A lot of things can happen between now and the next NFL offseason. Teams can sometimes go through unexpected changes. However, Chicago Bears training camp has often been a place that showcased likely draft plans. Just look at the buzz from 2018. It became obvious over the course of practices that Jordan Howard was having a hard time adjusting to Matt Nagy’s new system. This led to near-constant trade rumors.
Howard survived the season but was indeed dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles this past offseason. The Bears then signed Mike Davis in free agency before drafting both David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. People didn’t want to believe the warning signs at the time because Howard was a fan favorite and former Pro Bowler. This time around it may be best to have no illusions about where certain players stand.
Knowing this, it’s time to ask the question. Based on how camp has gone thus far, which positions are looking like they’ll be a primary focus for GM Ryan Pace and his front office come next spring? Here are the five that stand out the most.
Chicago Bears training camp headlined by one notable concern
1. Tight end
There is no mistaking it. The Bears tight end position is a problem, and not in a good way. Both Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen suffered health problems last season that cost them games. It appears neither have gotten over this issue since. Shaheen missed much of the first week of practices with back problems. Burton has struggled to return from sports hernia surgery. To say nothing of his anxiety problems.
Given how crucial tight end is to this offense, it’s not fun having the two key pieces on this roster being so unreliable. Perhaps undrafted free agents Ian Bunting and Dax Raymond have something to offer. Or maybe Ben Braunecker takes an unexpected step up. More likely though is the Bears will shuffle up the position next March and April.
2. Outside linebacker
Khalil Mack has dominated training camp to this point. He looks every bit like the superstar he was last season. Having him in place will keep the Bears pass rush strong. Beyond him though, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Leonard Floyd has yet to realize his full potential as a former 1st round pick. He finished strong last year but he’s yet to put an entire season together.
He’ll be under his 5th-year option in 2020 but the long-term outlook is foggy. After that, it gets really confusing. Aaron Lynch and Isaiah Irving will both be free agents next year. Kylie Fitts, their 6th round pick from 2018, hasn’t stood out much. Nor have their two undrafted rookies Mathieu Betts and Chuck Harris. Having Mack is great, but the best pass rushes are only as good as their depth.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Bears’ biggest free agent addition of 2019 returned to practice after a brief knee issue sidelined him. He seems to have meshed well in the secondary, already picking off Mitch Trubisky once. There is no question he should be a quality factor for them. For this season anyway. Clinton-Dix is playing on a one-year deal. Most are fairly certain he won’t return in 2020 if he ends up playing well.
Chicago simply won’t have the cash to keep him. It will all be going to an extension for Eddie Jackson.
He won’t be alone though. Both of their primary backups, Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson will become free agents as well. This will create a challenge for Pace in that he’ll have to overhaul the position around Jackson. That could mean activity in both free agency and the draft. Something that has become his specialty over the years.
4. Inside linebacker
Roquan Smith looks like he’s going to be an absolute stud for the Bears. More good news? His fellow 2018 draft alum Joel Iyiebuniwe appears to be making strides in his development as well. Not only has he bulked up but he’s started to make more plays in practice. The timing for this could be perfect because the Bears are on the cusp of seeing that position undergo some upheaval.
Danny Trevathan remains a starter and leader on the Bears defense. Whether that continues beyond this season is hard to say. He’ll be a free agent next offseason and will also turn 30-years old. Not to mention longtime backup Nick Kwiatkoski’s contract will also expire. Given the Bears’ salary cap restrictions, keeping either of them could prove difficult unless they’re willing to take discounts.
5. Offensive tackle
Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr. both signed contract extensions between the 2018 and 2019 offseasons. So they’re locked down for the next couple of seasons at least. The concerns lay with what the Bears may have planned behind them. Their depth at offensive tackle isn’t exactly stable. Bradley Sowell was converted to tight end. Former undrafted free agent Rashaad Coward has shown potential but his experience is limited. He’ll also be a free agent next year.
Given how much Pace has invested in the offensive line every year, this situation is almost certain to garner his early attention in the draft. The Bears haven’t drafted an offensive tackle since Tayo Fabuluje back in 2015. There’s a strong chance that streak comes to an end. That is unless T.J. Clemmings makes unexpected progress and convinces the Bears he’s worth more than a short-term investment. Same goes for Coward as well.