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Analysis Bears

Postcards from Bourbonnais: Bears Camp Observations

Kankakee County buzzes loudly every August when the NFL comes to town and Bears inhabit the streets. The energy and excitement level this year in Bourbonnais is more palpable than ever though. The reigning NFC North Champions are getting to the point in training camp where they’re champing at the bit to play another team and that opportunity will arise later this week.

The campus at Olivet Nazarene University and the surrounding countryside is the backdrop for Bears’ garb strewn across the backs and fronts of practice observers and autograph seekers. This particular camp lacks the nostalgia of the past however and that’s a telling indication that this group has arrived.

Franchise icons like Walter Payton and Brian Urlacher will always be well represented among the faithful. That will never change. Unlike practices of years past though, the current collection of midway monsters are out in full force on a daily basis. The orange and blue is a common theme and Mack, Trubisky, Smith and Robinson are common names. These aren’t your father’s Bears.

Offensive Weaponry

It took awhile for Allen Robinson to get rolling last year after recovering from ACL reconstructive surgery but he looked more like the guy the Bears signed to a free agent contract toward the end of the season. Robinson looks the part of a true #1 wide receiver so far in camp and the rapport that’s been built with quarterback Mitch Trubisky should pay dividends.

There’s been talk during camp about Anthony Miller‘s struggles and they were often compounded by mistakes. The 2018 2nd rounder out of Memphis had a rough go of things at times last week but he’s looked great the last two days and should be primed for a big season. Taylor Gabriel is often the forgotten man in this offense as he just goes about his business and does his job most days.

Miller’s draft mate and former 7th round pick Javon Wims has turned heads in camp for the 2nd straight season. He looks improved and should get a chance to lead the league in receiving throughout the preseason again. Marvin Hall has impressed me in my looks this summer and 4th rounder Riley Ridley looked smooth and appeared much bigger than anticipated as well. This receiver group is well stocked and the competition is fierce.

Trojan Man and the Running Game

Cordarrelle Patterson is expected to be a significant member of the 2019-2020 Chicago Bears. He plays the “Trojan” position in a personnel grouping named specifically for his skills. He’s lined up out wide, in the slot, in the backfield and has taken over the primary kick return duties. He’s also a large human and runs really fast. Matt Nagy has a new toy at his disposal and tracking the usage rate will be an interesting development throughout the season.

3rd rounder David Montgomery looks as advertised and it’ll be interesting to see the type of workload that the former Cyclone receives in the fake games. Free agent signing Mike Davis is quick through the hole and can catch the ball out of the backfield as well. Similar to last year, Tarik Cohen lines up all over the field. This is a position group that is much improved compared to the first year under Nagy with a bit of a square peg and round hole situation.

Steady Grunts and Shaky Spots

Kyle Long looks re-energized and being healthy will often do that. He joins James Daniels, Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie and Cody Whitehair as the quintet that will be tasked with protecting the quarterback. This is one of the better units in the entire league and one of the strongest on the team entering the season. Reserve guard Ted Larsen and tackle Rashaad Coward should be factors as well.

Adam Shaheen is back and practicing and the team needs him to be a factor in his 3rd season in Chicago. Trey Burton is still missing in action and his current status is up in the air at this juncture. Ben Braunecker has gotten some run at the Y and U spot and is a solid special teams’ performer that should be a roster lock. Converted tight end Bradley Sowell is competing with a troika of undrafted pass catchers for a spot on the roster as well. Tight end is the one spot on the roster that could be considered shaky but we’re a long way from September 5th.

Impact of Fangio’s Departure Overstated

Sometimes the Jimmy’s and Joe’s are more important than the X’s and O’s. It’s especially true when a defense has multiple All-Pro performers and a few others on the periphery. The schematic changes should help as well though. Chuck Pagano is a professional coach and might just be the perfect conduit towards reaching the next level as a unit.

Khalil Mack has taken part in the entirety of the off-season program for the first time as a Bear and Roquan Smith looks like an instinctual force that has added mass without the sacrifice of speed. The defensive line is stout and powerful. The secondary is young and has a rotation full of quality.

Pagano has been ultra-aggressive in camp and that meshes with what we were told to expect coming in. More single high looks using Cover 1 and Cover 3 increasingly has added another dimension to the defense. Reserve safety Deon Bush finds himself on the field quite a bit when the veteran play caller decides to deploy dime coverage schemes.

This group has the look of the #1 unit in the sport. They’ve really pushed the offense on a daily basis and the entire team will be better off for it. I’m not sure if the 2019 defense will be as good as the 2018 defense was. They’ll be different though. The aggressive nature might cause a spike in big plays against the unit but they should also get off the field sooner in most cases. With potential All-Pro’s at every level of the defense, Pagano wasn’t lying when he pegged this as  the best job available this off-season.

Position Battles 

In past years, General Manager Ryan Pace and his lieutenants have had to scour the waiver wire for reinforcements at the conclusion of final cuts. Many of his peers will be doing the same with some of his discarded talent prior to this year’s opener however. The Bears have one of the five best rosters in the sport and they are talented at spots with some difficult decisions ahead. There aren’t a plethora of roster spots available but the pre-season should offer some intrigue as always in regards to the roster bottom.

Emanuel Hall is an undrafted free agent receiver out of Missouri. He was given a large signing bonus and was treated like a priority for the Bears. He has missed some time and might be a candidate for a redshirt year on injured reserve. Marvin Hall and Javon Wims look like roster locks at this point and something has to give at the position.

Ryan Nall and 7th rounder Kerrith Whyte Jr. should be fighting for one spot as a reserve running back. Both men will receive ample pre-season opportunity and it usually comes down to special teams value as the deciding factor. Ian Bunting and Dax Raymond are battling for a potential roster spot at tight end as undrafted rookies. Alex Bars and TJ Clemmings are possibilities on the offensive line depending on the rest of the roster needs.

On the defense, there is some room for surprise. Jonathan Bullard has underachieved and hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round status. He should make the team but nobody should be surprised to see a new coaching staff decide to carry a younger body instead. Nick Kwiatkoski and Joel Iyiegbuniwe seem entrenched as the backups at interior linebacker but veteran Kevin Pierre-Louis and Josh Woods may have something to say about that verdict.

In the secondary, it comes to the numbers game. Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush, Haha Clinton-Dix and Duke Shelley seem like roster locks. Kevin Toliver III is the primary backup on the outside and should be written in ink as well. Last Chance U star John Franklin III might just earn himself a spot as well after some stellar practices in Bourbonnais. Sherrick McManis and DeAndre Houston-Carson are reserves at safety and both excel on special teams. It might be a tough year to keep 11 defensive backs though.

The kicker battle is in full force but it seems like Eddy Pineiro’s job to lose unless another ball striker comes through the door. At long snapper, local product John Wirtel could supplant Patrick Scales because he’s younger and cheaper despite Scales likely being the favorite. It also seems like another year of enduring Pat O’Donnell as the inconsistent punter unless the coaching staff and front office come to their senses prior to the September 5th lid lifter.

Here’s the first unofficial depth chart from the Chicago Bears.

Expectations Are High 

A measured confidence is apparent with the 2019 Chicago Bears. Players are talking about the playoffs and building off their surprising season that ended abruptly last year. The players are hungry and the determined staff won’t let complacency set in with this group. The head coach, General Manager and ownership group seem to be in lock step as well. They’ve all set winning the Super Bowl as a realistic goal. It’s a refreshing change and exactly the way it should be in the league’s 3rd largest market.

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1 comment on “Postcards from Bourbonnais: Bears Camp Observations

  1. good article bro, nice video clips and breakdown

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