CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Bears prepare for this season with many of the same questions they had last season... and a few more. The ongoing concerns center around the play of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who has yet to become the player the team needs him to be, and linebacker Khalil Mack, whose performance dropped off last season. The new concerns result from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which all NFL teams are addressing.
It's been an unusual off-season, to state the obvious. The Draft was remote. OTAs and minicamps didn't happen at all. And with full-contact practice delayed and preseason games canceled outright, the Bears and every other team find themselves uncertain how to prepare for the regular season.
"... Every team is in the same boat, there are no advantages really for anybody," says CBS 2 sports anchor Matt Zahn. "It's all on the practice field. Matt Nagy was saying the one thing he's trying to do in practice is get as many reps as they can... Tempo is a [big] deal, trying to cram everything in. Not only is there no preseason, they really don't have that many practices. That leaves 15 total to get it in before they have to make a decision. And they have a lot of decisions to make in this camp as well."
The biggest decision will come at quarterback. Trubisky is entering his fourth season, but has yet to grow into the quarterback and leader one would hope for from a second-overall pick. He showed promise his first two seasons. But he took a step back last season, posting stats that place him near the bottom among starting QBs. Those included his 6.1 yards per pass attempt, 3,138 passing yards and 17 touchdown passes. The Bears finished .500 and did not make the playoffs.
"When it comes to Mitchell Trubisky, he has to show that he's improved," says Zahn. "He even said that he wasn't good enough last year. That was not good enough quarterback play. So I think it's on Mitchell Trubisky to have to go out there and win this job."
In the off-season, the Bears traded for Nick Foles to compete for the job. Foles, a former Super Bowl MVP with the Philadelphia Eagles, was coming off a short stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars that didn't work out. Chicago is hoping to get the Philadelphia version of Foles. "As far as Nick Foles, they kind of know what they have with that guy," says Zahn. "Even though he hasn't been here, he knows the system from this offense, working with it before. So I think it's on Mitchell Trubisky to show in practice, because that's the only place he can do it, that he has done enough to improve, mentally and physically, that he can actually be a high-level quarterback in this league, which he hasn't shown, especially last year."
It's also unclear if the Bears have the talent to elevate this offense, regardless of who starts at quarterback. According to Zahn, "no matter who wins the quarterback job, they don't have much else on offense. The big additions were Jimmy Graham and Tedd Ginn (Jr.), along with an offensive lineman as well. They're just not going to move the needle at this point. Jimmy Graham hasn't been good for a few years, although he has looked good the first couple days in practice. We'll see if he can last the whole season. Tedd Ginn, how much does he have to offer at this point? So I don't see a lot there for the offense to be a lot better, other than the quarterback being much better."
The Bears seem likely headed for another season led by the defense. For that approach to be successful, Mack will need to regain that edge that made him one of the NFL's most feared defenders. "Khalil Mack, can he get back to that superstar all-pro level? He was really great two years ago, really great out of the gate last year. Then he sort of tailed off, and there wasn't much explanation as to why. If he can get back to that wreaking-havoc level, I think that's a big key for the defense."
Another challenge on the defensive side of the ball is the loss of nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns. As Zahn puts it, "Goldman, he's the man in the middle on the defense. He's big when it comes to their really good run defense. They have a young guy, Bilal Nichols, who's probably going to be the guy to step into that role... But that's going to be a big loss. It's on this defense to carry a lot of the load for this team. So without Eddie Goldman, it could be a problem."
The Bears have the potential to improve. Maybe they can even contend in an NFC North that already includes two teams coming off of playoff seasons. Most predictions still have them firmly behind the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. How the season plays out remains to be seen. But stranger things than a Bears resurgence have already happened.
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