Four Bears with most to prove during remainder of offseason

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Four Bears with most to prove during remainder of offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles are giving everyone on the roster a clean slate during Year 1 of their tenure. But make no mistake, just about everyone on the roster has something to prove to the Bears' new bosses this offseason.

The Bears will wrap up OTAs next week with practices Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday before having a mandatory minicamp from June 14-16.

During the next two weeks and into training camp, a few of the Bears' most important players must show Eberflus and Poles that they can be part of the long-term rebuilding project.

Here are four players not named Justin Fields who have something to prove during the remainder of OTAs, minicamp, and training camp.

Jaylon Johnson

We start here because, well, Eberflus sent a message.

During Eberflus' first OTA media availability, the Bears coach said he needed to see "time on task" from Johnson before giving his opinion on the young corner. Johnson followed that by saying he knew he had to prove himself to the new staff.

The following week, Eberflus had Johnson run with the second team while rookie Kyler Gordon and Kindle Vildor ran with the ones.

Eberflus told the media it wasn't something to "read into" and that he had been impressed by what he had seen from Johnson.

There are two explanations for Johnson's second-team run, and both can be partially true.

The first is that Eberflus and the staff want Johnson to get his conditioning up and see where he fits in the scheme they are installing. The second is that Eberflus is trying to build a winning culture, and challenging one of your best players to meet and exceed that standard is a good way to do it.

Johnson told Jim Rome that he didn't view running with the second team as a problem.

On paper, Johnson should be one of the locks to be a foundational piece of this rebuild. He's a budding star, and with him, Gordon, Eddie Jackson, and Jaquan Brisker, the future of the Bears' secondary looks bright.

But it's clear Eberflus needs to see something from Johnson to prove he's part of the grand rebuilding plan.

Cole Kmet

After a disappointing second season that saw Kmet fail to score a touchdown, the clock is ticking for the Bears' young tight end.

Kmet said he is excited about his role in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme and will look to George Kittle and Robert Tonyan as examples of tight ends thriving in similar systems.

Given the state of the Bears' wide-receiving corps, Chicago needs Kmet to be a reliable No. 2 option in the passing game after Darnell Mooney.

During the 2020 season, Tonyan caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers. The Bears must get that kind of production out of Kmet.

Kmet also is entering the third year of a four-year rookie contract and needs to produce at a high level to prove he should be part of Poles and Eberflus' long-term vision.

Teven Jenkins

Jenkins slimmed down with the help of Pilates and less beer. The Oklahoma State product had a tough rookie season that saw him not get on the field until late in the year due to a back injury.

Now healthy, Jenkins plans to use this offseason to earn the trust of the Bears' new regime. The first step in gaining their faith was to agree to move to right tackle, the position he played in college.

While some might think being moved from left to right tackle would feel like a demotion, Jenkins is adamant he just wants to help the Bears win games and prove he is part of the solution in Chicago.

Poles is a former offensive lineman who drafted three developmental trench beasts in the 2022 draft. If they want to stick around, Jenkins and left tackle Larry Borom should see this season as a show-me-something season.

Tackle is a premium position, and right now, the Bears have two question marks as their bookends. Jenkins and Borom can remedy or exacerbate that issues this summer and fall.

Thomas Graham Jr.

The Bears are shaping up to have a competition at nickel back during training camp, and 2021 sixth-round pick Thomas Graham looks like he is poised to push Tavon Young for the starting spot.

Graham, who didn't see game action last season until Week 15, has impressed defensive coaches with his work ethic and desire to improve his game.

This offseason, the Bears signed Young after a solid but injury-riddled stint with the Baltimore Ravens.
Graham's best chance to have a long-term NFL career is at nickel, and it's clear the Oregon product intends to make that a reality.

While the Bears will have several position battles to watch in the lead up to Week 1, the materializing competition at the nickel might be the most intriguing.

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