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Five wild cards who could determine Bears' success in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
There are many question marks surrounding the Bears as they march toward the 2022 season and the first year of head coach Matt Eberflus' reign. In fact, there are very few certainties when it comes to these Bears.
We know Justin Fields will be under center with David Montgomery behind him. Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith, and Jaylon Johnson should anchor the defense.
The rest? Might as well be a dart thrown.
There are obvious issues for the Bears, like right guard and wide receiver. But then, there are the players the Bears are counting on and already penciling in as reliable contributors who are wild cards that could determine the course of the Bears' season.
1. Eddie Jackson
The Bears' pass defense was an abject disaster last season. They ranked dead last in QB rating allowed and were tied for 30th in touchdown passes allowed.
The addition of rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker should help bolster the secondary. Having Brisker play in the box should allow Jackson to move back to a more comfortable role at deep safety.
But the Bears' defense can't afford to have any members of their expected starting secondary -- Johnson, Jackson, Gordon, Brisker -- disappoint. One hole in the unit and the defense could crumble.
Jackson has impressed his new coaches early on. The veteran safety arrived with things he wanted the staff to help him work on to return to the elite level he showcased early in his career. The Bears need an improved Jackson to show up this fall for the secondary to be serviceable.
2. Lucas Patrick/Cody Whitehair
A two-for-one special.
All of the talk about the Bears' offensive line has centered on the massive hole at right guard and the potential issue at tackle. (We'll get there.)
However, everyone has penciled in Cody Whitehair and Lucas Patrick has surefire things at left guard and center, respectively.
That's understandable. Whitehair has been a solid guard during his career and Patrick performed well in a swing guard/center role for the Green Bay Packers. They are the most "proven commodities" on the Bears' offensive line.
However, if one or both of them doesn't perform as expected, the Bears' offense will be in dire straights. If the Bears don't add another body on the free-agent market to sure up the interior, Whitehair and Patrick will have to live up to and likely outperform expectations to keep the offense on schedule.
3. Teven Jenkins
Told you we'd get to the tackle spot.
The Bears mixed up their offensive line combination during their final OTA practice. Jenkins, who has been manning right guard, moved to the second team with rookie Braxton Jones and Larry Borom handling the first-team duties.
Eberflus claims it was nothing to read into, but if Jenkins isn't cutting it at right tackle, then the Bears have a big, big issue.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme should fit Jenkins' nasty run-blocking style well. Jenkins has reshaped his body to be as quick and agile as possible in this system. But, at the moment, it appears he isn't living up to what Eberflus and the Bears expect and need from him.
The Bears don't have many other options at tackle if Jenkins can't hold down the right side.
4. Trevis Gipson
Among the biggest question marks for the 2022 Bears is the defensive line. Quinn gives them a top-tier edge rusher, but they'll need Trevis Gipson to elevate his game to give the defense some teeth this fall.
Last season, Gipson had an 87.0 pass-rush grade that ranked 10th among qualified edge rushers, right behind Chandler Jones, per Pro Football Focus. His 11.9 pass-rush productivity in true pass sets ranked 16th, and his 19.3 percent win rate, the number of times he beat his man in two seconds or less, ranked 52nd.
The potential for a leap is there, and the Bears' defense is depending on Gipson or Al-Quadin Muhammad to give Quinn a pass-rush partner for opposing offenses to respect. If neither pops, offenses will be able to neutralize the Bears' pass rush by focusing on stopping Quinn.