Justin Fields' growth headlines Bears training camp storylines to watch

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Fields' growth headlines Bears training camp storylines to watch originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Bears rookies and quarterbacks reported to Halas Hall on Saturday in advance of training camp, with the rest of the team expected to arrive Tuesday.

The first training camp practice of the Matt Eberflus-Ryan Poles era kicks off Wednesday, with the Bears' first preseason game taking place Aug. 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field.

With the Bears in Year 0 of a lengthy rebuild, quarterback Justin Fields will command most of the attention at training camp. His development this season will chart the path forward for Eberflus and Poles' rebuild.

But there are other things to keep an eye on as things get underway at Halas Hall.

Here are five storylines to follow as Bears training camp begins:

All eyes are on Justin Fields

The 2022 season is expected to be the ground floor of Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles' rebuild. The Bears have a roster that lacks depth and talent at premium positions. A six-win season very well could be the ceiling for the 2022 Bears.
 
While not much is expected of the Bears this fall, every play of Justin Fields' season will be put under a microscope. Fields flashed star potential last season while playing behind a porous offensive line and for a staff that refused to let him do what he does best.
 
Eberflus brought in Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator. Getsy spent the offseason installing an offshoot of the Shanahan wide-zone offense that promises to attack deep and get Fields on the move, utilizing the quarterback's athleticism and arm talent in a way Matt Nagy did not.
 
Everyone in the Bears' organization has praised Fields for his work ethic and leadership this offseason. Given the Bears' thin wide-receiving corps and suspect offensive line, it's fair to assume a lot of the Bears' evaluation of Fields will occur Monday-Friday and not on Sundays.
 
However, there's reason to believe a breakout season is coming in Year 2 for Fields.
 
"I had pretty high expectations," center Lucas Patrick said of Fields during OTAs. "You don't get   drafted as high as he does in the National Football League just by kind of having a wet noodle or slow feet. He's really talented. I thought he was going to be really good, and he is exceeding my expectations."
 
"You hear the stories on some of the great guys when they come into the building, they're ready to go," quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. "They're prepared mentally, they're prepared with what they did the night before, and then they're prepared to come in. This is what they do, and this is what they want to be great at, so that's what you see from him."
 
While not much is expected of the Bears in 2022, many see greatness in Fields' future and believe he will start to blossom this fall.
 
That starts with improved accuracy and decision-making in Getsy's offense. Fields and the offense stumbled in several offseason practices viewed by the media, but they had two good days to close out mandatory minicamp in June. That upward trend needs to continue starting Wednesday.
 
Missing players

Robert Quinn wasn't present for mandatory minicamp as trade rumors swirled.

The pass rush looks bleak if Poles and Eberflus can't get Quinn to commit to being a Bear in 2022. Without Quinn, the Bears will rely on Trevis Gipson making a big Year 3 leap and will ask more of rookie Dominique Robinson than initially planned.
 
The Bears might also be missing a player in the backend of their defense to start training camp.
 
Second-round pick Jaquan Brisker is currently in a contract holdout and was not expected to report to Halas Hall on Saturday with the rest of the rookies and the quarterbacks. Brisker's camp and the Bears are at odds over the guaranteed money in the third year of the safety contract. It's unclear when they will find common ground, and Brisker's holdout could bleed into August.
 
Given how impressive Brisker was during the offseason program, the Bears need to get him signed and on the field as soon as possible, so his development isn't slowed.
 
Finding the right offensive line combination

The Bears' offensive line looked set at four spots entering the offseason, with the right guard being the only position with an open competition.
 
That belief changed midway through OTAs when Eberflus moved Teven Jenkins to second team. Rookie Braxton Jones took over the first-team left tackle duties, with Larry Borom shifting to right tackle.
 
Eberflus said the Bears wanted to look at different combinations and would re-evaluate the situation after mandatory minicamp.
 
Jones, a fifth-round pick, has a lot of potential, but it might be too much to ask him to step in Week 1 and hold down the blind side. It would be in the Bears' and Justin Fields' best interest if Jenkins reclaims the starting right tackle spot and bumps Borom back to the left side. That would give Jones some time to get stronger and adapt to the speed of the game at the NFL level.
 
If Jenkins isn't the Bears' answer at right tackle, they might want to consider giving Jason Peters a call. The veteran left tackle who played 15 games for the Bears last season said he is open to playing for a Super Bowl contender or an up-and-coming team in 2022.
 
With Fields' development taking center stage this fall, the Bears must put the best offensive line they can find in front of him.

Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and ….

For Fields to succeed in Year 2, he'll need ample protection and reliable targets in the passing game.

Darnell Mooney will be the Bears' unquestioned No. 1 receiver this season. He has a great rapport with Fields and is motivated to become one of the best receivers in the NFL. Mooney's biggest obstacle in 2022 likely will be trying to put up numbers against game-planning defenses to neutralize him.

The Bears can make life easier for Mooney if they can find two or three other pass-catching options for defenses to respect.

One of those is tight end Cole Kmet, who knows he has a big opportunity to thrive in Getsy's offense the same way Robert Tonyan exploded in Green Bay. The Bears need Kmet to be an effective run-blocker to carve defenses up in the play-action game.

Outside of Kmet, the Bears hope more opportunity means more production for Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. They are looking to resurrect the careers of first-round pick N'Keal Harry and second-round pick Dante Pettis. The Bears are high on rookie Velus Jones Jr.'s versatility and will look to get him the ball in space in any way possible.

The Bears' offensive weapons will take center stage in training camp as they look to give Fields enough playmakers to make a jump this season.

Surprise standout player
Almost every training camp has a player that comes out of nowhere to be the unexpected camp storyline.
 
Given the Bears' relatively thin roster, any number of players could emerge over the next few weeks as the surprise darling of camp.
 
Sixth-round pick Trestan Ebner has the explosiveness to force his way onto the 53-man roster. The Baylor product is a two-time Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year who could give the Bears a boost in the return game and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
 
Don't sleep on undrafted rookie receiver Kevin Shaa, who made several nice catches during rookie minicamp, OTAs, and veteran minicamp.
 
Nickel back Thomas Graham Jr. has impressed the new staff with his work ethic and appears to have pulled even with Tavon Young in the starting slot cornerback competition.
 
Could Dominique Robinson pop early? Perhaps Dazz Newsome starts making plays?
 
We'll find out over the next few weeks.

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