The Bears wrapped up Matt Eberflus’ first offseason program with a mandatory three-day veteran minicamp at Halas Hall. Those three workouts gave us some insight into where the Bears are in learning new offensive patterns, how far they need to go, and where the big holes on the roster remain.
The first practice of the minicamp was about defense. Jaquan Brisker and Jaylon Johnson both intercepted Justin Fields, and the quarterback gave an honest assessment of the offense’s progress after Day 1 of minicamp.
“Uh, no. I’m not ready for the start of the season,” Fields said after day one. “I’m the type of guy who would like to know that I’m ready. So right now, I’m just to be honest, we’re not ready to play a game right now. And when that time comes, we’ll be ready, so, right now, no, not ready to play a game.”
But the offense has rebounded in the last two practices to start the summer in style.
As we look back on the first mandatory minicamp of Eberflus’ tenure in Chicago, here are the players trending towards camp and those who still have work to do.
TOP: Justin Fields
I appreciated Fields’ honesty when discussing the offense and how quickly they set up the Luke Getsy scheme.
Although the Bears don’t show many offensive wrinkles early on, Getsy’s plan seems to be suited to Fields’ strengths.
Fields is still building chemistry with most of his wide receiver corps, but the connection with Darnell Mooney remains strong and he partnered with tight end Cole Kmet on several occasions during minicamp for big chunk plays.
Fields was sharp on Day 2 of minicamp as the offense won the “move the ball” period when he found Dante Pettis for a touchdown. Practice was cut short on Day 3, but Fields had some good times in the red zone drill.
Ahead of a critical second season, Fields appears to be finding his place in Getsy’s system and should enter training camp with the confidence to be ready to take a big leap into Year Two.
BOTTOM: Teven Jenkins
After starting the offseason program as a first-string right tackle, Jenkins finished it on the second unit as Eberflus inserted rookie Braxton Jones at first-string left tackle and knocked down Larry Borom on the tackle right.
Eberflus said the plan is to split off-season practices in half between two different first-team offensive line combinations. The Bears staff will get together and see which unit, if any, they prefer.
Jenkins could still enter training camp as a first-string right tackle. Eberflus also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of moving the 2021 second-round pick to right guard if necessary.
In an ideal world, Jenkins and Borom would cement themselves as starting bookends at the start of camp, giving Jones at least an entire NFL season to develop. But if Jenkins doesn’t get the job done, Eberflus may have to turn to a fifth-round pick at left tackle who will be asked to block Nick Bosa in his NFL debut in Week 1.
Training camp will be important for Jenkins’ future with the Bears.
TOP: Cole Kmet
Kmet failed to find the end zone in his second season in the NFL. Given his lack of practice reps with Fields, it was clear that Kmet still needed time to get in sync with the young quarterback.
When Eberflus hired Getsy intending to run an iteration of the Shanahan system, Kmet became the obvious choice, along with Fields, for the player who could benefit the most from the change. George Kittle and Robert Tonyan are thriving in their roles in similar offences. Given their lack of wide receiver depth, the Bears need Kmet to be a dependable weapon for Fields.
Kmet was solid during minicamp. The Bears showed some TE Leak action, and Kmet caught several balls in midfield traffic, including two for touchdowns. A strengthened connection between Fields and Kmet bodes well for Getsy and the Bears offense.
TOP: Thomas Graham Jr.
BOTTOM: Tavon Young
The Bears signed Young to a one-year contract with the presumption that he would be the starting nickel.
The 28-year-old suffered multiple injuries during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. However, as Young entered the offseason with a presumed lead for the starting corner job, it looks like sophomore Thomas Graham Jr. has caught up with him.
The Bears staff have been impressed with Graham’s work ethic this offseason, and the Oregon product received plenty of first-team reps during minicamp, sealing the session with a six-on-one pass pick. Pointe Fields on the last day of minicamp.
“I like him, you know, he puts in extra time,” Bears cornerbacks coach James Rowe said of Graham during OTAs. “He comes and meets David Overstreet, who mainly coaches our nickels. He comes and meets him every morning at 7am. Very smart player. He is able to handle the workload outside and inside . He’s determined to be good, and we like what we’re seeing from him so far.”
Heading into training camp, it looks like Graham has the upper hand in the competition to be the starting nickel in defense for Eberflus and Alan Williams.
DOWN: Bears defensive line
No Robert Quinn means more pressure on everyone.
The veteran defensive end was a no-call, no-show at the Bears minicamp as trade rumors continue to swirl.
Eberflus said he would leave Quinn’s situation to general manager Ryan Poles. But if Quinn doesn’t suit the Bears, more will be asked of third-year rusher Trevis Gipson and tackle Justin Jones to pressure the quarterback.
As Gipson has gone from No. 2 rusher to top dog, the Bears will also have to call on more veteran Al-Quadin Muhammad and rookie Dominique Robinson to provide additional pressure.
It’s hard to win in the NFL if you can’t affect the quarterback. If the Bears can’t convince Quinn to come back, their defensive line will likely struggle in 2022.
TOP: Jaquan Brisker
The Bears second-round rookie has been brilliant this offseason.
Brisker has impressed with his ability to create turnovers and should create a good safety duo with veteran Eddie Jackson.
Brisker’s willingness to play in the box should allow Jackson to return to free safety, the position he is most comfortable in.
Although Brisker and Jackson have similar skill sets, the plan will likely be to have Brisker play in the box and Jackson read the quarterback and make plays in the backend.
If Brisker can help Jackson rediscover his All-Pro form from 2018, the Bears secondary could be a lot better than expected.