competition at safety and a final overall look at the team.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR