The Bears are allowing fans at Halas Hall training camp for the first time, albeit a small contingent of 1,000 who have already been told they have tickets for the day.
They'll have room in bleachers for about 1,600 and what the fans will see or what fans can follow from reading or watching video is usually going to center on one particular player. Of course it's Justin Fields.
There will be other players who need to be examined closely in the training camp which begins Wednesday, particularly on an offense mired near the bottom of the league the last two seasons.
Coach Matt Nagy was brought to Chicago to bring a competitive offense to the organization for the first time and here are four players to watch closely on that side of the ball for progress before they get to preseason games Aug. 14 against Miami.
5. WR Damiere Byrd
Byrd's versatility and speed make him a potential replacement for Anthony Miller in the slot or a possible contributor in four-wide sets. It could help him greatly to be a special teams performer because rookie Dazz Newsome can do it. Nagy pointed out how players who run fast 40 times often are slower than players who time faster when they get into a new offense. They don't know the assignments as well and are more hesitant. If anyone should be able to adjust for this, it's Byrd—he's with his fourth team in four years. If Byrd can consistently get open for catches in camp and also show some ability to make a special teams contribution, he can win a starting spot. The key will be if Byrd can get open and make receptions on opportunities he has to go against starters.
4. TE Cole Kmet
A fan favorite because he's from the Chicago area, Kmet really won hearts and minds of Bears fans late last season when he started squaring up after receptions to take on tacklers with a bruising running style. While it helped build his reputation as a tough guy, Kmet was doing himself a disservice because at some point he'll start taking unnecessary shots to the ribs or forearms and suffer injuries. He needs to be more protective as a runner. One way he can avoid all of this is to get open downfield more.
"Cole did such a great job of digesting the offense, his role will continue to expand," Nagy said. "He's very similar to Darnell (Mooney) he wants more, he wants to do everything he can."
Kmet even pointed out this need for more catches downfield during the offseason.
By downfield, this doesn't mean 30-yard routes but an occasional seam route or even just 10 to 15 yards downfield. Kmet needs to achieve separation more often. His 28 catches—and in particular the 20 he had over the final five games—constituted a positive finish. However, when he had the 20 catches in the last five games he averaged only 7.4 yards a catch. His 8.7 for the year put him near the bottom of the league for tight ends with at least 20 receptions.
3. RG James Daniels
Many teams are right-handed. They like to run to the right. Last year the Bears ran 169 times behind right guard, right tackle and around right end and only 146 times to the left. They ran behind center 64 times.
When teams run to the right using a zone blocking scheme like the Bears employ, the linemen who must move the most are on the left or back side away from the point of attack. Daniels' great strength is his speed, so he was effective moving off the ball on the left side when they ran right. Can he be an effective blocker at the point of attack at a relatively light 305 pounds? Line coach Juan Castillo always says linemen are at their best when they've done something "over and over." Daniels hasn't gotten up out of his stance on the right side over and over. He's done it on the left side. He'll need to start showing he can adapt quickly to the other side of the line.
2. LT Teven Jenkins
So much depends on the rookie's ability to protect Andy Dalton's blind side. Watching the one-on-one pass blocking drills with Jenkins involved should be a real fan draw at camp.
"Teven is doing a really good job of trying to get down the fundamentals of what coach Juan teaches and put it together and when we get to training camp and the pads come on and we start doing one-on-ones you can really truly see where these guys are at," Nagy said. "He's not the only one. It's all the (offensive line ) guys."
How does he do when he's going against an experienced edge like Robert Quinn? What about when he is facing a dominant player like Khalil Mack, named the best edge in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Jenkins couldn't show much at rookie camp, OTAs and minicamp because it's touch football.
The restrictor plates come off at training camp and he'll get to show what he can do, or learn what he needs to be better at doing.
1. Justin Fields
Nagy said during minicamp that quarterback Andy Dalton has picked up the offense quickly. What needs to be determined at training camp is how quickly Fields is getting it. Fields doesn't need to show off arm strength or accuracy because the Bears know he has both. Otherwise, they wouldn't have drafted him. He needs to show he has what Dalton has. He must master the offense.
"There's going to be a purpose and it's going to be real and he's going to do that," Nagy said. "For us to have that with him, I mean, I'm excited to see when he gets here in training camp really the growth that he has in his few short months."
How fans can determine this in practice and preseason is whether the ball is coming out on time and how quickly does he get through his reads before it comes out? Is he standing and holding the ball forever before he then moves around and finally throws it? At times this becomes necessary, but the Bears receiver corps has enough experience and ability to be open and Fields needs to show a mastery of the way the attack is designed and not his legs. That's only a last resort.
In short, Fields' goal is to become as much of a pocket passer in the offense as he can be. He can worry about running around when he's in live regular-season games and a 300-pound defensive lineman who runs a 4.8 40 is barreling down on him.
Fortunately for the Bears, what they've seen from Ohio State and in offseason work is Fields' willingness to work at this and not run.