Five storylines to watch as the Bears begin training camp
There were no 7-on-7 drills or offensive lineman vs. defensive lineman battles when the Chicago Bears reported to Halas Hall for training camp this week.
Outside of the usual Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy joint media session, there really weren't any of the typical signs that the NFL season is just around the corner.
It's not going to be a normal August for the Bears or around the NFL. But with that being said, training camp is here so let's look at five storylines to watch as the Bears gear up for the 2020 season.
1. Do the COVID-19 guidelines hold up well enough to let us have a football season?
We all look forward to the day that we can just focus on football, but for now this is the reality we live in.
While the NBA's and NHL's decisions to resume play in a bubble have proven successful so far, we can't say the same about MLB, which elected to have teams play at their home stadiums, and as of this weekend had six teams idle due to coronavirus outbreaks.
If baseball is having this much difficultly sustaining a season, how can we expect the NFL, a much higher contact sport with significantly more players and staff, to make it through a 17-week regular season and all the way to the Super Bowl in early February?
Pace and Nagy made it clear that the Bears have gone to great lengths to make Halas Hall as safe as possible. The next month, not just in Lake Forest but around the league, will give us a much better indication of if an NFL season can actually occur in 2020.
2. Will the Bears lean toward keeping veterans over untested rookies? It's not a good year to be an unproven youngster trying to secure a roster spot.
Not only did teams miss out on their entire offseason program, no preseason games will make it even more difficult for players to showcase their skills and for teams to accurately evaluate their talent.
The Bears spent a pair of seventh-round picks on offensive linemen Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons, and the team also has second-year player Alex Bars. It's possible, if not likely, only one of the three make the 53-man roster.
At wide receiver, the Bears could have a difficult decision on fifth-rounder Darnell Mooney. Assuming Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Ted Ginn Jr., Cordarrelle Patterson and Riley Ridley are locks, the Bears may need to decide between Mooney and Javon Wims. Perhaps Pace will think he can sneak Mooney through to the practice squad?
And the Bears will need to get inside linebacker correct considering the lack of depth behind Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith. Joel Iyiegbuniwe is a good bet to make the roster, but could undrafted rookies Rashad Smith or Keandre Jones grab a spot over Josh Woods?
To his credit, Nagy said Wednesday he expects training camp to be more competitive than usual.
3. Can Nick Foles make up enough ground to unseat Mitch Trubisky as the Week 1 starter?
It's safe to say quarterback is going to be the most discussed position battle in Chicago this training camp.
Both Trubisky and Foles appeared to be embracing the competition when they met with the media Friday, but it's a fair to wonder if Foles can close the gap in just over a month's time? Of course, if Trubisky were to struggle as noticeably as he did last summer in Bourbonnais, perhaps Foles could pose a more significant threat to Trubisky's job than it appears now.
"But when we get a chance to go out there, we’re evaluating these quarterbacks with every single play, not just the throw, but every single check that they make at the line of scrimmage," Nagy said Wednesday. "Every bit of leadership that they show in and out of the huddle, we’re there watching... Our coordinators are doing a heck of a job right now, as we sit here, of figuring out ways to maximize those competitive plays and periods.
"We feel confident that we believe it will all play itself out. It’s going to be completely open, and we’re just going to take it day by day."
4. How does the passing game shake out?
No matter who starts under center against the Lions in Week 1, the Bears also need to find more consistent production behind Robinson.
Miller, a former second-round selection, has shown flashes of upside, but he finished last season with only 52 receptions and had four or fewer catches in 11 of 16 games.
The Bears brought in Ginn Jr. to replace Taylor Gabiel. It's fair to wonder, however, how much the 35-year-old Ginn has left in the tank.
Tarik Cohen actually finished second on the team with 79 receptions last season, but managed just 5.8 yards per catch.
This is all to say the Bears need to receive markedly more production from the tight end position, which accounted for just 46 catches in 2019.
The Bears brought in veteran Jimmy Graham, who's clearly on the downside of his career and is coming off an unproductive season in Green Bay. Pace also spent a second-round pick on Notre Dame's Cole Kmet. There's certainly potential there, but tight ends are notorious for their slow development at the pro level, a trend that won't be helped by this summer's lack of activity.
Maybe Demetrius Harris surprises?
5. Can Jaylon Johnson earn the starting job opposite Kyle Fuller?
Prince Amukamara was as steady as they come in his three seasons in Chicago, but salary cap concerns caused the Bears to part ways with the veteran in the offseason.
Johnson, who the Bears selected 50th overall, has the natural skill set to step into the starting role vacated by Amukamara. He's yet another rookie, however, that could understandably be behind to start training camp.
If he's not ready to start against Detroit, the job could go to Kevin Toliver or Artie Burns. The Bears already lost one intriguing prospect to injury. The team waived former Canadian Football League standout Tre Roberson due to a non-football injury Tuesday.