Offseason Optimism and Concern: Defense

| July 26th, 2023

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.

Defensive Line

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.

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Offseason Optimism and Concern: Offense

| July 25th, 2023

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.

Running Back

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.

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Training Camp Primer: Keep An Eye On Roschon Johnson

| July 24th, 2023

The wait is finally (almost) over — Bears training camp is (nearly) upon us!

Rookies have reported to Halas Hall already, Veterans report tomorrow, and practices officially start Wednesday — that means more content is coming for all of us that starved through the dog days of the offseason, and it’s the perfect time to start previewing  what I think will be the best storylines to follow throughout camp this year.

For starters: How will Roschon Johnson fit into the 2023 Bears’ RB room?

Before the Draft took place, the 2023 Bears’ RB room was well-rounded in theory but a bit over-specialized in practice:

  • Khalil Herbert is a fabulous runner and a perfect system fit, but both his pass-blocking and pass-catching can be outright liabilities when the offense gets behind the chains
  • D’Onta Foreman brings experience to the Bears as a hard-nosed one-cut RB, but offenses have avoided asking him to catch the ball since he first he got to the league and I doubt the Bears will expect much out of him in that phase of the game
  • Travis Homer is a capable Special Teamer and all-around 3rd Down RB, but unless the Bears deviate from 2022 (where Herbert & Montgomery rarely substituted mid-drive, opting to rotate between offensive possessions) it may be hard to get him on the field for passing scenarios outside obvious 3rd downs

All of these RBs are talented players that produce well when playing to their strengths, but as of early April none of the RBs looked ready to take on an old-school 3-down role within an offense that’s utilized 3-down runners (Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, etc) to great effect — if an RB can capably sell Play Action, block on dropbacks, produce when handed the ball, and catch the ball when it’s thrown to him, this offensive scheme rewards him handsomely with open space and yardage galore.

Enter Roschon Johnson, a 22 year old out of Texas with remarkably little tread on his tires due to sitting behind phenom runner Bijan Robinson for all but his freshman year. This 6’2″ 220+lb has all the traits you’re looking for on tape, including:

  • A quick first step that helps challenge tackling angles from the moment he takes the handoff
  • A clear preference for playing North-South (as opposed to East-West)
  • The explosion to get to wide lanes when needed (3rd clip is a great example of him exploding laterally multiple times while staying downhill throughout)
  • The contact balance to grind out extra yards and a wicked stiff arm to boot
  • Experience blocking in both standard pass sets and less orthodox sets (ex: on the move)
  • Solid hands, though his tape lacks opportunities in the pass game due to circumstance

And if you ask me, he has an opportunity to play in Chicago very quickly if he makes an impression in Training Camp.

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Grading the Roster: Defense and Special Teams

| July 20th, 2023

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.

Defensive Ends: 1

Key Players: DeMarcus Walker, Trevis Gipson, Rasheem Green, Dominique Robinson

Others: Terrell Lewis, Jalen Harris, Jalyn Holmes, D’Anthony Jones

This group is bad. Like, really bad. The saddest part is that this is still a significant improvement to what they had after trading Robert Quinn away last year, as Walker is clearly better than the departed Al-Quadin Muhammad, and Green improves the depth. Trevis Gipson is a capable rotational pass rusher when he’s not the guy opposing offenses are worried about, so I’m hopeful he can have something of a bounceback 2023.

This position group is the perfect storm of bad veterans and also no rookies to even consider getting excited about. Unless Dominique Robinson takes a massive step up from a disappointing rookie season, this should easily be the worst position group on the roster (and one of the worst overall in the NFL). It’s still possible Ryan Poles finally makes the defensive end signing he’s been teasing at for a few months, but even then the available options will likely take them from awful to bad.

Defensive Tackles: 2

Key Players: Justin Jones, Andrew Billings, Gervon Dexter Sr., Zacch Pickens

Others: Travis Bell, Andrew Brown, Donovan Jeter

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Grading the Roster: Offense

| July 19th, 2023

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.

Quarterback: 4

Key Players: Justin Fields, PJ Walker

Others: Nathan Peterman, Tyson Bagent

I should start here by noting that I’m grading based on past production so that I don’t project what I personally think will happen in the future. After a terrible 1st month, Fields more or less spent the bulk of his sophomore campaign as an average passer and elite runner, though he also took a ton of sacks, and a decent number of them were his fault. There is some hope he can make a Year 3 leap towards superstardom, but until he does, it’s hard to rank him much higher than average.

The overall grade gets dinged because of depth; Fields has missed multiple games due to injury in each of his first two seasons, and PJ Walker seems like a less than ideal backup with a career 58% completion rate, 6.4 yards per attempt, and 5 TD to 11 INT. Peterman and Bagent will compete to be the practice squad QB, and we can only hope that we don’t see either of them take a meaningful snap this season.

Running Back: 5

Key Players: Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson

Others: Travis Homer, Trestan Ebner, Khari Blasingame, Robert Burns

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Previewing The Man in the Middle

| July 12th, 2023

We’re officially 2 weeks out from the start of Bears’ training camp, and that means we’re 14 days away from obsessively scrolling Twitter (and other social media platforms) for updates on Chicago Bears’ practices. With that in mind, let’s spend the next two weeks re-familiarizing ourselves with the Bears’ new additions so that, come camp time, we know the names to watch for.

To start, let’s look at…

Tremaine Edmunds

Backstory: Edmunds was the 16th overall pick of the 2018 draft and, ironically enough, was constantly compared to Roquan Smith pre-draft due their differences in style & perceived value. Edmunds had the size, length, and speed that made linebacking coaches salivate but whose instincts needed serious development whereas Roquan was seen as the ready-made modern WILL LB prototype despite being undersized.

