The Chicago Bears are nowhere near close to filling the 90-player offseason roster. And while the upcoming NFL Draft will surely go a long way toward plugging holes, some players are already at Halas Hall working out, nudging me toward some way-too-early starting lineup projections.
Things will change between now and when football season kicks off. But every journey has humble beginnings. These steps figure to be the first of many.
QB: Justin Fields
RB: David Montgomery
WR: Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown
TE: Cole Kmet
OL: Teven Jenkins (LT), Cody Whitehair (LG), Lucas Patrick (C), Dakota Dozier (RG), Larry Borom (RT)
I mentally flipped a coin between Dozier and Lachavious Simmons and ultimately landed on Dozier as the starter because he has more worthwhile starting snaps in the league than Simmons. But no matter how that coins would’ve landed, the hole at right guard, in the wake of James Daniels’ departure, is painfully obvious. And while there are other needs (lookin’ at you receiver), I am more comfortable with St. Brown getting WR3 snaps than I am Dakota Dozier getting a full slate of starting right guard snaps. And not just because I like writing Equanimeous, either!
Had I been feeling more adventurous in lineup projections, I’d have thrown out a two TE set to start with Kmet and Jesper Horsted. Three receiver sets are essentially base packages now. But had I been basing my projections on Green Bay’s packaging last year, then I could’ve easily talked my way into Luke Getsy’s offense setting up shop with two tight ends. The Packers used 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) on 29 percent of their offensive snaps last year, via Sharp Football Stats. That would be the most of any NFL team had the Dolphins (61 percent) not blown them out of the water. Then again, that Miami number should be treated with a caveat knowing that Mike Gesicki is a tight end only by name. That dude is just a big honking wide receiver that they call a tight end for reasons unbeknownst to me.
DL: Robert Quinn (DE), Justin Jones (DT), Khyiris Tonga (DT), Al-Quadin Muhammad (DE)
LB: Roquan Smith, Nicholas Morrow
CB: Jaylon Johnson, Thomas Graham Jr.
S: Eddie Jackson, Dane Cruikshank, DeAndre Houston-Carson
I want to put Trevis Gipson in the starting lineup. But the Bears’ signing Muhammad makes it seem likely that he’ll get the starting nod. Though it might not matter in the end, because there are plenty of snaps to go around for pass-rushers. Plus, I can’t rule out a potential Robert Quinn trade. After the Bears were able to successfully move Khalil Mack for future draft capital, I feel like anyone is eligible to be dealt at the moment.
And before you get started on rolling out with two linebackers, let’s remember how often teams deploy nickel defenses with an extra defensive back to counter the growing number of base sets that feature three wide receivers. In other words, the debate here isn’t between CB Duke Shelley and LB Caleb Johnson. Instead, the battle is possibly Shelley (a more traditional slot corner) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (a safety by trade, but multi-positional defender who might make more sense in a revamped defensive look).
Projecting the Bears’ specialists is probably the easiest group right now:
Cairo Santos (PK)
Patrick Scales (LS)
Dazz Newsome (PR)
Khalil Herbert (KR) returning from last year’s team.
The only newbie is punter Ryan Winslow. You might recall Winslow was with the Bears before losing in a camp competition to Pat O’Donnell (who is now with the Packers). Ahhh, thinking about Bourbonnais in Summer 2018 takes me back. It almost makes me wonder if there is another camp battle afoot. Should the Bears draft a punter? As comical as that sounds, using a Day 3 pick to lock in a top specialist seems brilliant. Although, my preference would be to never punt because your offense stays scoring. But that’s just my preference.
Of course, that’s all a hypothetical because the Bears are nowhere near having a full 90-player roster. Football isn’t like baseball where you can play “right field out” in a pinch. Or with ghost-runners if you’re short a player or two. Nevertheless, there is never a bad time to look into what this team could be putting on the field this spring and summer before things get gritty in the fall.