Now that the NFL Preseason is over with some pleasant surprises and a few disappointments, it’s finally time for some regular season action as the 2021 NFL Season is set to kick off. Ahead of the 102nd season of the National Football League, we take a look at the Chicago Bears roster and what to expect of them in the upcoming campaign.
One of the most traditional and successful teams in the history of the NFL, the Chicago Bears come from some years of ostracism, despite making the playoffs last year after posting an 8-8 record in the regular season. In their third season under head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears went on to lose to the New Orleans Saints and were sent home early in the 2020 Playoffs. This year, however, with many good picks in the 2021 Draft and some important roster moves, things are expected to be a little better for Da Bears.
The Chicago Bears will play their first regular season game on September 12, at the SoFi Stadium, in Los Angeles, against the Los Angeles Rams. Their first home game will take place one week later, on September 19, against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field. During the whole regular season, the Bears will alternate home and away games, with a bye on week 10, and the final regular season game on January 9, at the U.S. Bank Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings.
With Andy Dalton projected ahead of Justin Fields to start the season as QB1, a strong backfield unit, and a talented wide receiver corps, there’s a good chance the Bears will be a strong competitor in the NFC North. Since online gambling in Illinois is finally being legalized, Bears fans can already start placing bets on the team, as they are at +255 odds to make the playoffs, and at +550 odds to top the Packers and the Vikings and win the NFC North.
Rookies on the rise
With the 2021 Preseason in the books, there’s plenty to say about the Chicago Bears rookie class. In these games, head coach Matt Nagy gave a lot of opportunities for young players to make an impact, and several rookies left a good impression, especially quarterback Justin Fields and nose tackle Khyiris Tonga.
Despite his position not being in the spotlight, Khyiris Tonga was one the Bears’ best rookies in the preseason. He was able to display his ability to stop runs, but also showed potential as a pass rusher. Even though Eddie Goldman should be the starter, Tonga is expected to serve a big role as a rookie in 2021.
Another player who impressed during training camp and the preseason, Khalil Herbert has shown signs that he might be able to surpass Damien Williams as RB2 – David Montgomery is untouchable at RB1 – but also surprised the coaching staff with his return game. Undoubtedly, he’ll prove to be a great addition to both the offense and special teams.
Then we get to Justin Fields…
Battle for first-string spot
“There’s one car I don’t recognize in the parking lot. It’s a truck. And I come in the building and I’m walking through the hallway and it’s empty. I’m the only one in the building. It’s kind of eerie,” the Bears’ General Manager Ryan Pace said. “And around the corner comes Justin Fields and he’s up here just getting a workout in.”
That mentality should be enough to prove that Fields will definitely make a push for early playing time, as he has exceeded expectations since his arrival in Chicago. His time at Ohio State, and his performances in the preseason have made it clear that Fields’ poise, accuracy, and mobility are unmatched, and expectations are really high for the rookie quarterback.
However, it will be a tough mission to take the starting spot from Andy Dalton. The 10-year veteran, who embraced his role at the organization by playing a positive influence in Fields’ development, and even hosting a dinner for his teammates, is expected to be the starting quarterback in the regular season kick-off. And even if Dalton isn’t able to carry the team in the first few weeks, he should remain the starter, since there’s no rush to get Fields on the field.
“I’m sure I’ll be making big plays, too, and hopefully they’ll be cheering at the same time,” Andy Dalton said about the Bear’s fan base wanting to see the rookie QB starts as soon as possible. “For me being the starter, hopefully they would see that if I’m making plays, that’s good for everybody.”
Even though Fields’ mentality and raw talent seems to perfectly fit Matt Nagy’s ideas, there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially regarding his aggression downfield. “We have to, at times, have him understand if the progression in a play is low to high, if it’s there, take it,” Nagy said. “He’s had a few of those where it’s low to high and he’s tried to put one in the second level, third level, 20 yards instead of taking the 7-yard completion down below. Some worked and some haven’t.”
All this battle for the starting spot might be good for the team, as the Bears will have two highly-focused quarterbacks and that should help them significantly improve their offense, which has been among the worst in the NFL over the last two seasons.