Pick 6: Key storylines for the 2022 Bears season
We’re fast approaching one of the most special days of the year in Chicago — the Bears home opener.
As new head coach Matt Eberflus and his team get set to host the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, our Bears squad broke down the top storylines of the 2022 season.
Cole Wright teed up Dan Hampton and Tom Thayer on a six pack of questions during this week’s episode of “Bear Essentials.”
1. Will Bears force more turnovers than last year?
Last season, the Bears tied for the second-worst turnover differential in the NFL with a -13 margin. They had 16 takeaways (8 interceptions, 8 fumbles) compared to 29 giveaways (20 interceptions, 9 fumbles).
Under a new coaching staff, will that number improve in 2022?
Hampton thinks so, especially as the team transitions from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive front.
“It has to be more by virtue of going to a four-man line,” Hampton said. “You’ve got an extra guy coming after the quarterback at all times. The second part of this is Ryan Poles uses the word ‘relentless’ all the time. It rubs off.
“This is going to be a defense that will hit you in the mouth and scrape, scratch and claw. They’re gonna find a way to get the ball away.”
2. Have Bears done enough to shore up offensive line?
As rookie quarterback Justin Fields heads into Year 2 under center, the offensive line in front of him has undergone some major changes from a season ago.
Braxton Jones — a 5th-round pick this year — is projected to start at left tackle and fellow 5th-rounder (2021) Larry Borom could line up at the opposite tackle spot. Free agent veteran acquisitions Lucas Patrick (center) and Riley Reiff (tackle) also figure to play big roles.
Meanwhile, Teven Jenkins (a 2nd-round pick from a season ago) was moved inside to guard after he appeared in 6 games (2 starts) as a tackle last season.
Cody Whitehair is back for his 7th season on the Bears line with 95 career starts under his belt.
“I think the most important decision they made may never be in a stance,” Thayer said. “C-Mo, Chris Morgan, the new offensive line coach — he’s put these guys in a variety of positions to find the five best to start the season.
“I think the organized attitude of the offensive linemen is gonna benefit this team so much. You gotta be able to run the ball. That carries over to playaction pass and then helps the downfield pass blocking responsibilities.
“To me, I think this offensive line is gonna be so much better than a year ago. A lot of it has to do with Chris Morgan.”
3. How much will Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith lift up this defense?
At various points in the offseason and preseason, there was some question whether the pair of veterans would return to the Bears defense for the 2022 season. But both stars are back and ready to set the example for this defensive unit.
“Essentially, they are the stars of the defense,” Hampton said. “We know Robert Quinn set a franchise record for the Bears as far as getting to the quarterback last year, supplanting my man Richard Dent.
“Roquan Smith was very interested in trying to create the leverage to get a big deal. It didn’t work out. How hungry will he be? I think he’s gonna have his best year. The bottom line is he has to be special for this defense to be effective.”
4. Who will step up for Bears at wide receiver?
The Bears lost veteran receiver Allen Robinson in free agency and apart from budding star Darnell Mooney, there are a lot of question marks in the receiver room.
Tight end Cole Kmet might be poised for a breakout campaign but who else may step up alongside him and Mooney?
Thayer mentioned a trio of options, including Byron Pringle who was the fastest guy Thayer saw on the field in the preseason.
Then there’s rookie Velus Jones Jr. and veteran Dante Pettis, who is also the Bears’ best punt returner on the roster in Thayer’s estimation.
5. What are the expectations for rookie defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker?
The Bears used their top 2 picks in the 2022 Draft on a pair of intriguing defense backs. Gordon was the 39th overall selection while Brisker went off the board at 48.
What will they provide this Bears defense in 2022?
“Brisker could be a future superstar,” Hampton said.
The Bears’ first opponent is San Francisco, a team trotting out second-year quarterback Trey Lance who has only 71 pass attempts under his belt in the NFL.
“I think these guys are going to have great starts to the season and as the year goes on, they’re gonna be a big part of what happens on defense,” Hampton said.
6. What has president/CEO Ted Phillips meant to the Bears organization?
Phillips has been a mainstay as the Bears president since 1999 but announced recently that he will retire after the 2022 season.
“When you talk about a product that started in the millions and finished in the billions, there is some accomplishment there from the business side of it,” Thayer said. “But you’re also talking about trying to run a billion dollar organization with the difficulties of not owning your own stadium. So you don’t have all the concessions, all the income that you need in order to sign free agents to put on the team.
“Yeah, the record isn’t what we would all like to see as alumni, but I think when you talk about the business aspects and the development of the Chicago Bears from going to 250 N. Washington to a 110,000 square foot facility, things have growth and process.”