Bears' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL SeasonMay 31, 2021
Bears' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season
The Chicago Bears are facing a pivotal season in 2021 for several reasons. For starters, Chicago just found its new franchise quarterback in Ohio State's Justin Fields. Second, this could be a make-or-break year for head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.
While the Bears have made the playoffs twice in three seasons under Nagy, they have not advanced past the opening round. The Bears have also gone 8-8 in each of the past two seasons.
Ideally, Chicago will improve on its 8-8 record—it can't go 8-8 again because of the new 17-game schedule—while making a postseason run and also developing Fields. Getting the right 53 players on the roster will be a big first step toward accomplishing these goals, and those players will be identified through organized team activities, training camp and the preseason.
Here you'll find a look at three of the most important position battles to follow over the next few months.
While the Bears return a pretty solid defense overall—it ranked 11th in yards allowed last season—there is uncertainty surrounding the cornerback position. Chicago parted with its best corner, Kyle Fuller, this offseason to create cap space. This leaves 2020 starter Jaylon Johnson, backup Duke Shelley and several newcomers likely vying for the starting roles.
And while Johnson did start 13 games in 2020, he wasn't particularly reliable. He had an impressive 15 passes defended but also allowed an opposing passer rating of 107.5.
Added to the mix were Desmond Trufant, who started six games for the Detroit Lions last season, and rookie sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr. The Bears also have Artie Burns, who was acquired last offseason but suffered a torn ACL before the regular season.
Trufant, who has 103 career starts, should have the inside track to start opposite Johnson, but his recent play is also questionable. He was limited by a hamstring injury last season, and he has allowed an opposing quarterback rating more than 100.0 in each of his past two campaigns.
This will be arguably the most important defensive position battle for the Bears this summer.
Chicago has its No. 1 receiver in Allen Robinson II. After that, though, the receiver depth is a little murky.
Darnell Mooney had an impressive rookie campaign—with 631 yards and four touchdowns—but fourth-year wideout Anthony Miller seems to have fallen out of favor in Chicago. The 2018 second-round pick was the subject of offseason trade discussions, and the coaching staff has put him on notice.
"It's not going to be a need-base, you know—we don't need you," receivers coach Mike Furrey said of Miller, per Adam Hoge of NBC Sports Chicago.
In other words, if Miller doesn't show he can be reliable, he won't play. The Bears brought in Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin this offseason. Then they drafted Dazz Newsome in the sixth round. The best players will play when it gets to the regular season.
At first blush, it would appear that Mooney will start opposite Robinson with the rest of the group competing for complementary roles. However, Robinson is the only wideout virtually guaranteed a starting spot, and this should be a heated competition.
This is the big one. The Bears traded up to get Fields, and the former Buckeyes star is Chicago's next franchise signal-caller. However, the Bears also added veteran Andy Dalton and still have Nick Foles on the roster. There will be no need to rush Fields into game action, and according to one former Bears quarterback, Chicago should take it slowly.
"I wouldn't play the kid to start," Jay Cutler told WMPV AM 100 (h/t Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune). "... I think it's just a tough spot to just throw someone out there, especially in Chicago."
Still, if Fields proves to be the best quarterback for the starting job, the Bears aren't likely to sit him. They gave Foles a turn at the wheel last season with underwhelming results, so this will likely be a battle between Dalton and the rookie.
While protecting and developing Fields will be a primary goal this season, Chicago still needs to win. Nagy's and Pace's jobs could depend on it. Whichever quarterback performs the best in the coming months will likely claim the Week 1 starting gig.