June 13, 2021


Hub Arkush: 3 burning questions as Bears begin OTAs

Along with the arrival of June this week, the Bears also will unveil the actual practice field work of OTAs after delaying them for a week to continue to update health and safety protocols because of the ongoing pandemic.

So, after an offseason of unusual volatility at a number of key positions and mercurial highs and lows among their fan base, what are the three key questions remaining to be answered if the Bears are to be a better football team this season?

1. Will they stay focused on the outside zone-read run, play-action pass game plan that became a staple coming out of the bye and allowed the offense to take off over the last six weeks of the season?

Part of that transition was head coach Matt Nagy handing off play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor – a role that Nagy has told us he will reclaim.

But what must be noted here is it was more the changes in game plans than play-calling that generated that success.

Contrary to what many believe, Nagy always has wanted to run the football and is fully aware of the importance of having that weapon in his arsenal. He just never had been able to make it a complementary piece of “his offense” or stuck with it enough to make it effective.

What makes this so critical is if Nagy stays the course, it will allow him to win with a game manager rather than a game winner at quarterback, and there is zero evidence to argue Andy Dalton will be more effective throwing the ball in the “old” Nagy offense than Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles were.

It also would be a big advantage for Justin Fields if he ends up under center.

Starting out as a game manager and not being asked to do too much too soon while going through the incredibly complex transition from college All-American to NFL quarterback could be huge, not just in getting Fields to his sky-high ceiling, but in determining whether he ever gets there.

2. Just how good is the new and improved offensive line?

Its improved play came with Sam Mustipher at center and Cody Whitehair and Alex Bars at guard while Germain Ifedi moved out to right tackle.

But James Daniels will be back, and although it seems clear the Bears will continue to play Daniels at guard, it also is clear many evaluators believe his best position is center.

Would the line be better with Daniels at center and Whitehair and Bars at the guards?

Although he played well enough over the last six weeks last season, Ifedi flamed out badly at right tackle with the Seahawks. Can he now flourish there over a full season in Chicago?

And can second-round pick Teven Jenkins be a plug-and-play Day 1 starter? Will he be an upgrade over Charles Leno?

3. Will the secondary be good enough for the defense to return to dominance?

Clearly the drop-off in pass rush the past two seasons challenged the play in the backfield, but blaming something else rarely is the best way to fix a problem.

The loss of cornerback Kyle Fuller has to hurt. And although there are plenty of warm, talented bodies to compete for his spot, as well as Buster Skrine’s nickel minutes, none are going to be Fuller unless it’s Jaylon Johnson. Can Johnson stay healthy enough to be on the field?

Perhaps even more importantly, what has happened to Eddie Jackson?

The idea that his play has dropped precipitously since he got paid is belied by the fact he wasn’t the same game-changing force in 2019 he was in 2018, falling from six interceptions and 15 passes defensed in ’18 to only two and five in ’19.

The new money came after the 2019 season.

Can Jackson become a difference maker again and succeed as the new leader of the secondary, or will he struggle even more with Fuller no longer in charge?

Obviously, a dozen other issues remain to be sorted out as well, but if the answers to these three questions are yes, very good and yes again, there is a good chance the Bears can surprise us again much like they did in 2018.

• Hub Arkush is a Shaw Media correspondent.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media