It’s a bizarre twist of fate that the Bears effectively traded one standout first-round linebacker for another (while netting draft picks in the process) in their journey from Roquan to Edmunds, but based on Matt Eberflus’ penchant for size and length in his coverage linebackers I can’t help feeling like Edmunds will get featured within Chicago’s defense in ways that Alan Williams didn’t want to feature Smith.

I’m not normally one for paying Linebackers at the rate you could pay a formidable defensive lineman, but physical freaks like Edmunds  always command a hefty price tag — just watch him move in open space and you’ll see rare physical gifts on display. Suffice it to say, you can’t teach those traits — when pursuing a ball-carrier side-to-side, he’s a nightmare.

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DBB’s Three Rules for Training Camp.

| July 26th, 2022

Welcome to the Unofficial Beginning

of the

2022 Chicago Bears Season!

Rule #1. Injuries Matter Most.

The Bears can’t evaluate the myriad of young players on this roster if they’re not on the field. And the number of young players they must evaluate is overwhelming. Gordon. Brisker. Gipson. Jones Jr. Borom. Jenkins. All pivotal. All likely starters. Yes, the Bears will have the opportunity to complete reshape their roster next off-season. But they have to exit the 2022 campaign knowing which of these guys can be significant contributors. That means they have to stay healthy.


Rule #2. Teams Don’t Show Fans, or Media, Anything.

It is always the most puzzling thing about the summer. NFL teams, the most secretive organizations in professional sport, hold practices in front of fans and media. And the fans and media think what they’re seeing is relevant. Why? Why would a team run a single play of note in front of a crowd that could easily be filled with spies from rival organizations (and usually is)? With every single fan in attendance now possessing the equipment to record every moment of practice, why would a team risk putting something they are going to rely upon during the season on tape?

Training camp practices are fun for fans. And the videos produced from these practices go a long way towards building excitement for the coming season. But if you’re trying to discern who is going to be good and who is not going to be good from a series of vanilla concepts run at 3/4 speed, you’re making a classic camp misstep.


Rules #3. Avoid The Joe Anderson Boner.

The following is excerpted from a piece I wrote in July 2014:

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Training Camp Questions for a Season Lacking Urgency (Not Import)

| July 18th, 2022

Training camp for the 2022 Chicago is now next week, and thus this seems the appropriate time to think about the questions that will need answering over the coming month. Do these questions require urgent reply? Not necessarily. 2022 is not an urgent season. But just because it’s not an urgent season – a season defined by lofty expectations – does not mean it lacks import.

Here are some questions worth considering.


Question #1. Can the offense resemble a professional unit? 

Dannehy did a nice job detailing the first-year struggles of this offense historically, and it would be unfair not to expect those same troubles here. The offensive coordinator has never done the job. The quarterback is on his third offense in three years. The team is going need solid production from a third-round wide receiver and a fifth-round left tackle. None of these elements are dealbreakers but they portend a period of struggle.


Question #2. Are the kids alright in the secondary?

The Bears are assuming Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson will be just fine. (Jackson back into a defense that fits his skills is a huge bonus.) But if the same can be said for rookie Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, the secondary goes from one of the team’s weakest units in 2021 to one of its strengths in 2022. There will be a lot of bullshit emanating from training camp about young players. There always is. But the narrative arc of a professional career usually begins that first summer. And expectations are high for Gordon and Brisker.


Question #3. How does the offensive line shake out?

This is probably the most pertinent question facing the Bears this summer because, right now, everybody is just guessing. Is Braxton Jones going to anchor the blindside? Is Larry Borom going to start over Teven Jenkins? If Borom usurps Jenkins, does that kick Jenkins inside? No franchise wants to enter camp with this much uncertainty across the whole of their offensive line but that is where the 2022 Chicago Bears find themselves.

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Six Final Thoughts on 2021 Training Camp

| August 27th, 2021

Camp is over. Here are some big picture thoughts.

(1) Listen, the quarterbacks were always gonna be the main characters but who could imagine the story would come directly from The Twilight Zone. Justin Fields was never given an opportunity to be the starting quarterback. The game was rigged, Nagy chose Andy Dalton from the start, and the Bears will begin the season irrelevant. When will Fields play? No one knows.

(2) The actual offensive line FINALLY got on the field. There was so much hemming and hawing about poor OL play in the early weeks of camp but the Bears rarely had more than two of their starters available. Amazing that it took until the final days (and the signing of Jason Peters) to get their starting five on the field at the same time. How will they perform as a unit? One of the sport’s best defensive fronts will let us know on the evening of September 12th.

(3) Few roster surprises. This camp was pretty dull when it comes to position battles, roster spots…etc. The Bears seemed to have their minds made up in July (Kindle Vildor was placed with the ones and left there) and little that happened on the practice field or in preseason games changed them.

(4) Alec Ogletree turned up one day and couldn’t stop intercepting the football. That production – and his energy – translated to his preseason debut, where Ogletree cemented his spot on the final 53-man roster. Don’t be surprised if he’s playing a major role in the middle of the defense this season.

(5) Matt Nagy said a lot of dumb things. Signing Peters had nothing to do with Teven Jenkins’ injury? It takes four years for your offense to produce in the NFL? Nagy’s inability to (a) tell the truth and (b) own his early-career failures did not win over a fanbase that already wants him to be sent packing at year’s end.

(6) They are healthy. Teven Jenkins won’t be a factor this season. Tarik Cohen is likely to take until November to find his legs. But, for the most part, the Bears will enter the 2021 season with their roster intact.

Note: I had penned an Is There Any Reason to Watch… column about the final preseason game but with Tennessee now facing a serious Covid outbreak, that game may not even happen. (The Bears would be crazy to take on that risk for a practice game.)  If it happens, enjoy the Riley Ridley drops!

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