Fields, Kmet among winners from Bears mandatory minicamp originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bears finished off Matt Eberflus’ first offseason program with a three-day veteran mandatory minicamp at Halas Hall. Those three practices gave us a glimpse into where the Bears are in learning new offensive schemes, how far they have to go, and where the large holes on the roster remain.
The first minicamp practice was all about the defense. Both Jaquan Brisker and Jaylon Johnson intercepted Justin Fields, and the quarterback gave an honest evaluation of the offense’s progress after Day 1 of minicamp.
“Uh, no. I’m not ready for the season to start,” Fields said after Day 1. “I’m the type of guy that would like to know I’m prepared. So, right now, I’m just being honest, we’re not ready to play a game right now. And when that time comes, we will be ready, so, right now, no, not ready to play a game.”
But the offense bounced back during the final two practices to enter the summer on a high note.
As we look back on the first mandatory minicamp of Eberflus’ tenure in Chicago, here are the players trending up heading into camp and those who still have work to do.
UP: Justin Fields
I appreciated Fields’ honesty when discussing the offense and how early in the process they are installing Luke Getsy’s scheme.
While the Bears aren’t showing a lot of offensive wrinkles in the early stages, Getsy’s scheme does appear to be tailored toward Fields’ strengths.
Fields still is building chemistry with most of his wide receiver corps, but the connection with Darnell Mooney remains strong and he linked up with tight end Cole Kmet several times during minicamp for chunk plays.
Fields was sharp on Day 2 of minicamp as the offense won the “move the ball” period when he found Dante Pettis for a touchdown. Practice was cut short on Day 3, but Fields had good moments in the red-zone drill.
Ahead of a critical second season, Fields appears to be finding his footing in Getsy’s system and should enter training camp with the confidence to be ready to make a big leap in Year 2.
DOWN: Teven Jenkins
After starting the offseason program as the first-string right tackle, Jenkins finished it on the second unit as Eberflus inserted rookie Braxton Jones at first-string left tackle and bumped Larry Borom over to right tackle.
Eberflus said the plan was to split the offseason practices in half between two different first-team offensive line combinations. The Bears’ staff will huddle up and see which unit, if either, they prefer.
Jenkins could still enter training camp as the first-string right tackle. Eberflus also didn’t rule out the possibility of shifting the 2021 second-round pick to right guard if necessary.
In an ideal world, Jenkins and Borom would cement themselves as starting bookends early in camp, giving Jones at least an entire NFL season to develop. But if Jenkins isn’t getting the job done, Eberflus might have to turn to a fifth-round pick at left tackle who will be asked to block Nick Bosa in his NFL debut in Week 1.
Training camp will be significant for Jenkins’ future with the Bears.
UP: Cole Kmet
Kmet failed to find the end zone during his second NFL season. Given his lack of practice reps with Fields, it was clear that Kmet still needed time to get in sync with the young quarterback.
When Eberflus hired Getsy intending to run some iteration of the Shanahan system, Kmet became the obvious pick, along with Fields, for the player who could benefit the most from the change. George Kittle and Robert Tonyan thrive in their roles in similar offenses. Given their lack of wide receiver depth, the Bears need Kmet to be a reliable weapon for Fields.
Kmet was solid during minicamp. The Bears showed off some TE Leak action, and Kmet snagged several balls in traffic over the middle of the field, including two for touchdowns. A strengthening connection between Fields and Kmet bodes well for Getsy and the Bears’ offense.
UP: Thomas Graham Jr.
DOWN: Tavon Young
The Bears signed Young to a one-year contract with the presumption that he would be the starting nickel back.
The 28-year-old suffered several injuries during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. However, while Young entered the offseason with a presumed leg up for the starting slot corner job, it appears second-year man Thomas Graham Jr. has caught him.
The Bears’ staff has been impressed with Graham’s work ethic this offseason, and the Oregon product received many first-team reps during minicamp, sealing the session with a pick-six on a Fields tipped pass on the final day of minicamp.
“I love him, you know, he puts in extra time,” Bears cornerbacks coach James Rowe said of Graham during OTAs. “He comes up and meets with David Overstreet, who coaches our nickels mostly. He comes up and meets up with him every morning at 7 a.m. Very smart player. He is able to handle the workload outside and inside. He is intent on being good, and we love what we see from him so far.”
Heading into training camp, it appears Graham has the upper hand in the competition to be the starting nickel in Eberflus and Alan Williams’ defense.
DOWN: Bears’ defensive line
No Robert Quinn means more pressure on everyone down the line.
The veteran defensive end was a no-call, no-show at Bears minicamp as trade rumors continue to swirl.
Eberflus said he would leave Quinn’s situation to general manager Ryan Poles. But if Quinn doesn’t suit up for the Bears, then more will be asked of third-year edge rusher Trevis Gipson and nose tackle Justin Jones to get pressure on the quarterback.
With Gipson being bumped up from No. 2 edge rusher to top dog, the Bears will also have to ask more veteran Al-Quadin Muhammad and rookie Dominique Robinson to provide additional pressure.
It’s hard to win in the NFL if you can’t affect the quarterback. If the Bears can’t talk Quinn into returning, their defensive line likely will struggle in 2022.
UP: Jaquan Brisker
The Bears second-round rookie has been brilliant during the offseason.
Brisker has impressed with his ability to create turnovers and is expected to create a good safety duo with veteran Eddie Jackson.
Brisker’s willingness to play in the box should allow Jackson to move back to free safety, the position he is most comfortable manning.
While Brisker and Jackson have similar skill sets, the plan likely will be to have Brisker play down in the box and have Jackson read the quarterback and make plays in the backend.
If Brisker can help Jackson rediscover his All-Pro form from 2018, the Bears’ secondary could be much better than expected.
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