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Very, Very Early Roster Predictions.....


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Bears early roster prediction while ranking the positions by concern level


A beautifully thrown deep ball or two from rookie quarterback Justin Fields during organized team activities (OTAs) and then a few more later in training camp could start to shift the conversation inside Halas Hall.

A patient plan for Fields could transform into a take-the-field plan.

Why? Well, head coach Matt Nagy can’t wait to see it. Deep balls — the kind that hit receivers in stride for chunk yards or even better — are considered a strength of Fields.

Over the past three seasons, Nagy has seen too many down-the-field attempts land incomplete. His offense has ranked 22nd, 29th and 25th, respectively, in completed pass plays of 20 yards, according to Sportradar.

After the NFL Draft, Nagy joked that Fields has a “touchdown-to-touchdown mentality” when it comes to his ability to connect on throws in the intermediate to deep ranges. But Nagy also was serious. He’d love to inject such a threat into his offense. Mitch Trubisky simply didn’t provide it.

“That’s one of his better things that (Fields) does,” Nagy said during the Bears’ rookie minicamp. “And that’s something we want to be able to use as much as possible.”

It’s just one of the many things from Fields that will be tracked inside Halas Hall but also by the media when we’re allowed to cover practices, starting on Wednesday. Fields’ transition to the NFL and Andy Dalton’s ability to keep him on the sideline will be the most important storyline of any position. But there will be plenty happening on the four practice fields of Halas Hall. In ascending order, here is my positional ranking in terms of concern, along with an early 53-man roster projection.

10. Specialists

As a kicking battery, kicker Cairo Santos, punter/holder Pat O’Donnell and long snapper Patrick Scales all proved to be reliable. It’s why all three were retained.

Santos has proven to be a true difference-maker. He earned every bit of his new three-year, $9 million deal. He broke two of Robbie Gould’s records last season. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Overall, the Bears’ special teams were sound in 2020, as the team finished ninth in veteran sportswriter Rick Gosselin’s annual special-teams rankings. The return of Tarik Cohen at punt returner also will help in 2021.

Early roster prediction (3): Cairo Santos, Pat O’Donnell, Patrick Scales

9. Defensive line

The Bears’ defensive front should continue to be a strength, especially with nose tackle Eddie Goldman returning after opting out in 2020.

“Hopefully with Eddie Goldman, it’s like riding a bike,” new defensive line coach Chris Rumph said. “He’ll just pick it back up and start pedaling again. He probably won’t be able to pop any wheelies right now, but eventually he will be able to pop some wheelies.”

The 2021 season also is important for Akiem Hicks, a Pro Bowl alternate after his 2018 season. He’s in the final year of a four-year, $48 million extension signed in 2017. Hicks, the heartbeat of the Bears’ defense, surely would like to go out with bang if this is his last season with the Bears. He turns 32 in November.

Goldman’s return will help Bilal Nichols, who handled more snaps at nose tackle last season. Nichols is best when he’s allowed to rush the passer; his five sacks last season were a new career high, as were his 618 snaps. Nichols is in the final year of his rookie deal, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he receives an extension before the season.

Early roster prediction (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Mario Edwards, Angelo Blackson, Khyiris Tonga

8. Running backs

David Montgomery produced the type of season that the Bears envisioned when they traded up in the third round to draft him in 2018. He continued to break tackles to earn extra yards and became a better threat as a pass-catcher. His finished fifth among all players in total yards from scrimmage.

“He’s got a high desire to be great and that makes it easy as a coach coming in here and working with him,” new running backs coach Michael Pitre said.

The next step for Montgomery starts with those taken in front him. The Bears used six different combinations of offensive linemen last season. Some stability would help. So should a new mindset. Rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins’ mean streak will be encouraged.

Cohen’s return from a torn ACL will provide Nagy with another versatile “adjuster” for his offense. He’ll line up in different spots, including in the slot. Veteran back Damien Williams is expected to spell Montgomery in ways that Cohen can’t, particularly on early downs.

Early roster prediction (5): David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert, Ryan Nall

7. Tight ends

As the 2021 season plays out, the Bears will learn whether Cole Kmet can really be the valuable “U” tight end in Nagy’s offense. His skills as a receiver instead of his tenacity as a blocker will determine it.

“The more reps he got, the better he got with just playing football, a lot of it with his run blocking, his pass protection, his route running, knowing how to run certain routes vs. man and vs. zone and things like that,” tight ends coach Clancy Barone. “The big thing for him moving forward is going to be taking the next step in that progression, and a lot of it is understanding pre-snap vs. post-snap how to adjust things on the run.”

Gauging what that jump could mean for Kmet on the scoresheet is difficult to determine. Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz excelled in similar offenses with the Chiefs and Eagles, respectively, but their second NFL seasons were different. Kelce’s rookie year was cut to one game because of a knee injury. Ertz’s second year was spent playing for former coach Chip Kelly.

For Kmet, there will be plays and circumstances when veteran Jimmy Graham is still the Bears’ best option at tight end.

Early roster prediction (3): Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, J.P. Holtz

6. Inside linebackers

This could easily be a higher concern. Danny Trevathan’s age (31) and decline showed in spurts last season. Signing Christian Jones, a starter for the Bears and former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in 2017, improves the depth and helps on special teams, but he’s a temporary fix.

