Four Bears position battles to watch during 2022 training camp

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Four position battles to watch during Bears training camp originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

In less than a week, the Bears will report to Halas Hall for their first training camp under new head coach Matt Eberflus.

Eberflus gave everyone a clean slate when he arrived, and it's clear the 2022 season will be used as a 17-game trial period to gauge who should be part of the Bears' long-term rebuild plans.

For a rebuilding team, the Bears actually enter training camp with a clear pecking order at many positions. The secondary is mainly set, as is the linebacking corps and offensive backfield.

But four position battles will have our attention when camp kicks off Tuesday.

Offensive tackle
Contenders: Larry Borom, Braxton Jones, and Teven Jenkins

All eyes will be on the offensive line when camp starts.

Will Eberflus return to the Bears' expected offensive line combination with Borom at left tackle and Jenkins at right? Or has the rookie Jones truly entered the conversation to be the starting left tackle in Week 1 against the 49ers?

Borom feels like a lock to earn one of the starting offensive tackle spots. However, what side he starts on will be dictated by the play of Jenkins and Jones in camp.

The best thing for the Bears, Justin Fields, and Jones would be for Jenkins to show he's an NFL-caliber starting right tackle. That would give Jones an entire season to improve his strength and adjust to the speed of the game before being asked to protect a quarterback's blind side. Having a fifth-round rookie protecting Fields' blind side would be suboptimal for a quarterback entering a critical second season.

Wide receiver No. 2, No. 3
Contenders: Byron Pringle Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown, N'Keal Harry, Velus Jones Jr.

The Bears' wide receiving corps remains underwhelming. The trade for Harry was a smart, no-risk move by a team in need of talent at the position. Whether or not Harry can resurrect his NFL career in Chicago remains to be seen.

Darnell Mooney is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver. Tight end Cole Kmet is the Bears' second most reliable pass-catcher. That gives you a good picture of where the Bears' receiving corps stands entering camp. It's not pretty.

The No. 2 and No. 3 receiver spots are a wide-open race as camp begins.

Per Pro Football Focus, Pringle and Harry graded out as two of the best run-blocking wide receivers in the NFL last season. Having wide receivers that are willing and able to block is vital to the success of the Bears' wide-zone offense.

St. Brown has history with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and had some solid moments during mandatory minicamp. Meanwhile, the Bears have thrown a lot at the rookie Jones as they look to find ways to get the ball in his hands and utilize his game-breaking speed.

Entering camp, I'd say Pringle and St. Brown have the upper hand in the position battle. But we haven't seen Harry work with Fields yet, and Jones has a greater upside than the other three options.

It likely will come down to who has the best chemistry with Fields and is willing to get dirty as a blocker in the run game.

Nickel back
Contenders: Thomas Graham Jr., Tavon Young

When the Bears signed Young to a one-year contract this offseason, the belief was that the former Baltimore Raven would be the team's starting slot corner.

But Thomas Graham Jr. has impressed the new staff with his work ethic and has pulled even in the competition with Young.

Graham was solid in limited playing time last season and likely knows his best chance of staying in the NFL long-term is as a slot corner.

I'd say it's an even competition heading into camp, and Graham might even have a leg up on Young.

Kick returner
Contenders: Velus Jones Jr., Trestan Ebner, Nsimba Webster, Dazz Newsome, Khalil Herbert

With Jakeem Grant and Tarik Cohen gone, the Bears will reset their return game this season.

Given Herbert's importance to the Bears' expected running-back-by-committee approach in Getsy's scheme, I wouldn't expect him to be put in harm's way on special teams unless absolutely necessary.

Newsome and Webster have the speed to make an impact on special teams, but I think the two rookies might be the best options.

Ebner, a sixth-round pick, is a two-time Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year who was electric in the return game for Baylor. He averaged 25.3 yards per return with three touchdowns on 47 attempts and returned 28 punts for a 6.8-yard average with one score.

Jones Jr. is an electric return man in his own right. His 2,973 career kickoff-return yards rank 14th in NCAA FBS history, and he finished second in the nation with a 15.1-yard punt return average last season. The Bears are thrilled to get his 4.31 speed in the mix in the return game.

"I think the whole organization is excited about adding a guy like that," Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. "We all just kind of got a feel for him as a person, and we like him as a person. We like his energy. We like his speed. We like his toughness. We like his athleticism. And we like what he can do, and what he has the opportunity to do is compete here and see if he can make those things translate that he did in college to the pro level, and we definitely believe that he can."

The return competition will be fun to track over the coming weeks, with Jones Jr. and Ebner having more than a chance to win the jobs.

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