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If Ever Bears Offense Needed Change It's Now

There have been changes in the lineup and also at play caller but the biggest change might be one to come not at the start of the season but later when Justin Fields takes over.

Perhaps only switching head coaches causes greater change for an NFL team than swapping out starting quarterbacks.

The Bears experienced this drastic maneuver twice last season and now they're doing it again. 

Most Bears fans would hope it's going to happen once more this season.

If starting Andy Dalton at quarterback isn't enough, the Bears will have a different left tackle for the first time since 2015 in Teven Jenkins, and a starting right guard who has never played this position in an NFL game. James Daniels was always either a left guard or center.

They did finish last year with Germain Ifedi at right tackle, after acquiring him to play right guard and playing him there for 10 games. 

Change doesn't stop with personnel, as Matt Nagy will be the play caller again after failing at it last year and turning it over to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

Whether someone can improve at this by watching is uncertain, though Nagy believes he'll do better than last year.

"The fun part right now is doing what we want to do better, getting that right with coaches and players that are going to be with us," he said.

While all of this looks like a great deal of change on the surface, it might not be drastic enough. 

The Bears needed change of some sort to deliver a real jolt to an offense stagnant since the glory years under Marc Trestman. Those who remember Trestman as coach probably wouldn't call those glory years but they were eighth in the NFL on offense in 2013. Perhaps it should be glory year, singular. It was the only time they have been in the top 10 since the turn of the century. 

By that measure, Dowell Loggains' offense might have been the glory years because in 2016 the Bears ranked 15th on offense. It was only the third time they made it into the top half of the league on offense since the turn of the century. 

Nagy was supposed to be an offensive genius, a quarterback guru and the Bears haven't cracked the top 20 since he's been in Chicago. 

Perhaps all of the change on offense isn't enough considering the degree to which they're mired.

Here are the ratings for Bears offensive starters, or at least those projected to start opening day. 

QB Andy Dalton

Critics of this signing couldn't understand how this upgraded the Bears over Mitchell Trubisky. It might not even be an upgrade but after they finished 30th, 21st, 29th and 26th on offense the last four seasons with Trubisky as starter for 37 of the 48 games, it was about time to do something drastic. They had to have someone to hold the ball until Justin Fields could be deemed ready. Dalton has been graded high for throwing well in the face of pressure by Pro Football Focus and Next Gen Stats. This is good, because with a rookie left tackle he might need to rely on this strength. Dalton hasn't had a passer rating in the 90s or average yards per passin the 7s since 2016. He hasn't quarterbacked a team to a winning record since 2015 and his completion percentage the last four years has been 1.1% below his career average. The trend isn't going up. It's a new, foreign offense, even if the coordinator is Bill Lazor, his offensive coordinator for two years in Cincinnati.

Starter rating: 2 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Descending.

RB David Montgomery

Montgomery seemed to have everything going his way at the end of last season, as he tied for fifth in rushing with 1,070 yards following a disastrous first half of the season. He also more than doubled his receiving total to 54. At least the Bears won't need to worry about Montgomery being complacent. Virtually every fantasy football projection on the web rates him an RB 15 or lower even after a strong 2020 season. And he was actually complaining about being rated so low to coach Matt Nagy in a video circulated on social media.

Starter rating: 3 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Ascending.

WR Allen Robinson

Unless something drastic happens before Thursday's July 15 deadline, he'll play out the year as a franchise free agent and his fate will be determined next season again. If they can get the same kind of production they had last year when he was in the final year of a contract, the Bears would no doubt be elated. If he hits or passes last year's 102 receptions for 1,250 yards, he'll set a Bears mark for most 1,000-yard receiving seasons (3) and tie Brandon Marshall's mark for most 100-catch seasons (2). About the only thing Robinson hasn't done extensively is score TDs. He has 17. Top 10 is Marty Booker and Bill McColl at 25. It's going to take help from a quarterback to do something about all of this.

Starter rating: 5 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Ascending.

WR Darnell Mooney

No doubt Mooney caught some defenses by surprise and it helped his franchise rookie wide receiver record total of 61 catches. About the only disappointing aspect of his play was not getting it downfield or taking it downfield enough. He averaged 10.3 yards a catch. What happens with better downfield passing? This might not come until Fields is at quarterback. Mooney was a real steal in Round 5. The Bears were looking for their Tyreek Hill. It's uncertain whether they got him as he isn't quite that fast, but he is fast, was drafted in the same round and he made the same number of rookie receptions as Hill.

