Where Uncertainty Most Plagues Shane Waldron's Bears Offense

Analysis: Even with a rookie passer the uncertainty involved with installing a new offense for the Bears is in an area normally regarded as a Bears strength.
Roschon Johnson tries to break free last year in the Bears' 12-10 win at Minneapolis.
Roschon Johnson tries to break free last year in the Bears' 12-10 win at Minneapolis. / Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
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A Bears offense described often as void of weapons beyond Justin Fields' legs and Cole Kmet's receiving two years ago now faces a weekly challenge trying to determine which of numerous dangerous players to lean on, and to what degree.

At least this is the narravitve being pushed forward as QB Caleb Williams and the Bears get on the field this week for more competitive work at organized team activities.

"We have so many weapons here, so it's hard for a coordinator to try and get the ball to everybody," running backs coach Chad Morton said. "Really, the whole team has to be unselfish cause the ball can go to any one of these guys."

Unselfishness needs to be the keyword for this Bears offense.

The emphasis of Shane Waldron's offense, the one he took to Seattle from Sean McVay in L.A., is hitting a defense from any possible direction and with any possible target or ball carrier.

A player's touches are not a concern because, in most cases, even distribution of work for ball carriers/receivers is simply part of what they'll be trying to achieve.

Waldron will closely examine the offensive talent throughout OTAs and minicamp to better determine the hand he's been dealt, although he has a fairly good idea now from film.

"That's going to be the whole process," Waldron said. "What are guys good at? What can they handle?"

Even with Keenan Allen, DJ Moore, Rome Odunze, Cole Kmet, Gerald Everett, D'Andre Swift, Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson, there is still work to be done because film can only tell Waldron so much.

"We're going to figure out what they can do, what they are good at," Waldron said. "Then, we’ll enhance those things, and if they need to improve on something we're going to work and have a plan to get those done too."

Proven Passing Game Balance

If the past three years meant anything, Waldron found a way to have his quarterback distribute the ball fairly evenly, whether it was Geno Smith, Russell Wilson or even Drew Lock, and whether they had two key receivers in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett or three by adding Jaxon Smith-Njigba to the mix. Three receivers had a range of 122 to 93 targets last year. That's a difficult mix to attain, especially when one receiver is a rookie, but they did it. And the Bears face a similar setup this year with Odunze added.

The balance was there for tight ends, as well, from 43 to 22 targets between the three tight ends. In the past, target balance between three tight ends existed as well, except the volume was higher because they didn't have three dangerous wide receivers.

It's the running attack where the Bears might have thinking to do and where players might need to accept different roles.






Morton seemed to acknowledge as much.

"So it's really just about being unselfish and then just being totally prepared, so when you finally go get that carry, that you maximize that opportunity," Morton said. "That is really all that it is."

The Seahawks gave the ball to Kenneth Walker III two-thirds of the time last year in the running game and only 108 times to Zach Charbonnet.

The situation is much different with the Bears.

They didn't really have a role player in Seattle like Johnson, a bigger, power back who helps as a receiver and blocker in the third position.

Their third-down type of back was more of a speed guy and not used much.

In the previous season, Walker had a similar percentage of carries as last year in relation to the other running backs.

If Swift is coming in as the top running back for the Bears, it's seems Herbert might be the one making the sacrifice with fewer carries. Finding a way to use Johnson will be challenging for Waldron.

It will require this time in the offseason for Waldron to determine how best they all fit what the team wants to do.

Swift is a better receiver, no doubt. But Herbert last year showed he can be effective in this way if given a chance.

Different Backfield Situation

Both of the first two backs have speed and an ability to break tackles or make tacklers miss.

Last year Pro Football Focus graded Herbert the 14th best back in the league, 31 spots better than Swift. They gave both players mediocre to bad grades as pass blockers.

However, Johnson was graded the 14th best pass blocker among all NFL backs.

Swift has been regarded in the past as a strong receiver but last year PFF graded him well behind both Johnson and Herbert as a receiver.

The running game is going to be important for the Bears in achieving the balance Waldron wants on offense. How they use the backs is a great unknown now and will be going into the regular season because no one tips off much in preseason games, not even teams with four preseason games like the Bears have this year.

To get the best use from the backs they have is going to require all of these OTAs and training camp to determine who best fits what role and what those roles are, because it's not a situation similar to what the Seahawks had under Waldron as OC.

There is always uncertainty when a team uses a rookie quarterback. This can't be avoided. The place where the Bears need to work to eliminate uncertainty and instability in their offense is the running game, because they're all breaking new ground with it.

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Gene Chamberlain


BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.