The Bears return to action this week with organized team activities (OTAs) kicking off Tuesday at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. The team facility has been open for weight room activities prior to this week and meetings have been taking place virtually, but this will be the first time the team gathers on the field since last season.
Rookie minicamp kicked off the offseason program two weeks ago, but this will be the first time veterans participate.
The Bears have two weeks of OTAs, which are optional, followed by one week of veteran minicamp, which is mandatory. Here’s what to look for.
Who doesn’t show?
The NFLPA continues to push for players to skip the optional portions of the offseason program. The NFLPA is arguing that the 2020 offseason – during which in-person OTAs were canceled – provided a better blueprint for what the offseason should look like. Given that, and the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19, the NFLPA is pushing for a lighter offseason program.
The NFLPA released a statement on behalf of Bears players in April, stating that a “majority” of the locker room would not participate in OTAs.
However, skipping OTAs could set some players behind. In a league where jobs are scarce, players aren’t going to give up opportunities to make an impression. ESPN reported last week that approximately 70 Bears players reported for the offseason program (the team currently has 90 players on the roster). That is pretty good turnout, and it certainly doesn’t indicate a “majority” of players skipping. The Bears might have canceled the first week of OTAs (which were originally supposed to be three weeks long) as a compromise.
It will still be interesting to see who skips the optional OTAs. It might not be known which players are skipping until Wednesday’s practice, which is open to the media.
According to OverTheCap.com, nine Bears veterans have bonuses tied to attending offseason workouts: Allen Robinson, Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Jimmy Graham, Eddie Goldman, Eddie Jackson, Danny Trevathan and Tarik Cohen.
All eyes on Fields, Dalton
This will be the first opportunity to see quarterbacks Justin Fields and Andy Dalton together. Dalton is certain to receiver most, if not all, of the first-team reps. Dalton is the starting quarterback, the Bears have made that clear. How long that will last is anybody’s guess. The quarterback depth chart certainly won’t be changing during OTAs.
A more interesting question might be who takes the second-team reps? Fields or Nick Foles. If the Bears are set on keeping Fields on the sidelines for a while, it might make sense – in their minds anyway – to make Foles the backup. Remember, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes spent the 2017 season as the scout team quarterback. That is the blueprint Matt Nagy knows and is aiming to follow.
Keeping Fields on the bench will be much easier to do if Dalton is playing well. OTAs will be the first look at the veteran QB.
Are the 2020 opt-outs, injured players back?
Every player who opted out of the 2020 season had his own reasons. OTAs present their first opportunity to return to the team. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman and safety Jordan Lucas both opted out of the 2020 season. Are they going to be present at OTAs?
Asked about it earlier this month, Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai sounded optimistic that Goldman would be back, but couldn’t say for certain. Desai said he has been in communication with Goldman. Goldman has a $100,000 bonus tied to attending offseason workouts.
“We’ve got to make sure he gets back and we see him play football because none of us have seen him play football in a year,” Desai said.
Other players to keep an eye on are those who suffered injuries last season. Defensive backs Artie Burns, Michael Joseph and Tre Roberson all missed the 2020 season. Burns tore his ACL in training camp last year and was expected to compete for a starting job. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson missed most of December and the playoff game with a shoulder injury. Running back Tarik Cohen tore his ACL in Week 3.
Which are the best position battles to watch?
There’s no shortage of intrigue when it comes to positions up for grabs.
All of a sudden the wide receiver room feels crowded. Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney are the clear No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. Beyond them, the Bears have some things to sort through. Anthony Miller, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Dazz Newsome, Javon Wims and Riley Ridley are the favorites to compete for roster spots.
On defense, Sean Desai needs to figure out who will fill the second cornerback spot with Jaylon Johnson. The Bears also need to determine who their nickel cornerback will be. Desmond Trufant, Kindle Vildor, Deon Bush, Duke Shelley, Artie Burns and Thomas Graham should all be in the mix for playing time. If he’s healthy, Trufant could be in the driver’s seat for the cornerback job, but Vildor will make a strong push.
On the offensive line, Teven Jenkins is likely the starting left tackle, and Germain Ifedi figures to be the right tackle. Where Larry Borom and Elijah Wilkinson fit into the mix is up in the air. And who takes snaps at center? Sam Mustipher proved capable last season, but it’s unclear if the Bears see him as a starting center or a solid backup. Cody Whitehair started seven games at center last season before moving to guard.
There’s an opening at kick return and possibly at punt return. Tarik Cohen has been a solid punt returner, but his ACL tear on a punt return might make the Bears think twice about putting him back there. Dazz Newsome, Anthony Miller, Darnell Mooney and Khalil Herbert, among others, could be in the mix for return jobs.