Bears Camp Countdown: Making Out a Checklist

All the tasks and concerns to be addressed when Bears reach training camp at Halas Hall on July 27.
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The effective counselor has a checklist for the sake of organization once camp begins.

With 10 days to go until players report for Bears training camp, it's time to put things in order to ensure order.

Here is a checklist of things to get done at Halas Hall during a camp when a smattering of fans will actually get to see practice each day.

10. Sort through returners

Cordarrelle Patterson is gone and Tarik Cohen might not be ready or even needed for punt return duty. Someone has to do it. A large group of players is being considered. Offseason work doesn't provide much of a solution when you're talking about live return duties. Preseason games would.

"That's just something we have to work through," special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. "I wish it was an easy answer, but it's not."

9. Wake up the sleepers

Every camp has sleepers, players who no one thought had a chance to stick on the roster or play a role. Usually a team competing for the division title has very few, but there are some.

Could it be someone like Artie Burns, a cornerback coming back from an ACL tear and lost job in Pittsburgh? Maybe it's cornerback Tre Roberson, signed after 10 CFL interceptions but then injured prior to the start of last year's camp and sidelined all year.

Sometimes it can be a young player who showed little as a rookie and suddenly steps forth. Certainly they'd find a role for second-year edge rusher Trevis Gipson if he did this.

8. Health check heal to toe

There are plenty of medical issues to resolve early. Is Bilal Nichols' toe injury totally healed to the point he can practice full time? Robert Quinn had a back problem in minicamp and couldn't practice. Wide receiver Anthony Miller had an undefined injury concern. Khalil Mack had to go through two seasons of nagging, lesser injuries. Is he healthy? Rookie Dazz Newsome had a broken collarbone. Tarik Cohen had knee "stiffness" while recovering from an ACL tear, according to coach Matt Nagy. Has all of this been resolved by the past six weeks away from Halas Hall?

7. Making David Montgomery happy

During offseason work, it's everything Nagy can do to keep David Montgomery from going bonkers. He wants to carry the ball. He wants to make those defenders miss and run through tackles. He can't because no pads are allowed. Nagy found out in 2019 how impatient Montgomery gets with offseason work, when almost all the plays run are passes. Montgomery couldn't act this way last year when there was no offseason work on the field, or even preseason. At camp, they can give Montgomery some carries to make him happy, even if it is only "thud-up" instead of tackling to the ground. Because Nagy wants to see more playing time for starters in preseason, Montgomery might even get carries against live tackling this year outside of camp practices.

6. Sort through wide receiver stack

Behind Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, there is glut but nothing well defined. Anthony Miller can simply take slot receiver and should, as someone who has started in the offense in the past. Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley and a cast of thousands will go at it on a daily basis, hoping to catch coaches' eyes. The competition will be intense, although it's questionable whether it's at a high level below Robinson and Mooney.

5. Tackles eligible

Putting on pads in training camp allows coaches a better look at whether Teven Jenkins can step in as a rookie and play left tackle, where he really wasn't a full-time starter in college. There is no experienced left tackle option on the roster, just backups who have played it a few downs or games in their distant past. They need to know quickly what Jenkins can do. Facing Robert Quinn or Khalil Mack on a daily basis in scrimmage should give an indication whether they'll need to scour waivers for help.

4. Implementing Sean Desai's defense

Some would call what they're doing here subtle change from Chuck Pagano's approach to the Desai-Vic Fangio system. It didn't look too subtle when they dropped from first in the league on defense to eighth and then 11th the last two years. There are differences and five of the starters from the defensive system Fangio used in 2018 are gone. So some players will need to learn something entirely new.

3. Identify two starting cornerbacks

Pass rush pressure and pass coverage go hand in hand. It's rush and cover. Those who try to say one is more important than the other simply are wrong. Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay had strong play from its front seven and this made it possible to throw together a secondary of totally inexperienced players and blend them into a successful group. 

The Bears had 50 sacks in 2018, then 35 and 36 the last two years as their defense fell off. They don't need 50 sacks but they need the right combination of heat on quarterbacks with coverage from cornerbacks to succeed. In the secondary, they're trying to throw together a street free agent (Desmond Trufant), a fifth-round draft pick (Kindle Vildor), two sixth-round draft picks (Duke Shelley and Thomas Graham Jr.) and come up with a left cornerback starter and nickel starter. Good luck with that.

The Bears have the potentially dominant front seven to allow them to assemble a secondary on the fly. The problem is, those players in the secondary are not quite up to the draft pedigree of those Tampa Bay threw together last year.

2. More passing game production

It's not just one person, but synchronizing an entire passing offense from the pass blocking, to whichever quarterback they use, to the receivers who emerge from a tough competition.

The Bears have to get more yards per pass attempt. An NFL offense can't succeed unless it gets the ball down the field well enough to average more than 6.5 yards an attempt. The Bears have been at 6.0 and a league-worst 5.7 the last two years, mired in the bottom six of the league after a decent start in 2018 under Nagy (6.9, 14th) when Mitchell Trubisky was in his second NFL season. This statistic is the end result of everything an offense does. The running and passing game blend together to determine this number through play-action passes.

This alone doesn't say whether a team succeeds. Houston and Minnesota went 1-2 last year, but both went nowhere because their own defenses utterly collapsed against the run. A team doesn't need to be best at yards per pass attempt but at least respectable, and then combine it with a stout defense.

Only two of last year's bottom 10 teams made the playoffs—the Bears and Washington. Tampa Bay finished eighth and Kansas City fifth at yards per attempt. During the previous year, San Francisco and Kansas City were 2-3. In the previous season, the Rams and Patriots finished third and seventh. This is the NFL's magic number.

1. The Education of Justin Fields

Everything they do on offense must have this linked to it. Fields is the franchise savior at a position they haven't figured out since Sid Luckman. Whatever Andy Dalton does is background noise.

They haven't had a 4,000-yard passer, yet. It's been 101 years. This is more than franchise embarrassment. It's a civic embarrassment.

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