Training camp is that magical time of year when every NFL fan can have exactly what they want. If you are an optimist who wants to believe your favorite team is going to be good, there’s plenty of reason for hope. If you get your jollies on being negative (you know who you are), it’s not hard to find something to be pessimistic about.
Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, today’s article will have something for you. Let’s go through the roster position-by-position and identify why you should be hopeful and why you should be concerned. We did the offense yesterday, so today will focus on the defense.
Reason for hope: Uhhh… this isn’t exactly an easy place to start. I guess it can’t be worse than last year, when the pass rush was arguably the worst the NFL has seen in the last five years after trading Robert Quinn away midseason. The Bears return Justin Jones and Trevis Gipson, who are both capable but not dominant players, and invested in a whole host of players between free agency (DeMarcus Walker, Andrew Billings, Rasheem Green) and the draft (Gervon Dexter, Zacch Pickens). Dexter in particular has a ton of physical tools and earned rave reviews throughout offseason practices, and could be a rookie who surprises. This group probably won’t be great at rushing the passer, but they don’t have to be to still be effective and help the Bears have a competent defense (as DBB’s Andrew Dannehy pointed out a few weeks ago).
Cause for concern: Barring a rookie stepping up in a big way, nobody on the roster even remotely resembles a top-level starter that can produce while drawing extra defensive attention. At best, this defensive line is a bunch of secondary pieces who can hopefully hold up against the run, but won’t offer much else. You know it’s bad when Terrell Lewis – who enters his 4th NFL season with 6 career sacks and is switching from LB to DE this offseason – drew the most hype of any defensive lineman during OTAs.
Reason for hope: The Bears signed two of the best linebackers available on the free agent market in Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards. Both are solid all-around players who can defend the run and the pass, and they are just entering their primes as they prepare for their 5th NFL season. The depth behind them is pretty solid too, as Jack Sanborn impressed as a rookie last year and 5th round pick Noah Sewell drew positive reports from OTAs when he ran with the starters while Sanborn was out hurt.
Cause for concern: Edmunds had a breakout 2022 season, but was awful in coverage prior to that. Was 2022 a sign of things to come, or just a contract year boost that will revert to normal now that he got paid? There is also some concern here about how Edmunds and Edwards will play behind Chicago’s DL, as their jobs will be much more difficult than cleaning up behind the dominant fronts they were used to seeing in Buffalo and Philadelphia, respectively.
Reason for hope: The Bears will likely start a trio of recent 2nd round picks in Jaylon Johnson (2020), Kyler Gordon (2022), and Tyrique Stevenson (2023). Johnson has proven to be a solid starter over the course of several seasons, Gordon showed flashes as a rookie last year, and Stevenson flashed a lot of tools in college and earned quite a bit of praise during offseason practices. The top backup, meanwhile, is likely to be Kindle Vildor, who actually had a decent season last year after struggling in 2021.
Cause for concern: Johnson is a good but not great player who has struggled to stay healthy, missing 11 games over his last 3 seasons and playing hurt and with limited effectiveness through many more. Gordon really struggled as a rookie, allowing over 80% completion rate on his targets and finishing with the 5th most coverage yards allowed per PFF despite playing in fewer than 500 coverage snaps. There are no guarantees that he makes a Year 2 jump in play. Stevenson is a rookie, and like Gordon learned last year, rookie cornerbacks often have a difficult adjustment to the NFL. Vildor was better in 2022 than 2021, but still allowed a very poor 9.5 yards/target.
Reason for hope: Eddie Jackson had a major bounceback year in 2022, grabbing 4 interceptions and playing quite well prior to getting hurt after 12 games. He seems to fit well in this defense and should be a stalwart yet again in 2023. Jaquan Brisker also had a promising rookie season, finishing 2nd on the team in tackles and leading them in sacks. That duo has the potential to be really good on the back end for the Bears.
Cause for concern: Jackson will turn 30 during the season and has missed at least 3 games with injury in each of the last 2 years. Can he hold up for a full season? Brisker had big stats as a rookie, but still made plenty of mistakes that didn’t show up in the box score. Can he clean that up in year 2? Also, who steps in if either of the Bears’ starters get hurt? The Bears’ safety depth is nonexistent, as their current 2nd string consists of Kendall Williamson and Elijah Hicks, 2 recent 7th round picks who have not had a chance to prove they belong on an NFL defense.