Four Bears position battles to monitor as offseason continues

Four Bears position battles to monitor as offseason continues

General manager Ryan Pace had an extremely busy offseason. It started in free agency where he spent big money on targets for Mitchell Trubisky and continued in the NFL draft where at least three new starters may have been found.

Pace's aggressive approach to the roster has several players from last year's squad on notice. Whether it's a starting job or key sub-package role, the competition for playing time will ratchet up as the offseason marches on.

Here are four position battles worth monitoring through OTAs and training camp.

WR: Kevin White vs. Anthony Miller

Miller was drafted in the second round to contribute right away. White was drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft to become a go-to-guy. Something's gotta give.

The smart money is on Miller winning this battle because White hasn't proven capable of staying healthy as a pro. Maybe it's bad luck. Maybe his body can't take what the NFL requires. Regardless, even when he's been healthy, White hasn't provided the Bears with any reason to feel confident he'll develop into the Dez Bryant-like player he was projected to be.

Miller, on the other hand, has the benefit of being the shiny new rookie with endless upside. He's not a sure-thing, however, and if he struggles with drops or NFL speed, White could pull a surprise upset. 

The best case scenario for the Bears is the competition brings out the best in both players. If that happens, the offense will be shockingly explosive.

TE: Dion Sims vs. Adam Shaheen

The duo of Sims and Shaheen started finding its groove late last season and it appeared tight end was one of the few spots on the roster that could be ignored this offseason. Then came the Trey Burton signing. 

Burton wasn't signed to sit on the bench, and the number of plays that will feature three tight ends will be minimal. Shaheen and Sims will battle for the primary in-line tight end role and both players represent a significant investment by Pace. Shaheen was a second-round pick in 2017 and Sims was signed last year to a three-year, $18 million deal. Pace may end up the biggest loser in this battle. 

Smart money is on Shaheen pairing with Burton as the primary tight ends in the offense. He offers a little more as a pass catcher and was building chemistry with Trubisky when he was healthy last year. Sims could end up a surprising cut when it's all said and done.

OLB: Aaron Lynch vs. Kylie Fitts

The NFC North is arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins representing six of the Bears' opposing passers in 2018. If the Bears don't have a productive pass rush this season, they're in big trouble. 

Lynch was signed to a one-year deal in free agency to contribute to that cause, but Fitts has drawn early praise from Matt Nagy and could work his way into a bigger role than was expected on draft day. The Bears may be willing to give Fitts an extended look because of his favorable rookie contract, too. Lynch should begin the year as a starter, but if Fitts makes some plays in the preseason, he could be a surprising first-teamer come Week 1.

RB: Ryan Nall vs. Benny Cunningham

This one's going to be a dogfight. Nall is a tough and physical runner who can make plays on the ground and through the air and will contribute to kick and punt coverage on special teams if he makes the roster. Cunningham proved last season he can spell Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen in the backfield and was a key contributor to the game's third phase. He was re-signed to a one-year deal.

The Bears won't keep both. They offer the same kind of skill set even if they're bringing different body-types and styles of play to the field. 

Cunningham should come out on top. Nall would be a great practice squad candidate if he doesn't make the cut, but don't count him out. He's an old-school football player and teams need those guys.

Sports Illustrated dubs Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota logical fits for Bears

Sports Illustrated dubs Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota logical fits for Bears

With so many veteran QBs available this offseason, it's anybody’s guess where some of these big name play-callers will end up this fall. Sports Illustrated curated a list of which teams they deem as the best options for notable free agent veteran QBs. Since everyone in the NFL knows the Bears are looking for another QB to challenge the struggling Mitch Trubisky, it was no surprise that the Bears would appear on this list as a reasonable landing pad for some of these vets. The Bears came up as the best fit not once, but twice for Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota.

Neither of these names are considered radical to Bears fans, who have heard speculations tossed around about how both players could fit on the offense at Soldier Field.

Once Drew Brees announced he would play another season in New Orleans, it was widely accepted that the Saints would resign restricted free agent Taysom Hill as their backup, leaving Bridgewater to find a new home in unrestricted free agency. SI describes Bridgewater as someone with “an incredible ability to spot start and also keep the peace behind the scenes. Bridgewater could be both a calming presence and legitimate competition for Mitchell Trubisky, who needs to be pushed heading into Year 4.”

However, a major downside for signing Bridgewater is that he has been speculated to command a starter-caliber salary in free agency. The Bears don't have a lot of cap space to work with this offseason, so this may hurt their chances at signing Bridgewater. 

Tennessee Titans’ Marcus Mariota seems to check off a lot of boxes Ryan Pace is looking for. He had a rough start to his offensive career, despite once high expectations, making him not overtly threatening to Trubisky. Mariota has 61 starts and a career record of 29-32 under his belt, completing under 63% of his of his 1,110-career pass attempts and has 76 touchdown passes to 44 interceptions. So, while his resume isn’t glowing, SI speculates he could fit well within Matt Nagy’s offensive system. 

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Bears' tight end overhaul begins with signing free agent Demetrius Harris

USA Today

Bears' tight end overhaul begins with signing free agent Demetrius Harris

The Bears’ efforts to upgrade their tight end room will begin with a familiar face to coach for Matt Nagy. 

Demetrius Harris, who played with the Cleveland Browns in 2019 but was with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2014-2018, agreed to terms with the Bears on Wednesday, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport: 

The 6-foot-7, 230 pound Harris does not come to Chicago with significant pass catching experience. He caught 15 passes for 149 yards for the Browns in 2019, and set career highs in 2017 with 18 receptions and 224 yards (while Nagy was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator). 

Based on what Harris did with the Chiefs in 2017, the Bears likely see him as a versatile backup who can primarily play the “Y” (in-line) tight end spot. The majority of Harris’ snaps (318) that year came in-line, per Pro Football Focus, while he also lined up in the slot and out wide 198 times. 

Harris, an athletic former basketball player at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, also comes to the Bears with good special teams experience. He played 299 special teams snaps for the Browns last year, 60th most in the NFL. 

The Browns signed Harris to a two-year, $6 million deal last offseason but cut him earlier this week. 

Signing Harris certainly will not be the only move the Bears make to overhaul a group of tight ends that severely hindered Nagy’s offense in 2019. The Bears could still use a true No. 1 “Y” tight end, while also improving their depth at the “U” behind Trey Burton, who landed on injured reserve and was never healthy last year. 

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