By Herb Howard
Tis’ the season for overanalyzing, and overemphasizing, minimally important activities by relatively unknown players that may not even make the roster. But, as Bears fans and reporters, this is what we do!
With their first practice of training camp at Halas Hall in the books, its clear the rebuilding franchise has more questions than answers, and more moving parts than the Red Line. All of which makes for lots of storylines, but what really matters? Here are a few things from Day 1 of training camp that may actually impact the season.
Roquan Smith was officially placed on the PUP list. While he is at camp, he will not be practicing, as he continues negotiations with the Bears for a contract extension. As I explained in my previous column, this holdout has the potential to last much longer than the Bears organization and their fans would like. Smith is scheduled to make $9.7 million this season, but he, understandably, wants the long term extension that he deserves, one that would pay him roughly $20 million annually. General Manager Ryan Poles seemed quite uncomfortable discussing the topic on Tuesday and Head Coach Matt Eberflus was in no mood to address it Wednesday. Eberflus did say that Roquan has been active in meetings and continues to be a leader to his teammates. Smith was seen riding the exercise bike at practice today and standing with his teammates during drills. Expectations are not high for the 2022 Bears and without their All-Pro middle linebacker, they’ll be even lower.
On a positive note, Robert Quinn, who set the Chicago Bears single-season sack record last year, was present and participating at practice. As I suspected he would, he looked rested and explosive. Quinn has been the source of much speculation leading up to training camp, after he skipped mandatory minicamp this spring. Many people were projecting that the veteran pass rusher would not show up to training camp, in hopes of forcing his way out of town, believing that the aging star would not want to be part of a rebuilding team. Some still believe that the Bears may exchange the sack artist, perhaps their most valuable trade asset, for younger talent and/or future draft picks. As for Quinn, he said that he always expected to be a Bear this season, and does not desire to be traded. Currently playing for his third team, Quinn said he does not look fondly upon the prospect of changing teams yet again.
Perhaps the most interesting thing I observed on the field today was Bears top pick, CB Kyler Gordon getting 1st Team reps at Nickel Corner. Drafted to be the Bears #2 corner opposite Jaylon Johnson, I was surprised to see him get so many reps in the slot. This spring, Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said that they probably would not cross-train Gordon and instead allow him to focus solely on outside corner. Clearly, they’ve changed their mind. When I asked Coach Eberflus about it, he said that Kyler is very smart, very athletic, and can handle the workload at both spots. I guess that ultimately bodes well for the type of player that Kyler could become, but I don’t know that it’s such a good idea to have the rookie learning 2 spots simultaneously, especially when this secondary desperately needs him to secure that #2 CB spot.
Less important, but noteworthy, was the 1st Team O-Line that the Bears rolled out today. I imagine this group will be shuffled several times before Week 1 of the regular season. The first group that I saw features (left to right) Braxton Jones, Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick, Sam Mustipher, and Larry Borom. Braxton Jones, the rookie 5th Rd pick from Southern Utah, would spend the day alternating 1st Team reps at LT with newly acquired veteran Riley Reiff. It would surprise me if Reiff doesn't ultimately win that spot by the end of camp. I’m on record that I don’t see any way that the Bears enter the season with Sam Mustipher at RG, so I think we’ll eventually see newly signed veteran Michael Schoefield manning that position. Notably missing in that rotation was second year player, Teven Jenkins. The coaches had him playing behind Jones in minicamp, and now, with the addition of Reiff, the former second round pick is even further down the depth chart and in real danger of not making this roster.
*Having recently been traded to Chicago in exchange for a 7th Rd pick, WR N’Keal Harry, a former 1st Rd pick of the Patriots, said he has a huge chip on his shoulder, following his failed tenure in New England. Harry said the Bears are giving him a much needed fresh start and he’s ready to show how dominant he can be.