Chicago Bears offseason team activities kicked off this week, and now that the team is back on the field (sort of), 2023 storylines are coming into focus.
General Manager Ryan Poles has significantly improved the Bears’ roster this offseason. He made calculated decisions in free agency and stuck to his principles in the 2023 NFL Draft. And while some position groups still need an overhaul, Poles has done as much as he can over the last few months to make this team competitive.
Here are the biggest storylines worth monitoring as the Chicago Bears kick off OTAs.
How has Justin Fields progressed?
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: no one should overreact to Fields’ passes during offseason workouts. Whether they’re pinpoint accurate or sailing over his receivers’ heads, the result of a throw isn’t nearly as important as the overall process.
Have his mechanics improved? Does he look more confident in Year 2 of Luke Getsy’s system? Has his leadership style changed at all?
Even his body composition is worth studying. Does he have more body armor this year? Has he spent time over the offseason to prepare for a critical 2023 season?
Call it a hunch, but I think these questions will be answered positively over the coming days and weeks. But you’ve been warned: plenty of sour Bears reporters will focus on the negative. Ignore them.
How does the Chicago Bears’ revamped wide receiver group look?
No position group on the Bears will have as much attention this year as the wide receivers. DJ Moore is the headliner, but Chase Claypool needs to prove he was a worthy trade target last year. With an entire offseason in Chicago, Claypool won’t have any excuses if he underwhelms.
Darnell Mooney’s role remains somewhat unsettled. He’s on the road to recovery from a fractured ankle suffered late last season, and the Bears are optimistic he’ll be 100% for training camp. But I doubt that’ll be the case in offseason workouts. His absence will be notable because it will create an opportunity for reps for rookie Tyler Scott.
Scott won’t be a threat to Mooney in 2023. But if he flashes must-play upside during his rookie season, his presence could lead to Mooney’s departure in free agency next year.
It’s a good problem for the Chicago Bears to have at wide receiver. This team has far too often fielded a misfit group of fringe-NFL wideouts. Being at least four deep with playmakers at the position is a breath of fresh air.
Are the Bears set with starters along the offensive line?
The selection of Darnell Wright in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft seemed to close the door on any training camp battles along the offensive line. The starting five appears set with Wright (RT), Nate Davis (RG), Cody Whitehair (C), Teven Jenkins (LG), and Braxton Jones (LT).
Where we could see some rep-sharing is at center. Whitehair is the clubhouse favorite, but Lucas Patrick has become a forgotten name on the Bears’ roster. He was signed in 2022 to be the starting center, but injuries derailed that plan. He’s healthy now, and perhaps Chicago still views him as a viable option.
The Chicago Bears’ offense will only go as far as the offensive line takes it. And while Jones, Jenkins, and Whitehair were starters in 2022, Jenkins and Whitehair are playing new positions in 2023, essentially giving Chicago four new starters this year.
Who’s rushing the passer?
DeMarcus Walker feels like the only lock to start at defensive end for the Bears this year. Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson, and Rasheem Green are on a collision course for first-team reps.
I initially thought the Bears would use Walker more as an interior defender when he was signed in free agency, but Ryan Poles’ approach to the NFL Draft quickly changed that feeling. He spent three picks on defensive tackles, and when factoring in the signing of Andrew Billings and the presence of Justin Jones on the roster, Chicago is set at those positions.
Walker wasn’t a big-name signing in free agency, but he could play one of the most important roles for the Bears in 2023 — he could be the primary pass-rusher if Gipson and Robinson fail to develop.
It’s important to remember that the Chicago Bears are still evaluating this roster. Poles hinted at adding an edge rusher to the depth chart this summer, and it didn’t seem like he was talking about depth. With players like Yannick Ngakoue still unsigned, there’s still a chance for the Bears to make a big splash.
If the cluster of edge defenders underwhelms at OTAs, Poles could move quickly in the third wave of free agency.
Running back reps… who’s RB1?
More important than on-field performance at OTAs are the reps the coaching staff gives to the players. This will matter most at running back, where the Chicago Bears are a team in transition after David Montgomery’s departure.
Khalil Herbert is the early favorite to be RB1. He’s familiar with the offense and was productive in 2022. But there’s talent behind him with free-agent signing D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson. If Herbert is sharing reps with the first team this early in offseason workouts, his time as a starter could be short-lived.
The opposite is also true. If it’s evident that Herbert is the primary back right now, he’ll be given every opportunity to hold onto that role for 2023. With Foreman in Chicago on a one-year deal, there’s no long-term commitment to building a running game around his skill set. Instead, Johnson could be the biggest threat to Herbert’s starting reps.
When will Tyrique Stevens run with the starters?
It’s assumed that second-round pick Tyrique Stevenson will start for the Bears in 2023. But as with most non-first-round-rookies, they have to earn their ascent up the depth chart.
The Chicago Bears may not have that luxury. The cornerback depth chart is questionable at best after Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon. Stevenson is the best option to start at outside corner, and it’ll be worth watching how quickly the Bears declare him a first-stringer.