Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.
Today, we take a look at the Chicago Bears. Click on the tabs above to see other NFC North camp previews. For the rest of the NFL, click here.
Training camp report date: Rookies and veterans, July 27.
Training camp location: Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois.
Offseason in a nutshell: General manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox are in Year 2 of a roster remake. The team brought in linebackers familiar with the system, like Danny Trevathan (who played under Fox in Denver), and high-production vets like Jerrell Freeman to add a consistent punch to Fox's defense. The Bears also smartly inked Bobby Massie on the first day of free agency in order to free their best offensive lineman, Kyle Long, for a move back to guard. This should be the year we see the fruits of Pace's labor across the offensive line, as Massie joins Long, 2015 third-round pick Hroniss Grasu, 2016 second-rounder Cody Whitehair and Charles Leno, who was essentially christened the team's left tackle this offseason. The Bears are hoping a younger backfield, led by Jeremy Langford, gels with the line up front to make life easier for Jay Cutler and yet another new offensive coordinator.
Player to watch: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery is in between a rock and a hard place here. The wideout did not get a long-term deal done before the deadline to do so for franchise-tagged players, leaving him a very well-compensated receiver for the 2016 season, but not beyond. Some receivers flourish in this type of situation, and others (former Giants first-round pick Hakeem Nicks comes to mind) end up doing more damage to their open-market worth than ever expected. People in Jeffery's position need to balance diplomacy with their obvious unhappiness. They need to balance aggression on the field with the fear that they are not financially secure beyond the current season. We'll get a feel for how Jeffery will approach this early on as he keeps one eye on March 2017.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS:
Fox told the Chicago Tribune that he'll ride the hot hand between Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers, with fifth-round pick Jordan Howard potentially mixing in. That's a fairly standard line at this point in the year -- it dangles the reward in front of all running backs and keeps them working hard -- but we'll see how serious Fox is about "limiting the workload" throughout the season and preparing up to four backs for regular roles.
White, Chicago's first-round pick in 2015, missed all of last season with an injury, but debuted his raw skill set during minicamp this year. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, though, drops were a major part of his first lengthy stretch as a full-time starter, which is a problem that will need addressing early on in camp.
Despite the growing sentiment that Cutler was on his way out, the cannon-armed passer had a decent season last year. Dowell Loggains, his quarterbacks coach in 2015, has been elevated to offensive coordinator, and Cutler's offense theoretically gets better with the addition of a healthy White. We've thrown platitudes at Cutler throughout his career, accusing him of a lack of leadership and poise and gusto, but he has all the tools for a late-career bounce-back. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger all got better in their mid-30s -- can Cutler?
Way-too-early season prediction: While Chicago does not seem to possess the talent to contribute in a crowded NFC North, we like the Bears' chances of winning some big games against division rivals and being more of a nagging presence than they were in Fox's first season.