Five important Bears position battles to watch with OTAs starting
Five important Bears position battles to watch with OTAs starting originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The most-anticipated offseason in Bears franchise history came and went, with general manager Ryan Poles showing a disciplined approach to his grand rebuild plan.
The Bears made notable additions at wide receiver, linebacker, offensive line, and defensive tackle. They still have needs to address, but the roster is in a much better spot as the Bears begin Organized Team Activities (OTAs) than it was four months ago.
Phase III of the Bears' offseason plan kicks off Monday. The development of quarterback Justin Fields will be the headline of the Bears' offseason, with a big focus centering on his chemistry with new wide receiver DJ Moore and midseason acquisition Chase Claypool.
But OTAs also signal the start of several key position battles that likely won't be decided until the late stages of training camp.
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2022 Incumbent: Khalil Herbert
Challengers: D'Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson
This is the headliner.
Khalil Herbert will open Phase III of the offseason program as RB1, but offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and running backs coach David Walker made it clear during rookie minicamp that it would be an open competition between Herbert, D'Onta Foreman, and rookie Roschon Johnson.
Herbert's one-cut-and-go running style perfectly fits the Bears' wide-zone attack. But the third-year running back struggles in pass protection and isn't a great pass-catcher.
Johnson doesn't have Herbert's explosiveness, but he's an elite tackle-breaker and can hold up in pass protection.
Don't sleep on Foreman, who is coming off a career season with the Panthers. Finally healthy, Foreman rushed for 913 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per attempt. He also notched 21 explosive runs (10+ yards) and forced 34 missed tackles.
Foreman said he came to Chicago to be the lead back, and there's no reason to think he can't win the job this offseason.
2022 Incumbent: N/A
Challengers: Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick
The Bears revamped their offensive line this offseason, signing right guard Nate Davis and drafting right tackle Darnell Wright with the No. 10 overall pick.
The signing of Davis means that Teven Jenkins will flip from right guard to left.
The Bears will enter OTAs with four spots on the offensive line set. As for center, Cody Whitehair will open the offseason program as the starting center, but Lucas Patrick should also get a fair shot to prove he can be the final piece of the O-line puzzle.
Poles brought Patrick in last offseason to be the starting center, but a preseason thumb injury forced Patrick to start the season at guard. Once the thumb healed, Patrick moved back to center but suffered a season-ending foot injury after just a handful of snaps.
Whitehair will enter the offseason program with a leg up in the competition, but as we learned last spring, the Bears aren't afraid to quickly mix up the offensive line combination.
2022 Incumbent: Kindle Vildor
Challengers: Jaylon Jones, Tyrique Stevenson
Poles finished rebuilding the Bears' secondary this offseason by selecting Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Stevenson is a long, physical press-man corner who impressed during the Bears' two-day rookie minicamp.
In an ideal world, Stevenson will beat out Kindle Vildor and Jaylon Jones for the second outside corner spot, allowing Kyler Gordon to exclusively play the nickel.
I don't think Stevenson will open camp as the starting outside corner opposite Jaylon Johnson, but I assume the job will be his by the time Week 1 rolls around.
2022 Incumbent: Jack Sanborn
Challenger: Noah Sewell
Sanborn made a name for himself last season when he took over as the starting MIKE linebacker after Roquan Smith was traded to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bears revamped their linebacking corps this offseason with the signings of Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. The plan is for Edmunds to be the MIKE linebacker and Edwards to play the WILL, leaving Sanborn to move to the SAM spot.
But don't write Sanborn in ink just yet.
The Bears drafted Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell in the fifth round in April. Sewell fits the Bears' preferred athletic profile and was a projected top-60 pick one year ago. He is a violent, downhill attacker who excels as a blitzer.
At the moment, I'd give Sanborn the nod for 2023, but I think Sewell has the talent to make it a competition in camp.
2022 Incumbent: Justin Jones
Challengers: Zacch Pickens, Gervon Dexter Sr.
Jones didn't pop off the page in 2022. He made a handful of nice plays but wasn't the consistent disruptor the Bears desire in a three-technique. The Bears tinkered with playing Jones on the edge near the end of last season, but the veteran defensive lineman prefers to play inside.
Poles bolstered the interior of the Bears' defensive line in the draft with the selections of Pickens, Dexter, and seventh-round pick Travis Bell.
Dexter has the size, strength, length, and athleticism you want in a disruptive three-technique. But his get-off is slow at times, and the Bears are working on rebuilding him from the ground up. Dexter might be the long-term answer at three-technique, but he might see more time at the one technique during the 2023 season, where the Bears can use his size and strength to stop the run.
Where Dexter is sometimes slow off the ball, Pickens explodes, constantly shooting gaps and wreaking havoc in the backfield.
The Bears now have a stable of bodies to rotate on the defensive line. Dexter, Pickens, and Jones should all see time at the three-tech next season. But I expect Jones to be the starter come Week 1, with Pickens playing a similar number of snaps in the backup role.
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