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’ll start today with the offense, and move to the defense tomorrow.
Reason for hope: Justin Fields took a small step forward in Year 2, and now enters Year 3 with a vastly improved supporting cast and familiarity with the offense, both of which are firsts for his NFL career. He fits the criteria for making the leap to superstardom better than any other young QB in the NFL.
Cause for concern: Fields takes a ton of sacks and has really struggled on short and quick passes so far in the NFL. Those passes make up a bulk of a QB’s pass attempts, and there is no guarantee he gets better there. If he can’t improve at the easy stuff, he’s never going to be a quality NFL starter.
Reason for hope: Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman are two of the best rushers in the NFL, as they finished 4th and 7th, respectively, in rush yards over expectation in 2022. They are both significantly better runners than David Montgomery, which should improve Chicago’s rushing attack that was already among the best in the NFL.
Cause for concern: Neither Herbert nor Foreman offer much in the passing game; over the last 2 years the duo has combined for 568 carries but only 48 pass targets. Neither has been trusted much in pass protection, as they combined for only 36 pass blocking snaps last year and graded poorly in those snaps (Herbert 54.4, Foreman 14.8 per PFF). Travis Homer can help in that regard, but he doesn’t offer much in the run game, with only 83 carries in 4 seasons in Seattle, and he never even reached 200 offensive snaps in a season. If the Bears want to rotate him in for passing downs, they risk becoming predictable on offense. Their only real hope for a well-rounded running back is rookie Roschon Johnson, who was a day 3 pick and may lack the speed to be a high-level NFL runner.
Reason for hope: DJ Moore has arrived as a bona-fide WR1 who fits well with what Fields likes to do. Darnell Mooney is a well-rounded WR2, giving Chicago their best WR duo since Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery a decade ago, and Chase Claypool offers a rare combination of size and speed in the WR3 role.
Cause for concern: Moore has seen his efficiency tumble the last 2 years, posting only a 55% catch rate and 7.3 yards/target. It’s easy to blame that on Carolina’s QBs, but maybe some of it is on Moore too. Mooney is recovering from a serious ankle injury; will he look like his usual self in 2023? Claypool was terrible in 2022 and needs to prove that was a bad season instead of a sign of things to come.
Reason for hope: Cole Kmet has established himself as a solid starting TE who fits well in this offense, while Robert Tonyan is an experienced and versatile backup with legitimate pass-catching chops. The Bears haven’t had this kind of 1-2 punch at tight end since Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller in 2015.
Cause for concern: Kmet is a good player, but not a great one, and there’s a real possibility his looming extension will make him overpaid the moment it is signed. Tonyan had solid volume stats in 2022, but was actually incredibly limited as a player, and there is no guarantee he can recover his pre-injury form from 2020. He is also too small to play in-line, meaning Chicago has nobody capable if Kmet gets hurt.
Reason for hope: The Bears have five starters who, on paper, are average or better for the first time since 2018. Left tackle Braxton Jones and left guard Tevin Jenkins had breakout seasons in 2022, center Cody Whitehair returns to the position where he has played his best NFL football, right guard Nate Davis is a rock-solid free agency addition, and right tackle Darnell Wright was viewed as the most pro-ready pass protector in the draft. The Bears even have solid, experienced depth with Lucas Patrick on the interior and Larry Borom at tackle.
Cause for concern: Pretty much everybody outside of Nate Davis has significant question marks. Jones and Jenkins were dominant run blockers last year, but both struggled in pass protection, and need to prove they can hold up in that area. Jenkins is also preparing to play his 3rd position in 3 years, and needs to show he can stay healthy after having lingering back and neck issues. Whitehair is getting up there in years and was really bad when he came back from injury last year; can he stay healthy and show he’s not washed up? For as talented as he is, Darnell Wright is still a rookie, and there are no guarantees how quickly and effectively he’ll make the transition to playing in the NFL.