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How the Bears Can Offset Talent Deficiency

No big-name free agents and the lack of a first-round draft pick have all the analysts calling the Bears one of the league's worst teams, if not the worst, but there are four intangibles working on their behalf.

Needless to say, the pessimism built into offseason predictions about Bears chances for 2022 success is not shared by players or the coaching staff.

They have to be optimistic even as ESPN and Sports Illustrated both have ranked them last in the NFL.

While it's true they tried to use the offseason to set up their salary cap situation for acquiring free agents next year rather than throw money they didn't have at expensive players this year, the Bears believe there are ways to counter their individual talent shortfall for 2022.

For at least one season, they have tried to build using a smaller budget and no first-round draft pick.

Much of the concern over their lower-level approach to free agency includes the lack of costly wide receiver or offensive line signings.

Yet, there are intangible reasons to see them avoiding total disaster.

1. Youth

There is more youth and with this better explosiveness, athleticism, physicality and even ability to shrug off mistakes or defeat. There is unbridled optimism in youth.

There were 17 players on last year's roster at some point who were in their 30s and six were defensive starters at some point. Now one defensive starter and nine total players are in their 30s, and two of those nine are the long snapper and punter.

The only starter in his 30s besides Robert Quinn—provided he isn't traded—would be Ryan Griffin or James O'Shaughnessy, and that's only if they lined up to begin the game in a two-tight end set.

Besides being younger physically, there is attitude change.

Aaron Rodgers owns the Bears?

Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon and Velus Jones know nothing of this and don't want to know. Free agents who signed, like Nicholas Morrow, Justin Jones, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Khari Blasingame, Byron Pringle and Ryan Griffin know nothing about past Bears failure and don't have this burden on their shoulders.

This is part of the advantage that comes with a complete rebuild. Teams opting for a route like the Bears have need to embrace the new edge youth brings along.

2. Speed

One way the Bears receiver corps. can make up for the lack of a big-name X-receiver is through better overall speed. It can make up for a good deal of deficiencies.

The potential for them to be much faster exists, and also to use the speed better.

For instance, last year they had small speed receivers like Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd and Jakeem Grant. While those players were at least very fast at one time, they only gave glimpses of this asset. That's because they all had another real problem counteracting their speed, and it was catch radius. All were shorter players. Byrd and Goodwin were 5-foot-9 and Grant 5-7.

What good is speed if the quarterback can't see the receiver because he's too short or  lacks the ability to go up or reach for a pass that isn't perfectly thrown?

Darnell Mooney ran 4.38 in the 40. Byron Pringle ran 4.46 and rookie Velus Jones had the second-fastest 40 time among receivers at the combine at 4.31.

The low-budget free agents they brought in include Dante Pettis, who ran 4.32 coming into the NFL. David Moore has been clocked as fast as 4.38 and even Isaiah Coulter, who was on the practice squad much of last year, ran 4.45. Yet, Mooney is the shortest among those receivers at 5-foot-11. They're all 6 feet or taller.

Equanimeous St. Brown is 6-5, 214 and ran sub-4.5 but washed out in Green Bay.

"We don't have an Odell (Beckham Jr.) or a Cooper Kupp on our team, but at the end of the day I think if everybody is on their P's and Q's, and we're on top of everything and not making mistakes, the players we have right now are good enough," Fields said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "The front office thinks that, too. 

"The fans outside of the facility, they don't know what's going on at practice. Just because we don't have a big-name guy doesn't mean those guys aren't talented. I have plenty of confidence in myself and my teammates that we're going to get the job done."

The speed situation applies on defense, as well. 

Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker ran a 4.43-second 40 at his pro day 4.49 at the combine. For three seasons the Bears have used a safety alongside Eddie Jackson who lacked  that kind of speed.

3. Coaching

This affects teams in a multitude of ways.

One is the overall team attitude and Fields pointed this out in an interview he did with Fox Sports.

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"We're kinda just trying to re-culture or getting the culture in the building," Fields said. "I don't think our culture was the best culture last year."

The Bears coaching staff had been through three different defensive coordinators and two different offensive coordinators under Matt Nagy. About half his coaching staff abandoned ship before last season to find jobs with more security, and it turned out they made the right move because almost every staff member got fired.

Lack of coaching continuity took a toll.

Besides having a staff entirely on board together, the coaches think they're applying offensive and defensive systems that might actually work.

The defense did at one time under Nagy, thanks to Vic Fangio. The offense never really worked as intended.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy summed up how they hope the coaching staff and their systems make a difference when talking about the team's lack of an elite receiver.

"Who wouldn't want Davante Adams, right? That's part of it," Getsy said. "But Davante wasn't Davante until he became Davante.

"I think the system will enable some of these guys to play at their potential. And so we'll see what we can do. We'll give them an opportunity to show 'em what they got."

It can't hurt having an offensive coordinator who is trying to fit the team's offensive system to the talent he has. Far too little of this went on in the Nagy era and this is not debatable.

Coaching can't compensate entirely for lack of raw talent but poor coaching can ruin a team. There are plenty of instances of strategical blunders and players who failed in Chicago but went elsewhere and succeeded to know that this can make a difference.

4. Schedule

The Bears don't have to be better than they were last year to have a better record. The schedule they are facing is nowhere near as challenging as last year's.

They played the two Super Bowl teams in the season's first two games. The Browns were full of energy and coming off a playoff year when they hosted the Bears with Justin Fields for his first start in Week 3. The Bears played the defending world champions in Week 7 and it was a road game.

They had to play on Thanksgiving, and of course twice faced the quarterback who owns  them with the same defensive scheme they'd used since 2015.

They faced opponents with a .550 winning percentage, third most difficult (149-122-1) based on the previous year's records.

Nine of their 17 opponents last year were in the playoffs.

This year they're playing the eighth-easiest schedule based on opponents' wins in 2021. Seven of their games are against teams that made the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers plays them twice without Adams, and he'll be facing a new defensive scheme.

Of course, this year they do have to wait until Week 14 before they get a bye.

"That doesn't matter," Eberflus said. "It is what it is and we got to play the schedule."

It's a schedule with a distinct built-in advantage if they somehow stay afloat through the first 12 games because they're playing four of the last five at home and won't be on the road at all in the month of December.

Staying afloat is the real key then, and they'll have to hope all four of these intangibles combine to keep the final five weeks relevant.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven