LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears open 2022 NFL training camp on Wednesday at Halas Hall. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
The biggest question, Part 1: Does Robert Quinn show up for training camp? The star pass-rusher, who set the franchise’s single-season sack record in 2021 with 18.5, skipped out on the entire offseason program. The Bears had hoped Quinn would report for mandatory minicamp, but he was the only player who did not have an excused absence. Though the building blocks of this defense have changed with the Bears installing a new scheme in the midst of a rebuild, the 32-year-old defensive end is still an important part of Chicago’s pass rush. General manager Ryan Poles did not seem eager to move Quinn, but if he doesn’t report to camp, trade talks will pick up in full force. The question then becomes how much can Chicago get in return for a pass-rusher coming off a career-best season. Poles’ first move as GM was trading Khalil Mack to the Chargers for a 2022 second-round pick (which the Bears used to draft safety Jaquan Brisker) and a 2023 sixth-rounder. Quinn is entering his 12th season and likely wants to compete for a championship. Can Poles find a contender for Quinn while getting as high as a third-round pick in exchange?
The biggest question, Part 2: Does Justin Fields have enough weapons around him? Chicago has steadily added to its receiving corps since signing Byron Pringle in free agency and using a third-round pick on Velus Jones Jr. The team enters training camp with 13 wideouts after sending a 2024 seventh-rounder to New England in July for former first-round pick N'Keal Harry, but will any of these additions be enough to help Fields make a considerable jump in his second season? Receiver is among the biggest question marks for Chicago after Fields threw four touchdowns and 10 interceptions when targeting wideouts last season, and his only proven connection is with Darnell Mooney (81 catches, 1055 yards, 4 TDs). The Bears are banking on big contributions from Jones, whose 4.3 speed and ability to line up at multiple spots gives the offense flexibility. Can they also find reliable depth in players like Equanimeous St. Brown, David Moore, Dante Pettis and Tajae Sharpe?
The most compelling position battle: Will rookie Braxton Jones stick at left tackle? The Bears are taking a gamble that a Day 3 draft pick will provide Fields adequate pass protection at the most important spot on the offensive line. However, it might be their best option, which speaks to larger personnel deficiencies up front. The last regime in Chicago used a second-round pick on Teven Jenkins with the expectation that he would eventually start at left tackle. The new coaching staff moved Jenkins to right tackle with the second-team unit, where he spent most of the offseason. Additionally, the Bears moved Larry Borom to right tackle opposite Jones with the first team. Coming out of the draft, some projected Jenkins as a better fit at guard. When asked whether Jenkins or Borom – neither of whom played a single snap at guard during minicamp – could potentially compete for a spot on the interior, coach Matt Eberflus noted that “all combinations are open” along the O-line.
Are there any players the Bears could add between now and Week 1 that will significantly impact the roster? Probably not. Poles remains committed to his long-term approach (while carefully choosing not to classify this undertaking as a rebuild) by not taking any perceived “shortcuts” to improve the roster. The Bears parted ways with over two dozen players from last year’s team in free agency. During an offseason when star receivers – a position of need in Chicago – switched teams at a high rate, Poles stuck to his philosophy. “I truly believe in homegrown talent,” Poles said in April. “I truly believe in drafting the right players and developing them here and that will help us in the long run.”
Chicago has north of $20.7 million in cap space for 2022, which is the fourth most of any team. Sure, there are quality veterans the team could look to sign during camp who would fill needs, especially up front with offensive tackles Daryl Williams and Eric Fisher still available. While signing one or two players at this point of the offseason won’t change the makeup of a team, it could provide an upgrade in some areas, like pass protection for Fields.
Camp prediction: The Bears' top draft pick, Kyler Gordon, will be better than advertised. No player will notch more interceptions in training camp than the cornerback from Washington. I'll even take it a step further and project that Gordon will carry his momentum from training camp into the season and lead the Bears in interceptions, becoming just the third rookie to achieve that feat in franchise history.