June 17, 2021


Hub Arkush: Bears are closer than many think, but what is their greatest vulnerability?

One “highly respected” NFL media outlet has preseason power rankings out right now with the Bears at 25.

Based on what? I have no idea. With analysis like that, how much longer it remains respected should be in doubt, but that’s not the point here.

Are the Bears a great team or Super Bowl contenders? No.

But they are 28-20 over the past three seasons, have been to the playoffs twice and are lacking a playoff win only because of a notorious “Double Doink.”

There is no objective way to put them with the dregs of the NFL.

They are a team stuck between 14 and 18 that easily could see their season go either way: back to the playoffs plus an extra win or two, or with a few key injuries and a couple of failed prospects to a five- or six-win team.

While it will shock few if it happens there is no reason to predict the latter, but there are solid talking points if you choose to go with the former and have a tolerance for egg on your face.

I do love me a good sausage and cheese omelet.

How many non-playoff contenders are out there with 11 Pro Bowlers in the starting lineup and all of them but Andy Dalton, Jimmy Graham and Desmond Trufant still clearly capable of playing at that level?

Add in David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Darnell Mooney, James Daniels, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson as emerging young playmakers – if not more – and there is no debating the Bears have the talent to make a playoff run if they play even close to their ceiling.

And by the way, as for Graham, what if I told you there are only 12 receivers in the NFL with more than his 29 TDs over the past five seasons, and Travis Kelce (38) is the only tight end among them? And that only Kelce and Zach Ertz among tight ends have more receiving yards?

Just last season only Kelce and Robert Tonyan Jr. topped Graham’s eight TDs.

But, of course, the line is very fine for these same Bears.

A 2020 Nick Foles-like performance from Dalton, regression on the offensive line, fall off from a Khalil Mack or Allen Robinson, failures to rebound from Robert Quinn and/or Eddie Jackson or a sudden epidemic of aging and a plunge to the basement wouldn’t surprise at all.

But what if all things are equal and there are no big surprises either way?

Then these Bears are at least a contender to win 10 or 11 unless... What is their greatest vulnerability?

The obvious answer would seem to be offensive line or more specifically tackle.

The Bears could be among the better groups in the league at guard and center, but Germain Ifedi, who played well there the last six weeks last season, failed at right tackle in Seattle, and rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins never has taken an NFL snap.

Still, Jenkins’ ceiling is high. There is no worry Ifedi would be bad enough to bring the whole line down, and Elijah Wilkinson, Alex Bars and Larry Borom at least provide reasonable depth, so the offensive line is no longer concern No. 1.

Tight end, on the other hand, is also rife with potential for disaster. While it could be a real strength if Cole Kmet takes the expected long stride forward and Graham just does what he’s done over the second half of his career, there’s no guarantees.

Behind Kmet and Graham we find J.P. Holtz, a solid blocker and special teams contributor, who in two seasons over 30 games has seven receptions for 91 yards, none last year, and that’s with his scalp pressed firmly against his ceiling.

After Holtz there is Jesper Horsted, who never got off the practice squad last year, and then rookies Darion Clark and Scooter Harrington.

An injury to Kmet or Graham basically could take 12 personnel out of the Bears repertoire and disrupt an entire offense likely to demand game management for success.

If there is one more screaming need left for this club to insure its chance to just contend for a playoff spot, it is a tight end with at least some experience and success in his NFL past.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media