6 reasons for optimism as Bears prepare for training camp

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Heading into training camp, there aren’t many who have confidence that the Chicago Bears will be competitive in 2021. Which makes sense given another mediocre 8-8 finish last season, questions with management and a difficult schedule on the horizon.

But there are reasons to be optimistic heading into the 2021 season, especially on offense with the addition of Chicago’s hopeful franchise quarterback. And while there are questions on defense, there are reasons to be excited about its potential.

Here are six reasons for optimism as the Bears prepare for training camp:

Better quarterback situation

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest offseason adjustments made by GM Ryan Pace came at the quarterback position, where he went from Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles to Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields. And, already, the Bears are in a better position than they were a year ago. Where things currently stand, Matt Nagy has named Dalton the starter heading into Week 1. And while there's an excitement and impatience to see Fields get his opportunity as the starter, putting Dalton out there still invokes more confidence than the alternative from last season. While Nagy has named his starter, there will still be a highly-anticipated quarterback battle in training camp. And unlike last season's, which was uninspiring to say the least, this one will carry a different type of energy. This will be one quarterback battle that fans will be eager to see, with every snap, every throw and every decision compared between Dalton and Fields. There's no doubt Fields will see the field at some point in his rookie season, and the hope is the Bears will reap the benefits for years to come.

The 2021 rookie class

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The one saving grace of this Bears offseason for GM Ryan Pace has been the 2021 NFL draft, where he put together a class of rookies who have the potential to be foundational pieces for this franchise for years to come. On paper, Pace put together his best draft, which garnered A+ grades from around the league. It all starts of course with quarterback Justin Fields, who Chicago traded up to draft at 11th overall. Fields has all of the tools to become a star quarterback and rewrite the quarterback narrative for this franchise. After selecting Fields, Pace's next move was to trade up to get him protection in offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, who the Bears believe will be their left tackle of the future. He was arguably the nastiness offensive lineman last season and someone who could be a featured piece on this line for years to come. Pace has been known for finding late-round gems in the draft, something that could prove true once again with this draft class. The Bears added offensive tackle Larry Borom in the fifth round, and he'll have a chance to battle for the starting right tackle job. Then there's Chicago's trio of sixth rounders in running back Khalil Herbert, wide receiver Dazz Newsome and cornerback Thomas Graham, all of whom have big-play potential and could serve immediate roles as rookies. The Bears also added defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga in the seventh round, who has a chance to develop behind Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman.

New defensive coordinator Sean Desai

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The Bears will have a familiar face at defensive coordinator this season as former safeties coach Sean Desai steps in for Chuck Pagano, who retired earlier this offseason. And while there are certainly some big changes to deal with, including the loss of All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller, there's reason to be optimistic about the direction of this defense under Desai. This defense reached its pinnacle with Vic Fangio back in 2018, where they were the most dominant defense in the league. Desai was Fangio's righthand man, where he helped him craft the defense into the dominant unit it was three years ago. Desai has some of the same philosophies as Fangio, so this defense will look different yet similar from what we've seen the last couple of years. Not only is Desai well-versed in Fangio's defense, but he's known these players for years. So he knows exactly the position he needs to put them in to utilize their strengths.

The return of Eddie Goldman

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The Bears were without one of their best defensive players in nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns. And while the defense held its own, Goldman's absence was certainly felt, especially against the run, where Chicago was exposed at times last season. The return of Goldman should do wonders for this defense, especially given the departures of Roy Robertson-Harris and Brent Urban in free agency. While there's been a lot of speculation about Goldman's future after he failed to report to mandatory minicamp last month, the good news is that he plans to report for training camp next week. Surely there will be concerns about whether Goldman is in football shape, especially after missing a season, but his recent workout videos show someone who's not only eager to return to the field but someone who looks in good football shape.

The emergence of David Montgomery

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Running back David Montgomery is primed for a breakout season in 2021. This after an impressive 2020 season, where he proved to be the most dominant running back in the second half of last year. It certainly took the Bears offense some time to establish the run last season. But once they did, Montgomery was nearly unstoppable. In the final six games of 2020, he eclipsed 100 scrimmage yards in six straight games, including three games with 100-plus rushing yards. Montgomery finished the season with 247 carries for 1,070 yards in 15 games, as he missed a game due to a concussion, as well as eight touchdowns. He tied for the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL, becoming the Bears' first 1,000 yard rusher since Jordan Howard in 2016 and 2017. And yet, the best is still to come with Montgomery, who's entering his third season. It certainly helps that Montgomery feels disrespected by some doubters who had him ranked as the 25th best running back in the NFL.

The promise of Chicago's second-year pros

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While there's a ton of excitement surrounding this year's crop of rookies, the Bears' 2020 draft class is poised to make big strides in their second seasons. Chicago's top draft pick from a year ago was tight end Cole Kmet, who had an encouraging rookie season. While he got off to a slow start, he saw an increased role and production in the second half of the year. Given Year 2 is when tight ends usually flourish, look for Kmet to make huge strides as he becomes more involved on offense. Then there's wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who quickly solidified himself as the Bears' No. 2 receiver behind Allen Robinson in just the second week of his rookie season. With Mooney's speed, skillset and a year of experience under his belt, Chicago is expecting big things for him in 2021. With Kyle Fuller's release earlier this offseason, cornerback Jaylon Johnson has been thrust into the CB1 role, where he's going to need to become a lockdown defender to help hold that secondary down. Luckily, he had a pretty impressive rookie season, which included 15 pass breakups in 13 games. Also on defense is another second-year corner in Kindle Vildor, who will be competing for the starting job opposite Johnson. Vildor, a former fifth-round pick, is currently the favorite to land the job, but he's going to need to hold off veterans Desmond Trufant and Artie Burns. Then there's Trevis Gipson, who should see an expanded role coming off the edge in his sophomore season. [listicle id=475643]

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