Our biggest questions heading into Bears 2021 training camp

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This is our weekly staff discussion, where Bears Wire writers share their opinions about a variety of topics involving the Bears. Subscribe to get the latest Bears news delivered to your mailbox every day.

It won’t be long before the Chicago Bears report to Halas Hall for the start of training camp on July 27. And while there’s plenty of excitement heading into this 2021 season, which includes rookie quarterback Justin Fields, there are also a number of questions facing this team.

With starting jobs and roster spots to be filled, there are no shortage of storylines to monitor when the Bears hit the practice field in Lake Forest, be it on offense and defense.

Our Bears Wire staff is sharing their thoughts on their biggest question heading into training camp later this month.

Alyssa Barbieri: Who will win the starting outside cornerback job opposite Jaylon Johnson?

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

One of the biggest concerns for the Bears is finding a way to do the impossible in replacing two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller. While Jaylon Johnson has been promoted to CB1, the question remains who will be lining up opposite him on the outside. While Duke Shelley and Thomas Graham appear to be competing at slot cornerback, that leaves second-year pro Kindle Vildor and veterans Desmond Trufant and Artie Burns to battle for the starting job. Vildor appears to have the advantage right now, as he was taking reps with the first-team defense during mandatory minicamp, and he certainly made an impression. But Trufant and Burns will certainly push Vildor for the starting job, which should make for one of the more intriguing position battles of camp.

Bryan Perez: Will the Bears’ offensive tackles hold up?

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

The Bears are in a transition season at offensive tackle. Gone are starters Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie. Rookie second-round pick Teven Jenkins will start a left tackle, while right tackle remains somewhat up for grabs. Can Germain Ifedi really be counted on as an every week starter? That feels risky. With a limited preseason schedule, the Bears won’t have much of a chance to see how competent their new bookends are before the bullets fly for real in the regular season. If the offensive tackles fail, the entire offense will come short of expectations once again.

Brendan Sugrue: What’s the status surrounding Tarik Cohen?

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears lost a crucial member of their offense early last season when running back Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL in week three against the Atlanta Falcons. The veteran back, who had signed a contract extension just days prior to the injury, was sorely missed as the Bears’ offense took a nosedive following his injury. Now almost 10 months removed from the surgery, how much will Cohen participate in camp? Cohen was held out of the team’s mandatory minicamp last month and still appeared hobbled and stiff due to the injury. Many players rehabbing from torn ACL surgeries return to action in 8-12 months so there’s still a good chance he’ll be ready to go for the preseason. But the Bears padded their running back room this offseason with veteran Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert to back up starter David Montgomery. Both Williams and Herbert are capable of filling in for Cohen in the running game and passing attack, giving head coach Matt Nagy insurance in case their electric playmaker isn’t ready to go when the season begins. We’ll know soon enough if Cohen needs to ease into game action when camp begins but Bears fans will surely feel better when they see #29 back in the huddle, whether it’s practice or a preseason game.

Ryan Fedrau: How short is Andy Dalton’s leash going to be?

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Nagy announced that Andy Dalton will be the Bears' starting quarterback come Week 1, but how long will that last? Nagy is on the hot seat and the excitement of Justin Fields has to have put Dalton on a leash. How short and tight will that leash be? Last year, Nagy pulled the plug on Mitchell Trubisky in Week 3, even though he was undefeated as a starter. He held onto Nick Foles until Foles was injured, even though Foles almost ruined the 5-1 start to the season, as he lost his last 4 starts before his injury against the Vikings. Nagy played flip-flop with the quarterbacks last season and there’s good reason to expect a quarterback change at some point this season. The Bears have a coach and GM on the hot seat and 52 other starters out there. This team has to perform well or they will be looking for a new coach next season. With that being said, if Fields is dominant in training camp and preseason and is obviously the better pick at quarterback, does Dalton even start? Even if he does start, in this case, it;’s fair to assume one big mistake and Nagy pulls the plug on another quarterback. If Fields is ready, Dalton won’t be the starter for long – if at all.

Sky Kruse: How will this defense perform under new defensive coordinator Sean Desai?

AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn

Everyone in Chicago is eager to see the offense play, which is understandable, but what about the other side of the ball? I think everyone can agree the replacement of Vic Fangio with Chuck Pagano was less than stellar. With Desai being an understudy of Fangio the years he was in Chicago, people are expecting this defense to return to its 2018 form. It’ll be a challenge for the new DC as they lose a key player in cornerback Kyle Fuller and the uncertainty of Eddie Goldman’s future. A lot of players have come forward and spoke highly of Desai, but only time will tell if he’s the man for the job.

Nate Atkins: Is there a solid No. 2 receiver on offense?

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, Darnell Mooney made a meme of Jalen Ramsey, but is he a viable #2 wide receiver for this Bears' offense? Last year was great, 61 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns, but can he replicate that production? The previous two, number twos, haven't been able to. Since Allen Robinson joined the Bears, the best season had by a number two option wasn't even from a member of the receiving corps; it was Tarik Cohen's 71 reception, 725-yard season in 2018. And it's been downhill for Tarik ever since. After Cohen, the next best season for a number two receiver was from the former second-round pick, Anthony Miller, with 656 yards receiving in 2019. Unfortunately, he followed up his breakout year with the worst season of his young career. This year is the final year of Miller's rookie deal, and it seems unlikely Chicago will pick up his fifth-year option unless he has a stellar year. I guess there's always Cole Kmet?

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