Chicago Bears' Biggest Remaining Offseason Question Marks
Questions surrounding a rebuilding team such as the Chicago Bears don't exactly receive immediate answers.
Quarterback, for instance, doesn't have an answer. It's one of many hindsight situations for serious questions the franchise faces—maybe one of Mike Glennon or Mitchell Trubisky will pan out. At the risk of sounding too gloomy, maybe neither does.
Not everything can be like running back, where general manager Ryan Pace and the front office got an immediate return on 2016 fifth-round pick Jordan Howard, who solidified the position and finished as last year's second-best rookie rusher.
As OTAs progress and the summer months grind out the wait for next season, it's nice to take a step back and look at some of the questions yet to see answers. They might not for some time, but the following are critical talking points to keep in mind.
Akiem Hicks Extension?
It's time to start thinking about the future of defensive end Akiem Hicks.
This all happened fast so it's understandable if fans aren't up to speed. To cut a long story short, Hicks spent four ho-hum years with two different teams before joining the Bears last offseason on a two-year deal of the "prove it" variety. And he did so in a big way.
Hicks exploded under the guidance of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, grabbing a career-high seven sacks despite dealing with a wealth of injuries to the unit around him. At Pro Football Focus, he ranked as the No. 8 3-4 defensive end in the league.
With only one year left on his deal, it's time for the Bears to start thinking about an extension. Some might contest that the season was an anomaly, but Hicks is a 27-year-old talent who might only improve if the guys around him can stay on the field.
Chicago has plenty of cap space to toy with, so throwing some at Hicks is a necessity soon because the Bears won't find it easy to replace him given the wealth of needs along the rest of the roster.
Who Moves to Safety?
One look at the depth chart tells fans there aren't enough spots for all the defensive backs on the roster.
Not only did the front office add Quintin Demps and Eddie Jackson at safety, it added two new boundary corners with Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara. Something has to give.
Behind the corners, a slot guy like Cre'von LeBlanc isn't going anywhere. This leaves names such as Kyle Fuller, Deiondre' Hall, Bryce Callahan, Johnthan Banks and others fighting for roster spots.
Here's where things get interesting—both Hall and Fuller have come up in discussions about a move to safety. And it's critical for both guys, as the versatility might help them stick on the final roster.
This is a good question when viewed through a long-term lens. Both guys boast plenty of upside, so finding a way to keep them around a suddenly crowded position—if not spur serious competition at one of the roster's weakest areas—is an issue fans should want to monitor closely.
Kyle Long's Position
It's that time of year again. Another offseason means more discussion about whether Kyle Long will get to keep playing his normal position or make a switch elsewhere.
Fans will recall the Bears made a seemingly out-of-nowhere move before the 2015 campaign, sliding the guard to right tackle. It wasn't a good move, as Long finished as the No. 27 tackle in the NFL at Pro Football Focus.
This time? The Bears sound ready to switch Long to left guard and let Josh Sitton play on the right side, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
On paper this doesn't seem like the worst move in the world. Sitton is a mauler who might be better served on the right side given his and Long's skill set. Long himself might come into next year leaner than preferred after rehabbing an ankle injury.
Nothing sounds concrete yet, but Long's eight-game stint at his normal spot a year ago might have been the last he sees of it for some time.
As a fan, it has to be tiring to always hear and read about injuries. So, apologies.
The Bears had some of the most cap space in the NFL on injured reserve last year. This horrid detail has chased the franchise into the offseason, starting with Long's ankle issue.
Long isn't a concern, even if he slides to a different spot, though. He'll be back and effective.
Other notables include Danny Trevathan and Pernell McPhee. The former suffered a huge leg injury near the end of last season, rupturing his patellar tendon in Week 12. His outlook for camp has always been in question.
As for McPhee, he had shoulder surgery in March and told reporters he's down 25 pounds. The latter point might be a good thing if it means less wear and tear on his body, but it's a good example of how injuries will continue to reshape his game.
More recently, guys who had injuries last year such as Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Leonard Floyd, and Zach Miller were no shows at OTAs on Tuesday, according to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times.
In other words, the Bears aren't out of the proverbial woods when it comes to injuries just yet.
How Do the Rookies Fit?
The million(s) dollar question, right?
Pace took a ton of heat for drafting in an unorthodox manner. He didn't just trade up for Trubisky, he grabbed three small-school players with tight end Adam Shaheen (Ashland) in the second round, running back Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T) in the fourth and guard Jordan Morgan (Kutztown) in the fifth.
Immediate playing time isn't a good indicator of how a draft class should grade, but the rebuilding Bears figure to have plenty of young guys on the field.
For instance, the aforementioned Jackson could start at safety right away. Shaheen, all 6'6" of him, could take the field in two tight end sets. The elusive Cohen can act as a pass-catching spell to Howard and return kicks. Don't forget Trubisky—he's not pegged as a starter, but anything can happen in an open competition.
The Bears actually provide an interesting environment for rookies because the so-so state of the roster tends to throw them straight into the fire, even if it's a situational role like the one Cohen seems ready to embrace.
Where and how the coaching staff utilizes the new faces is the biggest question needing answered this offseason; it's also the most interesting one.
The Kevin White Question
It's hard to sugarcoat Kevin White's situation with optimism.
The No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft missed his entire rookie year and only managed to suit up for four games last year—making him a great case study into how important age is in the draft considering he'll be 25 in June.
Third season and 25 years old or not, White is essentially a rookie.
His route tree has always been a problem, and he hasn't been able to work on it well given his injury resume as a pro. It's why Bears wideout coach Zach Azzanni classifies him as a rookie, per Kevin Fishbain of the Northwest Herald.
The note sounded like hyperbole at the time, but the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell pointed out recently that White is simply going through basics like working on his stride:
"After a stress fracture in his left tibia ruined his rookie season and a left fibular spiral fracture and severe ankle ligament damage cost him 12 games last season, White spent the last few months working to align his stride."
This crushing development would help explain why the Bears went out and grabbed Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright in free agency despite having White and the upstart Cameron Meredith on the roster. More recently, the front office went ahead and signed Victor Cruz.
There's little chance White actually loses a roster spot this summer, but dreams about him morphing into the No. 1 wideout many envisioned need to be tempered in a big way.