Bears begin new phase with Poles as GM, Eberflus as coach

CHICAGO BEARS (6-11)

New faces: GM Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus, LB Joe Thomas, CB Kyler Gordon, S Jaquan Brisker, WR Velus Jones Jr., DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, DL Justin Jones, KR/PR Byron Pringle, QB Trevor Siemian, TE Ryan Griffin, LB Matthew Adams, CB Tavon Young, FB Khari Blasingame, LB Nicholas Morrow, C Lucas Patrick, TE James O’Shaughnessy, DB Dane Cruikshank, WR David Moore, WR N’Keal Harry, G Michael Schofield, OT Riley Reiff.

Key losses: LB Khalil Mack, WR Allen Robinson, DT Akiem Hicks, RB Tarik Cohen, DT Eddie Goldman, LB Danny Trevathan, QB Andy Dalton, CB Xavier Crawford, LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, S Deon Bush, P Pat O’Donnell, CB Artie Burns, DL Bilal Nichols, WR/KR Jakeem Grant, OL James Daniels.

Strengths: Linebacker Roquan Smith is a disruptive force on the inside who figures to be playing with an extra chip on his shoulder after negotiations on a contract extension ended with no new deal. He opted to return to practice Saturday after requesting a trade with him and the team in a standoff. His rookie contract is set to expire after the season. DE Robert Quinn broke Richard Dent’s club record for sacks with 18 1/2 last season. RB David Montgomery comes into his fourth season with something to prove after being slowed by a sprained knee and seeing his production dip. He missed four games and wound up running for 849 yards after going for 1,070 the previous year. But with Khalil Herbert showing promise as a rookie, the Bears could have a solid combo.

Weaknesses: The Bears signed Reiff to a one-year contract in July, but the offensive line remains a major concern. Patrick, who signed a two-year deal in March, was sidelined by a right hand injury during training camp. A step forward for Teven Jenkins could provide a big lift. The 24-year-old Jenkins appeared in six games as a rookie after he was selected in the second round of the 2021 draft out of Oklahoma State. While Darnell Mooney could put together a big season at wide receiver, the rest of Justin Fields’ potential targets are questionable at best. Tight end Cole Kmet had 60 receptions for 612 yards during his second NFL season. Harry is getting a second chance in Chicago after flopping in New England.

Camp Development: The biggest long-term issue for the Bears is Fields’ progress at QB. But the biggest development in camp? That was the standoff with Smith. His decision to “hold in” allowed him to attend meetings and watch practices without actually participating in drills. The tension escalated when Smith went public with a trade request. Poles responded by saying he would continue to work toward an extension rather than deal him, then removed him from the physically unable to perform list the following day. That cleared the way for the Bears to fine Smith for missing practices.

Fantasy Player To Watch: Though Montgomery could be in position to put up bigger numbers with the new staff placing more emphasis on the run, it’s not difficult to see Herbert playing a more prominent role than he did last season. Herbert finished with 433 yards rushing and averaged 4.2 per attempt.

FanDuel Says: Win Super Bowl: +12000. Over/under wins: 5.5.

Expectations: The Bears decided to make big changes after going 6-11 and missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 11 years. They fired general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy and replaced them with GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. New management began a massive overhaul and gutted the roster, parting with stars such as Mack and Robinson. But the Bears have a long way to go before they’re challenging for the NFC North championship. The biggest question is whether Fields can take a step forward following a shaky rookie season and show he is the long-term answer at a position that has historically haunted the franchise. The lack of playmakers surrounding him last season didn’t make it easier for the former Ohio State star. And the Bears didn’t make any splashy additions on offense, either.

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