On July 27, the Bears will be back in Bourbonnais, IL, to begin preparing for arguably the most anticipated Bears season in recent memory.
After a promising 2018 campaign ended in a one-and-done appearance in the playoffs, the Bears’ organization and all of its fans are hungry for 2019 to officially start on Sept. 5 against the Packers.
Second-year head coach Matt Nagy will have a little over 40 days to get his team ready for the 199th meeting between the two division rivals, and it all starts this Saturday in Bourbonnais.
There will be plenty of storylines to follow throughout the nine practices that are open to the public at Olivet Nazarene University, but here are the top five things that I will be paying attention to at training camp.
1. Mitch Trubisky’s Play
Now in his third season as a pro and second in Nagy’s offense, the expectations are high for quarterback Mitch Trubisky to elevate his play in 2019.
In Sunday’s press conference in Decatur, IL, general manager Ryan Pace called Trubisky “a naturally accurate thrower.”
According to Pro Football Focus, which is a platform that I have mixed feelings about, Trubisky was ranked the 31st least accurate QB in 2018.
So throughout training camp, I will be paying close attention to Trubisky’s accuracy — particularly on his deep ball and when he is in the pocket.
And I’ll be curious to see if Trubisky can stack several good practices together to show consistency. Ultimately, that is what separates good players from great ones.
Last season, Trubisky proved when he got outside the pocket he can exploit defenses with his legs, finishing fifth among QBs with 421 rushing yards.
If Trubisky can improve his deep ball and pocket passing, the offense will close the gap on their defense, making Chicago a more well-rounded team.
2. The Kickers
Every year I am always up for making the nearly two-hour drive to Bourbonnais to watch the Bears practice, but knowing that I will be devoting a fair amount of time to Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry attempt field goals on one of the secluded fields is … slightly upsetting to say the least.
It has to be done, though, given the Bears’ current situation.
Point blank, I will be watching whether Pineiro and Fry can make kicks. It’s not rocket science, but ever since Robbie Gould was let go, trying to determine who will be the next Bears’ kicker might as well be put in the same category.
- When either of the kickers miss, how will they respond?
- How will they perform when the whole team and thousands of fans are watching?
- And how will they handle the pressure when Nagy makes them kick from the infamous 43-yard line?
These are all questions that will no doubt be answered, for better or worse, throughout the course of training camp.
3. New Defensive Backs in Starting Defense
The Bears’ defense will have two new players this season when they go to their nickel package: safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and nickel corner Buster Skrine.
Although it was announced on Monday that Clinton-Dix was placed on the PUP list, I am still interested to see how the rest of the defense adapts to the two defensive backs.
Since Skrine will be available to practice starting Saturday, I want to see how he performs in man-to-man coverage. Last season with the Jets, Skrine was flagged seven times, with three of them being pass interference penalties.
Skrine will have his work cut out for him because he will be tasked with guarding second-year player Anthony Miller, who is expected to be participating at the start of training camp.
When Clinton-Dix returns, and hopefully he does at some point while the Bears are in Bourbonnais, I’m curious as to how new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will utilize him.
Throughout Clinton-Dix’s five-year career, he has primarily played as the free safety, and specialized in single-high coverage, which is also where fellow safety Eddie Jackson typically plays.
4. The Play of Riley Ridley and Duke Shelley
It is always interesting to see how the rookies hold up in training camp, and I will be keeping a close eye on wide receiver Riley Ridley and cornerback Duke Shelley.
I know you’re probably thinking why running back David Montgomery isn’t mentioned, especially since he was my favorite prospect for the Bears in the 2019 NFL Draft. This is because I expect him to be a playmaker in training camp and to display the contact balance and receiving skills seamlessly like he did at Iowa State.
For Ridley and Shelley, I don’t believe it is quite as clear cut. It isn’t because the two players lack ability, but instead, it has to deal with where Nagy and Pagano envision these players fitting into the offensive and defensive rotations.
Ridley will be competing in a stacked WR room and will be learning Nagy’s complex offense. I want to see if he starts repping with the third-team offense at the beginning of training camp and possibly works his way up toward earning some time with the first-team.
For Shelley, who will be playing the nickel corner spot, I’m looking forward to seeing the competitiveness he displays during each rep. I mentioned earlier that Skrine will have to go against Miller but so will Shelley. And both Miller and Shelley like to talk smack, so that is going to be a fun matchup to watch.
5. James Daniels and Cody Whitehair Position Switch
Since Mitch Trubisky took over as the starting QB in Week 5 against the Vikings in his rookie season, Cody Whitehair has been his center.
The only time Whitehair didn’t snap the ball when Trubisky was at QB happened in the second half of the Saints game in 2017, when Whitehair exited due to an elbow injury. Still, Whitehair only missed 22 offensive snaps.
Over the past two seasons, Trubisky and Whitehair have developed chemistry, continuity and comfortability with each other, but now the franchise quarterback will have to do that again with his new center: second-year player out of Iowa James Daniels.
Daniels said he was informed about the position switch around March or April. So at training camp, I will be focusing on how the former Hawkeye has adjusted to being the center. From making the proper reads to snapping the football these are now Daniels’ new responsibilities.
In all honesty, I don’t expect there to be any issues with the two interior linemen switching spots, especially since both Daniels and Whitehair are going to the positions they played primarily at their respective colleges.