Chicago Bears

Perez: It’s OK to be excited about the Chicago Bears offense this season

It’s been a while since the Chicago Bears offense had so much intrigue. The 2022 season will kick off with a second-year quarterback who’s dubbed the future of the franchise. All but one of the primary wide receivers weren’t Bears a season ago. The offensive line could have as many as three new starters. And a new offensive coordinator — and playbook — will control it all.

In sum, the Bears’ offense is a great unknown.

The 2022 offseason hasn’t been friendly to the players charged with sustaining drives and scoring points for Chicago. The offense has been described by outlets as a wasteland; it’s football’s equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys. General manager Ryan Poles, according to some, failed quarterback Justin Fields by not signing an overpriced wide receiver in free agency. He double-downed when he bypassed a wideout in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. How dare he prioritize fringe-first-round defensive backs!

But it’s not like Poles didn’t do anything to help the Chicago Bears offense. In fact, the Bears’ 2022 wide receiver room had a complete makeover. Darnell Mooney remains the WR1, but the list of new pass-catchers Fields will target is a long one: Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones Jr., Tajae Sharpe, and Dante Pettis.

I get it. The knee-jerk reaction to that list is, perhaps, another joke at the Bears’ expense. It’s true that it’s a group of receivers that isn’t exactly… established. But they are talented. Pringle has plenty of highlight plays while serving as a backup with the Kansas City Chiefs. St. Brown is a walking mismatch who simply needs to stay healthy. Jones Jr. is already one of the fastest receivers in the league. Sharpe and Pettis still have upside, too. Simply put, it’s a fun group of players who all have a chance to emerge as legitimate contributors in 2022.

And, let’s face it. Bears fans have watched big-name skill players come to Chicago and flounder in mediocrity. Or worse. First-round receivers like David Terrell and Kevin White failed. First-round running backs like Curtis Enis and Cedric Benson were disasters. And while Mushin Muhammad was a big-money free-agent receiver who was fine, it’s not unreasonable to think Pringle can produce at or around Muhammad’s numbers — his best year as a Bear was 863 yards and five touchdowns.

There’s a history of unheralded players making their mark with the Bears, too. Thomas Jones’ career was in the midst of a rebuild before he broke out as a 1,300-yard back in Chicago. Marcus Robinson was an afterthought as a fourth-round wide receiver before breaking out for 1,400 yards in his second season. It remains the third-best single-season receiving yardage total in franchise history. Why can’t seasons like that happen again in 2022?

The Bears’ questions on offense aren’t limited to skill players, however. The offensive line will present its own set of unknowns this year as well.

Will fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones be the opening-day left tackle? Can Teven Jenkins, last year’s second-round pick, level up his play and secure a starting tackle or guard job in training camp? Is Larry Borom destined to be a day-three steal from the 2021 class? And who the heck is playing right guard?

It’s the combination of concerns — who’s making plays and who’s blocking for them — that has pessimism rising. Bears fans are a guarded bunch, and rightfully so. Disappointment and failed expectations have become commonplace, and when that happens, it’s difficult to get excited.

Some fans and analysts view unanswered questions as problems. But they’re also opportunities. Every offensive lineman and wide receiver reporting to Chicago Bears training camp this summer has a chance to change the narrative of the team. They have a chance to emerge as not only a critical contributor to the Bears this season but also as a star in the NFL. The odds aren’t great for that to happen, of course, but where there’s an opportunity, there’s a chance.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will be the most important variable in any of these questions being answered positively. His system, the one mastered by Mike Shanahan and passed to several members of his coaching tree since, is time-tested. It works. It’s working right now in San Francisco and Green Bay, among other places around the league. It will play to Fields’ strengths; it will compensate for some of the wide receivers’ shortcomings; it will make sense and have structure.

It sounds like an oversimplification, but it isn’t. An offense with a plan and an understood structure — who’s doing what and why — makes a player’s job easier. And when a player’s job is easier, they play faster. And when they play faster, results are usually better.

Poles targeted fast receivers with good size over the last few months. He added offensive linemen with good movement skills. He acquired players who fit Getsy’s system, even if they haven’t established themselves as elite starters. And a good system with players who fit well within it can score points, even without superstars.

Remember: this is only Year 1 of the Poles/Matt Eberflus regime. They’ve barely unpacked their boxes at Halas Hall. It makes sense that Poles was conservative on offense during his first few months on the job. The 2022 season is the foundation the Bears will build on moving forward, and call it a hunch, or maybe just an optimistic spin, but I think a few of the skill players targeted for offseason jokes will play well enough this year to be part of that future, too.

Do I think the Bears will have an elite offense in 2022? No, I don’t. But I do think Fields and his cast of skill players are going to do more damage than pundits are predicting right now. They’re going to catch defenses off-guard because of it; at least, they will during the early part of the season. As a result, it’ll be a really fun season.

Being negative is easy. It’s the kind of attitude that kills locker rooms and sinks seasons. It can demoralize a fan base, too. The Bears aren’t beginning training camp with a defeated mindset, and fans shouldn’t either.

Buckle up. The Chicago Bears offense is going to be… something. We’ll find out soon enough whether that something is positive or not, but until then, enjoy the ride.

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