6 things to watch at the start of Bears training camp

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The Chicago Bears are gearing up for the start of training camp, which ushers in a new era of Bears football under general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus.

Naturally, there’s plenty to watch with this team heading into the summer, which includes Justin Fields’ first training camp as the starter, the starting offensive line and plenty of competition for starting jobs and roster spots, including at wide receiver and offensive line.

Here are six things to watch at the start of Bears training camp.

Roquan Smith's contract situation

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The Bears will be without star linebacker Roquan Smith when they kick off training camp. Smith was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which means he cannot practice. It’s a shocking development in the whole Roquan saga. But the move might not mean Smith is injured, as it could be a loophole for GM Ryan Poles to help Smith avoid fines for missing practice as both sides work on hammering out a contract extension. Head coach Matt Eberflus confirmed that Smith will be starting at weak side linebacker this season, which is one of the most important positions in that defense. That means Nicholas Morrow will be calling plays as the middle linebacker. Still, the hope is the Bears get Smith back on the field as soon as possible.

Starting offensive line combination

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears improved their offensive line in the last two days with the additions of veteran tackle Riley Reiff and guard Michael Schofield, which certainly shakes things up. Both Reiff and Schofield figure to be favorites to start at left tackle and right guard, respectively, which would leave one starting job at right tackle up for grabs. The tackle competition between Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom and possibly fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones will be on to watch. While Eberflus said there isn’t a deadline for figuring out the starting offensive line, all eyes will be on the first starting combination that hits the practice field on Wednesday.

Justin Fields

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Justin Fields is entering his first training camp as the starting quarterback, where he’ll get all of the starting reps unlike last summer. Fields will be working on growing in Luke Getsy’s offense and continuing to develop chemistry with a mostly-new crop of receivers. Fields has been praised for his development this offseason, where he’s been praised for his leadership and footwork. But now, it’s about Fields continuing to make progress this summer, which will also include live reps during preseason. During minicamp, Fields said that the offense wasn’t ready to play a game yet. Which makes sense given they’re learning a new scheme and with all of the new pieces in place. But that’s something that should change as training camp progresses.

Battle at wide receiver

AP Photo/Stew Milne

The Bears have one of the worst wide receiver groups in the NFL, which isn’t encouraging for a young quarterback in Fields. But given Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle and rookie Velus Jones Jr. appear to be the only locks for a roster spot, it gives the rest of these wideouts an opportunity to make a push for a roster spot. One of the names to watch is former first-round pick N’Keal Harry, who the team traded for earlier this month. Harry’s career has gotten off to a disappointing start, but he has a chance to make a strong impression with a fresh start in Chicago. He’ll be competing with the likes of Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, Dazz Newsome and David Moore for those final three roster spots.

Competition on defense

AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

The Bears strengthened their secondary this offseason, including at cornerback which was the defense’s biggest weakness last year. Chicago signed veteran Tavon Young to solidify the slot cornerback job. While Young is the favorite to start at nickelback, there’s a competition brewing between him and Thomas Graham Jr. Graham showed plenty of potential in a limited sample size as a rookie, and he’s someone who will challenge Young for the starting role. Elsewhere on defense, Trevis Gipson and Al-Quadin Muhammad will be battling for the starting defensive end role opposite Robert Quinn, who did indeed report for training camp. We’ll also see if Khyiris Tonga can hold off Mike Pennel for the starting nose tackle job.

New crop of rookies

The Bears have an exciting rookie class that will be a focal point this summer, especially as several of them project to serve starting roles this season. Second-round cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker made a strong impression during the offseason program, and it would be a shock if they both didn’t start immediately. Third-round wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. has also turned heads this offseason, and he’ll be looking to lock down that WR3 spot behind Mooney and Pringle. The Bears drafted punter Trenton Gill in the seventh round, and he looks to be the guy moving forward. Other notable names to watch include fifth-rounders offensive tackle Braxton Jones and defensive end Dominique Robinson, sixth-round running back Trestan Ebner and undrafted rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn.

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