Training Camp Diary: Camp Begins Today, Opening the Definition of a Transitional Season

| July 28th, 2021

And so, camp begins.

Two nights ago I was sitting in my local and two guys, for no other reason than the Aaron Rodgers “thaw” news being broadcast on the televisions above us, asked me what I expected from the Bears this season.

My answers were wishy washy, ineffectual, nebbish.

The paragraphs were peppered with you knows and who knows and maybe, I guesses. Normally, as training camp begins, I have a pretty solid grasp on what is to come over the next 5-6 months from the Chicago Bears. (2019 being a signature exception, wherein I believed the quarterback was going to take a significant leap.) But this season, not only don’t I have that grasp, I don’t see their performance over these next 5-6 months as particularly important.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be into every game. I am not one of these Bears fans that sees upside in losing. (You would think the events of the 2021 NFL Draft would put an end to that stupidity.) I’ve written many times that some of my favorite moments as a fan of this franchise were during forgettable campaigns. I want the Bears to win every single time they play football.

But 2021 seems like the very definition of a transitional season. Look at the details:

  • The quarterback of the future is on the roster but unlikely to see more than a half season of work.
  • The quarterback manning the position is a solid veteran option but isn’t going to take the club, in all likelihood, beyond wildcard weekend.
  • The team is littered with veterans, specifically on defense, who are unlikely to be on the roster in 2022. This includes the team’s entire pass rush.
  • It is the defensive coordinator’s first season on the job.
  • The cornerback position won’t be solidified until next spring.
  • The left tackle isn’t a left tackle. I happen to believe he is going to be a terrific one in the future but as a rookie? History says no.

None of this is to say the Bears can’t win a bunch of games this season. They can. But is it Andy Dalton winning those games? If yes, okay, that’s nice. But is it better for the 2022 Chicago Bears for Dalton to go 10-7 as a starter or Justin Fields to quarterback the last eight games to a 4-4 record while looking the part of frontline NFL starting QB? Of course the answer is the latter because there is 0% chance Dalton is starting for the Bears next year unless something goes terribly wrong. (Do you feel the nebbish here? I’m practically writing in Woody Allen’s voice.)

And I’ve heard the “Matt Nagy needs a big season from the offense” arguments too.

First, barring a disaster of a season, I don’t see Nagy being fired. What’s a disaster? The Bears find themselves completely incompetent on offense, lose far too many games, and when Fields gets on the field he’s lost.

Second, like, so what if Nagy is fired? Nagy is a good football coach but there are plenty of those out there and no fan in Los Angeles/San Diego is less excited about the Justin Herbert-led Chargers because they changed head coaches after his brilliant rookie season. Sure, the best case scenario is for the offense to take significant strides under Nagy this season (specifically with Fields under center) and build momentum for 2022. But if it goes the other way, the Bears will survive, as long as Fields can play.

This season is all about when Fields plays. 

Listen, I’ve got to produce content here. And I’m fascinated to see Darnell Mooney’s development; excited for the prospect of Teven Jenkins anchoring the left side for a decade; thrilled to see Roquan Smith continue the lineage of great inside linebackers for this franchise; desperate for Khalil Mack to mount a fifteen-sack season. That is all pertinent material when it comes to this franchise.

But the only story that matters is Fields. Fields is the meat. The rest is gravy. Until he gets on the field, the championship timeline doesn’t start. Until he plays, that window can not be opened. Until Number 1 takes over the franchise, it’s hard to feel one way or another about them week-to-week and hard to see the nebbish going away. Because, you know, I guess.

But if Fields starts the opener…?

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