Bears' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2021

Bears' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears are looking to bounce back from a 2020 campaign that yielded a playoff berth but an underwhelming 8-8 record. Revamping the roster is part of the equation, and one of the biggest moves of the offseason was Chicago's decision to move on from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

    To replace the 2017 second overall pick, Chicago brought in veteran Andy Dalton. The Bears then drafted Ohio State's Justin Fields 11th overall, trading up to do so. Obviously, the quarterback competition has been the story of Bears camp thus far, but it's not the only key position battle worth following.

    We got an early glimpse at some of these competitions on Saturday, when the Bears opened their preseason against the Miami Dolphins.

    Here, we'll take a look at the quarterback competition and two other key battles ahead of Week 1. We'll dive into the latest buzz and make early predictions for how things will unfold for each.


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    Aside from quarterback, cornerback may be the biggest priority for Chicago during the preseason. The Bears released longtime starter Kyle Fuller earlier in the offseason, leaving a gaping hole in the secondary.

    2020 second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, who started 13 games as a rookie, will likely hold one starting spot. The other is a battle between offseason acquisition Desmond Trufant and 2020 fifth-round pick Kindle Vildor.

    While Trufant has the edge in experience and was a Pro Bowler back in 2015, he's also been hampered by injuries in recent seasons. He has appeared in only 15 games over the last two seasons. Vildor also stood out during minicamp.

    "Really looked confident, especially boxing out Jimmy Graham (8" taller) & knocked down jump ball," Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports tweeted in June. "Vildor took on some big WRs in college pretty well."

    Size is a bit of a concern with the 5'10" Vildor, though he's capable of overcoming with physicality, leaping ability and wingspan.

    Injury concerns still surround Trufant—he was sidelined earlier this month with a groin injury—and availability could put the starting job into the hands of Vildor.

    Prediction: Vildor starts Week 1.

Tight End

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    We didn't see a ton from second-year tight end Cole Kmet against Miami (one reception, three yards), but he is competing with veteran Jimmy Graham to be the primary option. While the Notre Dame product was a second-round pick last offseason, Graham saw the bulk of the receiving work in 2020.

    Graham finished with 50 catches, 456 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, while Kmet had 28 receptions, 243 yards and two scores.

    However, Kmet could be poised to overtake Graham this season. He has more upside than the 34-year-old and has made strides entering Year 2.

    "His understanding of the offense obviously helps," tight ends coach Clancy Barone said, per Larry Mayer of the team's official website. "... Last year because of no OTAs, whatever else, we had to kind of slow-play it and let them grow naturally. Now it's a process of trying to just define little details of techniques and things like that. But he's playing a lot faster this year than he was last year. A lot faster."

    Yet, it would make sense for Chicago to stick with the more proven option early in the season. The Bears are going to have a new quarterback under center—possibly a rookie—and having a reliable security blanket at the position should pay immediate dividends.

    Look for Kmet to overtake Graham at some point in 2021 but not before Week 1.

    Prediction: Graham starts Week 1.


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    This is the big one. The competition at quarterback could determine whether Chicago is again an average team or a serious playoff contender.

    While the early plan was to have Fields sit behind Dalton early, the rookie has closed the gap in training camp. While he hasn't unseated Dalton just yet, he's made quick work of adapting to the speed and nuances of the pro game.

    "Oh, man. He's catching on quick," running back Damien Williams said, per Adam Hoge of NBC Sports Chicago. "He's learning from when I first seen him. Coming in, till now, it's a big improvement. Then you start to see him being comfortable and being able to play with your swag. You see that in him now."

    Fields may have established his position against Miami too. He was the more visually impressive signal-caller of the two and was also the more productive.

    While Dalton went 2-of-4 for 18 yards, Fields was an impressive 14-of-20 for 142 yards and a touchdown. He also ran five times for 33 yards and another score.

    Experience gives Dalton—a three-time Pro Bowler—an edge, but Fields is the future. There's little reason to keep him off the field unless he isn't ready. If he continues playing as he did against the Dolphins, Fields should show Chicago that he is ready before Week 1.

    Prediction: Fields starts Week 1.