The Chicago Bears' first padded practice of training camp won't happen until August 16, at the earliest, because of the rules in place to combat a league-wide outbreak of COVID-19. As a result, Bears players have been limited to offseason-like sessions in t-shirts and shorts in an effort to prepare for a 2020 season that will begin with a very different set of expectations than last year.
The Bears' 2019 season started with Super Bowl aspirations. After a 12-4 campaign in 2018 that was led by a ferocious defense, those aspirations were warranted. But 2019 didn't turn out as expected; the Bears dropped to 8-8, regressed on offense and took a step back on defense too.
Still, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Chicago for this season. Here are four of them.
Nick Foles will stabilize the quarterback position
Bears fans want Mitch Trubisky to win the team's quarterback competition, and it's easy to understand why. If he loses, he'll officially be a massive (teetering on historic) bust of a second overall pick, and even if Foles is competent behind center, Chicago will be set back many years in their quest for a Super Bowl because of Trubisky's failure.
But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it's that tomorrow isn't promised to anyone. So, for this season, for 2020? Foles will at worst provide the Bears with a chance to make a deep playoff run if he wins the job or is forced into the lineup because of a struggling Trubisky.
Foles isn't a world-beater, but he is a Super Bowl winner who's established himself as one of the more dependable playoff performers in recent seasons. Bears fans know this personally; Foles came into Chicago and beat the Bears in the 2018 wild card round.
Return of the (Khalil) Mack
Mack ended last season with 8.5 sacks, which by mortal standards would be a solid season. But Mack isn't a mortal edge rusher, so of course, his year was viewed as a disappointment. Still, Mack was the Bears' third-highest-graded defender, per Pro Football Focus, at 86.2.
Buckle up, Bears fans. Mack is about to go off in 2020.
Ryan Pace made a calculated decision to move on from Leonard Floyd, the team's first-round pick in 2016, and added Robert Quinn in free agency to be the team's new 'Robin' to Mack's 'Batman.' He's a qualified sidekick after registering 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys in 2019.
There's also the healthy return of Akiem Hicks that should help ease the pressure off Mack, too.
Are 15 sacks a realistic possibility for No. 52 in 2020? Absolutely.
"He's training like I have never seen anybody train before," linebackers coach Ted Monachino said in June. "Motivation is not an issue with Khalil -- never has been. But what I'll tell you is that he has approached this offseason with something to prove, and that's something that I think we all can be encouraged by. I think that that's something that's exciting, when a player of his caliber approaches his work the way he has approached it."
Allen Robinson is still here
The Bears still have time to extend Robinson's contract, something that many fans assumed would be a priority for Pace and the front office this offseason. COVID-19 impacted (and continues to impact) all business decisions, however, and A-Rob's new deal is no exception.
Whether the Bears strike a new deal with him or not, we know one thing for sure: Robinson will again be Chicago's go-to-guy in the passing game and will challenge for 100 catches for a second-straight season. And remember this: if the Bears don't get a new deal done by the time the season rolls around, Robinson will have even more motivation to show out in 2020. That's a scary thought.
Robinson was the Bears' best player, week in and week out, in 2019. Now, with a more accurate quarterback throwing to him in 2020 (whoever wins the QB competition will be judged, in part, on accuracy, per QB coach John DeFilippo), there may not be a ceiling on A-Rob's production. Will he top his 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season from 2015?
Offensive line isn't as bad as you think
Ok, sure, the Bears' offensive line wasn't good in 2019. But the entire team regressed, and the O-line was just one part of it.
Think back to the start of last season, though. Chicago's offensive line was considered one of the best units in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked the Bears' line as the ninth-best in the NFL entering 2019.
The addition of Germain Ifedi at right guard will be more significant than the one-year contract he signed in free agency. He's an upgrade over Kyle Long (at least, the end-of-career Long), and the continued growth of James Daniels (left guard) and Cody Whitehair (center) could give the Bears an extremely underrated interior trio.
Bobby Massie and Charles Leno are a quality duo at offensive tackle, too.
The most important change this offseason was the hiring of Juan Castillo as the offensive line coach. He'll get this group playing up to their ceiling again, which will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the offense in 2020.