Roquan Smith’s emergence last season makes inside linebacker less of a concern, though. He didn’t nab any postseason honors for his 2021 campaign, but he was certainly worthy of them. He ranked second with 98 solo tackles and led all “off-ball” linebackers with 18 tackles for loss. Smith also had four sacks and two interceptions.

Trevathan’s leadership skills and tone-setting demeanor still make him an integral part of the Bears’ defense. But Smith’s voice should carry more in 2021. Drafting or signing Trevathan’s replacement will be a priority next offseason.

Early roster prediction (5): Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Christian Jones, Josh Woods

5. Offensive line

Short- and long-term outlooks are required when evaluating the offensive line. Similar to Fields, Jenkins’ development at left tackle will be a storyline all season. He said he considers himself a quick learner. But he’s still a rookie. Some of his growing pains will be, well, painful.

With Jenkins, there also is the added intrigue of replacing Charles Leno Jr., a 94-game starter on the left side who was released after the draft.

There is more going on up front, too.

Can Sam Mustipher be the Bears’ long-term answer at center? How effective and consistent will James Daniels be in his fourth season coming off a pectoral injury? Can veteran Germain Ifedi hold off rookie Larry Borom at right tackle?

Early roster prediction (9): Tevin Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher, James Daniels, Germain Ifedi, Larry Borom, Alex Bars, Elijah Wilkinson, Arlington Hambright

4. Receivers

The Bears’ bubble watch starts here. Will Anthony Miller hold off all comers? It’s no secret that the Bears aren’t happy with him, and his name circulated in the trade market. But with no takers for Miller, the team is curious about his response to his hot seat.

Improving the depth at receiver was a priority for the Bears. The speed and various skill sets of the new receivers also changes the dynamic of the roster bubble at receiver. From 2021 sixth-round pick Dazz Newsome to eight-year veteran Marquise Goodwin, there are different tests for Miller.

“We really feel like we strengthened that room,” Nagy said.

Miller is still aided by his status as a second-round pick, particularly as one who was drafted in a trade up. Javon Wims (seventh round, 2017) and Riley Ridley (fourth round, 2018) don’t have the same the benefit.

Early roster prediction (6): Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Dazz Newsome, Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd

3. Secondary

From replacing cornerback Kyle Fuller to competing young players at nickel back to helping safety Eddie Jackson regain his game-changing form, new defensive coordinator Sean Desai has plenty to address in his secondary.

But if there is one player who can alleviate concerns across the board, it’s cornerback Jaylon Johnson. The Bears need the 50th overall pick in 2020 to be the lockdown corner they projected him to be.

“He can match up with different types of receivers,” secondary coach Deshea Townsend. “He can go against a big receiver, smaller receivers. … He’s a willing tackler. And then just his knowledge of the game. He’s a sharp kid. He understands what offenses are trying to do.”

But Johnson will have to prove his coach right as others around him prove themselves. This feels like a position that will be in flux all season.

In an ideal world, the development of Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley and rookie Thomas Graham Jr. is discussed more than ups and downs of the Bears’ older veterans, starting with Desmond Trufant.

Early roster prediction (9): CB — Jaylon Johnson, Desmond Trufant, Kindle Vildor; NB — Duke Shelley, Thomas Graham Jr., S — Eddie Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson

2. Quarterbacks

Fields must prove himself in the NFL as much as the Bears’ coaching staff must prove itself in terms of being the right fit for him. After Trubisky, the latter is worth questioning. Fields’ progress supersedes everything. Nagy must get it.

“As time goes by and we know how things go, we’ll know and we’ll all see it and feel it,” Nagy said. “I think it will be very natural how this process goes.”

As a franchise with a tumultuous history at QB, the Bears can only hope that’s the case. Quarterback will remain a concern for the organization until the day it isn’t.

For 2021, Nagy’s plan for Fields will be a test of his and the organization’s patience. Nagy will feel it himself. He’s acknowledged as much.

Every big throw that Fields completes in OTAs or in camp will take him a step closer to playing.

But the Bears can’t rush or force the process with Fields, either. Nagy wasn’t here when the Bears started Trubisky’s clock too soon.

How will the Bears truly know when and if Fields is ready? That’s on Nagy. There is so much to get through schematically and organizationally on the field, but also emotionally.

Early roster prediction (3): Andy Dalton, Justin Fields, Nick Foles

Edited by soulman
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I suspect Borom is probably destined to be a G.   Faster Bears realize his best position one way or another better for everyone it will be.

I think it is bad for young players to move positions too much when they haven’t even learned one well yet.

Seems we have done Bars a bit of disservice.  If I were him I would have taken the NE deal a few years back.  

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6 hours ago, WindyCity said:

If we keep Ryan Nall over a CB or TE or OLmen, I will weep.

Enough of Ryan Nall.

He was one of the few surprises someone might disagree with so my guess is it's his ST play that may keep him around just as it does with guys like Bush and DH-C, Iggy and Woods.

He's really not that bad as a RB either but not the kind of back Nagy wants.  If he played in an offense that featured more roles for an HB/FB type he's probably see more snaps on offense.

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