It’s official: the dog days of NFL training camps have arrived.
At Halas Hall, if ever a crew needed their boat rocked a bit, a change of venue and perhaps even a solid blow or two landed, it is the Bears right now.
Fortunately, that’s what’s on the menu with two days off this week, a scrimmage of sorts Tuesday at Soldier Field for the annual Family Fest and then the first and only home exhibition game of the season at noon Saturday.
So it seems to be the perfect time to take a day off from asking the same questions and getting the same replies about the same players that we won’t have answers to for at least three or four weeks and have a little fun.
Let me pose this question: who do you think are the three offensive and three defensive players most likely to have breakout seasons this year, with the usual suspects not eligible.
On offense, while the majority of you will start with Justin Fields, I’m going to vote present.
While I look for great improvement from Fields, I expect the breakout, at best, comes at the end of this year and more likely next season because there still are so many questions around him.
The prospects I do like are:
Cole Kmet: The more I watch this kid work in practice and listen to him continue to introduce himself to Bears fans, the more my gut tells me the heir apparent to Ditka is finally here. I’m not predicting Canton – that’s unfair to any youngster – but a Pro Bowl this season would not surprise me.
Almost everything about him reminds me of Kelce, Kittle, Ertz and even Gronk. This is the year I expect Kmet to arrive.
Khalil Herbert: I know this sounds weird to knowledgeable Bears fans, but David Montgomery is the second Bear on offense I could see in the pro Bowl this season – when was the last time that happened – so this isn’t about any potential Montgomery falloff.
Luke Getsy’s offense will be built around the run, running backs running and catching the football and targeting them often to overcome shortcomings at wide receiver. At least two backs will get plenty of touches, and it feels like Herbert just scratched the surface of what he can do last year.
Braxton Jones: This is a huge stretch on my part but it seems obvious the Bears are ready for him to start at left tackle on opening day. He certainly appears to have the body, feet and athleticism, and he’s learning technique quickly on the fly. If he’s just better than average, how big a story will that be?
On defense, it’s logical to expect big seasons from Robert Quinn [and if he’s doing it he will most likely be gone at the trade deadline], Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson. So who else?
Trevis Gipson: Gipson has been intriguing since he got here and quietly did a really nice job when Khalil Mack went down last season, finishing with 39 tackles, seven sacks, five forced fumbles and seven tackles for loss in only nine starts. He may have to start at No. 3 again this year behind Al-Quadin Muhammad, but he’s a better pass rusher. The sooner he demands enough reps, the better the chance he becomes one of the NFL’s breakout edge rushers.
Nicholas Morrow: This is a leap of faith and a few huge gulps of the Ryan Poles’ Kool-Aid, but almost all of the “Roquan traits” are there if you watch his Raiders tape. I wish he wasn’t being asked to take on the Green Dot [i.e. defensive calls, coverage adjustments, etc.] too, but you could be looking at a player very much like Smith if he takes to it quickly.
Kyler Gordon: I know … rookies? But I have yet to talk to a player or coach that doesn’t rave about this kid’s athleticism, instincts and ball skills. Watching him before he got dinged in practice, he looked like a wizened vet both outside and in the slot. Like Smith and Morrow, he and Johnson could become a special duo.