Hoping to avoid repeating last year’s 3-13 record, the Chicago Bears were one of the busiest teams in the offseason bringing in new talent and jettisoning players from the roster.
As a result, the Bears could field a lineup with 11 players who were not Week 1 starters in 2016 – including eight newcomers who joined the team via free agency.
Training camp opens up on Wednesday, and ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson projects what he believes the starting lineup will look like when the games matter:
- QB Mike Glennon
- RB Jordan Howard
- WR1 Cameron Meredith
- WR2 Kevin White/Victor Cruz
- WR3 Markus Wheaton
- TE Dion Sims
- LT Charles Leno Jr.
- LG Kyle Long
- C Cody Whitehair
- RG Josh Sitton
- RT Bobby Massie
Best PFF grade among projected starters: Whitehair, 85.9
Worst PFF grade among projected starters: Sims, 50.1
Writing “what a difference a year makes” would be tragically cliche, but it fits this situation like a glove.
A year ago at this time, Jay Cutler was entering his eighth year with the team, Jeremy Langford was set to take over for Matt Forte at running back, and the tandem of Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White were supposed to give the passing game options down the field.
Fast forward a year and Cutler has retired to the broadcast booth, Jeffery left in free agency, White is a mystery, and Langford is a backup who will be in a roster crunch at a deep position. Think back to July 2016, and remember that Sitton was penciled in as the Green Bay Packers’ starting left guard, while Howard was behind Langford and Ka’Deem Carey on the depth chart. Hroniss Grasu, who was replaced by Whitehair at center, would have been a Week 1 starter had it not been for his preseason injury. Be honest, did you remember that Logan Paulsen was listed as the team’s starting tight end in Week 1?
Dickerson sees the Bears opening with a three-receiver set, which makes sense because the league is trending that way. The toss-up between White and Cruz is provides the highest-profile camp battle for a starting position. Remember, head coach John Fox sees Cruz as more than just a veteran presence. Early in OTAs, Glennon raved about White, who knows this is a pivotal year in his career. Kendall Wright, one of the 11 receivers in camp, is motivated to prove he can still get it done at the highest level.
Of course, the Bears could buck the three-receiver trend and line up with two starting tight ends, with Zach Miller or Adam Shaheen opposite of Sims.
- DE Akiem Hicks
- DE Jaye Howard
- NT Eddie Goldman
- OLB Pernell McPhee
- OLB Leonard Floyd
- ILB Jerrell Freeman
- ILB Danny Trevathan
- CB Prince Amukamara
- CB Marcus Cooper
- S Quintin Demps
- S Adrian Amos
Best PFF grade among projected starters: Freeman, 93.9
Worst PFF grade among projected: Cooper, 40.3
Two of the Bears’ better cornerbacks last season where Cre’von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan, who both thrived as slot corners. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears’ most-used defense isn’t a traditional 3-4, but instead, features Hicks and Goldman up front with LeBlanc or Callahan in the slot. Danny Trevathan is expected to start the season on the PUP list, which would leave Nick Kwiatkoski and Christian Jones as the front-runners to fill in that starting role. Kwiatkoski started seven games as a rookie, while Jones started twice last season and 13 times the year before.
Much of the turnover among the Bears’ defensive starters comes in the secondary, where free agent additions Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, and Quintin Demps are plugged in as Week 1 starters and projected upgrades from last year’s starters. The 2016 Bears opened up with Tracy Porter and Jacoby Glenn at corner, and Harold Jones-Quartey at safety. Only Jones-Quartey will open training camp with the team this summer.
Health will be of the utmost importance for Vic Fangio’s defense in 2017. Five players (Howard, Goldman, McPhee, Floyd, Trevathan) missed four games or more last year due to injury, while a sixth (Trevathan) missed four games due to suspension. Altogether, the Bears’ projected starters missed 47 games in 2016.
- PK Connor Barth
- P Pat O’Donnell
- LS Patrick Scales
No changes from the group that opened last year’s season. Barth is the most likely to participate in a training camp showdown for his job, with undrafted free agent rookie Andy Phillips providing the competition. Patrick Scales took all the snaps at long snapper last year and projects to be the guy here too.