Starter rating: 3 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Ascending

TE Cole Kmet

Much has been made by analytics experts Pro Football Focus about Kmet not getting enough routes down the field and it is true he was catching shorter routes and trying to turn them upfield. He didn't call the plays. The Bears have found Kmet up to the challenge each time they increased his responsibilities. He had one catch the first five games, 27 in the final 11 and 20 in the final five games. Demetrius Harris started five of the first seven games at tight end last year and was barely heard from again after week 7 as Kmet took over. Next to fall, the low 8.7 yards per catch. Ask the new QB and the new play caller about those numbers.

Starter rating: 2 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Ascending.

TE Jimmy Graham

The Bears lined up in multiple tight-end alignments to start games more than they used Anthony Miller as a third wide receiver. They may not want to run as much with Nagy calling plays this year, but they followed this multiple tight ends trend to start games even when Nagy was calling plays. Chances are Graham isn't going to beat his 9.1 yards per catch of last year, which was a career low. He's going to be 35 during this season and isn't faster, although playing a second year in the offense can make him appear quicker. It's more likely he'll take fewer targets and make fewer plays than Kmet this year, and then the Bears will need to see about someone faster to play the position.

Starter rating: 2 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Descending.

LT Teven Jenkins

It's anyone's guess what to expect from a rookie who has been more of a right tackle, but has played left tackle in the past. He approached OTAs with a bit of a wide-eyed rookie look but when minicamp ended he seemed sharply focused and intent on showing he can be a physical run blocker at training camp. His college coaches described his attitude well. They said when he realizes what must be done and what he's capable of, there's no stopping him. It's not going to be easy for him to do better as a rookie than Charles Leno Jr. did last year. PFF had Leno at a grade of 74.9 and rookie don't normally hit those type of numbers. Regardless of grade, Leno allowed five sacks and committed six penalties. If Jenkins can better those while being more physical in the running game -- something he shouldn't have trouble at -- consider in a successful year. Until it starts, Jenkins gets no benefit of the doubt.

Starter rating: 1 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Holding steady.

LG Cody Whitehair

Switching positions in midstream had never been Whitehair's strength but he emerged the best Bears blocker last year with a PFF grade of 75.0, high for Bears linemen. He did this while flip-flopping between guard and center. Now he's settled in at guard with Sam Mustipher at center, provided the line doesn't backslide and force another reformation like last year.

Starter rating: 4 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Ascending.

C Sam Mustipher

Bears coaches rave about Mustipher, as do teammates. He's handling the cerebral part of playing center with ease, making all the line calls look easy. The physical part is easier now, too, after he bulked up to 311 pounds. Mustipher has line leader stamped all over him. It seemed he was born for this at Notre Dame, even if he wasn't drafted. He refused to accept being a practice squad player as his ceiling.

Starter rating: 2 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Ascending.

RG James Daniels

Fairly effective as a left guard but not so much at center, Daniels now tries something entirely new at right guard after suffering a torn pectoral muscle and playing five games last year. The only question about Daniels at this position is his size. At 305 pounds, he's a bit lighter than most teams prefer for a right guard in a zone blocking scheme. He'll need to compensate with technique. Considering 332-pound Larry Borom and 329-pound Elijah Wilkinson are on board as tackles or guards, Daniels will need to have that technique sharply honed or find himself pushed out during a contract year. It's not the pass blocking but rather the run blocking and in particular the short-yardage run blocking where the Bears must watch with Daniels.

Starter rating: 3 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Holding steady.

RT Germain Ifedi

It worked last year, at least. Ifedi moved out to the position where he struggled so much in Seattle and allowed only one sack during the final six games. The Bears were at their best running the ball then, so he didn't hurt them there, either. The schedule benefited the Bears offense greatly in the final six games, as four games came against struggling defenses. Can Ifedi handle this position against better competition on a week-to-week basis? The Bears are facing the third-toughest schedule based on winning percentage. Better pass rushers will line up for a shot than he faced, although his stint at right tackle did include blocking J.J. Watt one game. Line coach Juan Castillo seemed to make a project of Ifedi and will need to continue this. 

Starter rating: 2 on a scale of 0-5.

Trend: Holding steady.