3 burning questions for Bears ahead of 2022 season

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This story originally appeared in a special edition of USA TODAY Sports Weekly: NFL Forecast 2022. On newsstands now.

The Chicago Bears are nearing the end of their offseason program with Organized Team Activities and veteran minicamp happening over the next couple of weeks.

There’s not a lot of confidence in this Bears team, which has to do with concerns on offense and defense as new head coach Matt Eberflus steps in. The biggest question revolves around second-year quarterback Justin Fields’ development considering his unproven supporting cast. While the defense added a pair of impact rookies in Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, they lost a number of veteran starters this offseason.

Here are three burning questions facing the Bears ahead of the 2022 season:

Can Justin Fields break out in Year 2?

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Following a rocky rookie season, all eyes are on Fields, who enters the season as the starter. The expectation is that Fields will take a step forward in his development, especially now that former HC Matt Nagy is out of the picture. But Fields will also be learning his second offense in as many years under new OC Luke Getsy.

There are concerns about whether the Bears have actually done enough to help Fields this offseason. While other young quarterbacks are surrounded with weapons, it’s hard not to be concerned when Chicago’s receiving corps is led by Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle and third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr. The Bears also have questions on the offensive line, including a hole at right guard, and the emphasis should be on making things easier for their young QB.

With that said, Bears GM Ryan Poles believes that a new offense and coaching staff will go a long way in helping Fields make a leap . HC Matt Eberflus explained earlier this offseason that Getsy’s offense is “very quarterback-friendly” and that Fields already feels comfortable.

What can we expect from the offensive line?

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Poles made it clear the line would be a focal point this offseason, which wasn’t a surprise given Fields was among the most-sacked quarterbacks last season. Poles wanted to get lighter and quicker on the offensive line, and his offseason moves have indicated as much. Free agency saw the departures of three starters from last year’s line – James Daniels, Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi – and the offseason acquisition of C Lucas Patrick. 

There are three familiar faces from last year’s team that factor into the starting equation: Cody Whitehair and second-year pros Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom. Whitehair and Patrick appear to be the only locks at their respective guard and center positions. The Bears experimented with different offensive line alignments in voluntary minicamp, swapping Borom’s and Jenkins’ positions. Borom saw time at left tackle, while Jenkins got the nod at right tackle. The failure to sign restricted free agent Ryan Bates – whose offer sheet was matched by the Bills – left a glaring hole at right guard. During voluntary minicamp, Sam Mustipher got reps at the position. We’ll see how this new rookie crop factors into the equation heading into the summer.

How will the defense fare under Matt Eberflus?

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Lost in the concerns on offense, the Bears are experiencing an overhaul on defense under Eberflus. Not only is Chicago transitioning to a 4-3 defense, but the roster has undergone changes this offseason. The Bears parted ways with several veterans – including DE Khalil Mack, DT Akiem Hicks, NT Eddie Goldman, LB Danny Trevathan and DT Bilal Nichols – and added Justin Jones to serve as their three-technique. 

But the Bears have some big names returning this season, including DE Robert Quinn, CB Jaylon Johnson and LB Roquan Smith, who’s in line for a contract extension before the start of the season. DT Khyiris Tonga projects as the starting nose tackle on defense, where Eberflus explained his plans for a defensive line rotation using eight to nine linemen to keep fresh legs on the field.

The good news is the Bears shored up an important need in the secondary during the draft with the second-round additions of CB Kyler Gordon and S Jaquan Brisker. Both Gordon and Brisker figure to contribute as starters as rookies opposite Johnson and S Eddie Jackson, where the hope is the defense’s biggest weakness will get a boost with young talent.

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