For the casual or passing NFL fan, the unequivocal burden of enduring the NFL season and experiencing their respective teams’ trials and tribulations is a truly taxing endeavor. Wild and always fun, of course, but still an experience that requires a few intoxicating substances and perhaps a few cleansing cute cat videos to wash away the stress of yet another football-filled Sunday.
The casual fan can endure these roller coaster rides because that fan knows that ride will end before he knows it. The meat of the NFL season transpires over only about six months: from that opening kickoff where every fan of every team believes in their heart that their team can go far in early September to early February where three-fourths of NFL fans shake their heads, scolding themselves for getting fooled into believing championship aspirations yet again.
Then, for the casual fan, the NFL and all of its narratives fade from their mind’s eye: when April comes around he may watch the NFL draft until their team makes their first-round selection, and in late August he may watch the first quarter of a preseason game, but overall, the casual fan is completely oblivious to the happenings of the NFL until their team is playing in week one.
None of that applies to the hardcore, devoted NFL fan. As soon as the Super Bowl concludes and the NFL crowns a new champion, the machine just keeps chugging. It goes from scouting and watching the NFL Combine in March, creating mock drafts and trades for the NFL Draft in April, creating and discussing narratives for every team throughout May to August, and now finally we get to reap the benefits of our hard work with a taste of NFL action: training camp. And the most interesting part of any training camp is key position battles happening up and down the depth chart.
The 2021 Chicago Bears are no exception in this aspect; in fact, the Bears may have some of the most interesting and competitive key position battles in the entire league.
From which corner will fill the whole that All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller had left, to whether the savvy veteran or promising rookie will cement themselves as the #1 signal-caller at quarterback, the Bears have something for both the lucky fans who got to watch the Bears live at Halas Hall and everyone else who has to constantly refresh Twitter every morning. Without further ado, here are all of the Chicago Bears Key Position Battles.
Anyone else getting an eerie feeling of deja vu? It must be Groundhog Day because the Bears are having a severe case of “quarterback battle every training camp-itis.”. A rare disease, but quite a nasty one. Yes, the Bears once again find themselves without an obvious answer at QB to help solidify the offense going into the season, resulting in a key position battle.
Bears fans actually did think the front office found their answer at QB in free agency with the signing of Andy Dalton, and the fanbase was livid. With the questionable signings in years past, releasing All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller, and now an infuriating and seemingly brain-dead addition at QB that didn’t push the franchise forward, the fans were ready to storm Halas Hall and escort general manager Ryan Pace out of town.
That was the case leading up to the NFL Draft, where Ryan Pace saved his reputation and, most importantly, his job. The Bears were a club on a mission, trading up to the Giants’ number 11 spot to select the QB who will decide how much success the Bears will have in the next decade: Justin Fields.
You could literally feel the excitement crackling in the air on that cool night in Chicago. The Bears made a promise to Dalton that he’ll be the starter going into camp, but now the organization had found themselves with a golden goose of a QB that simply cannot be ignored. Thus begins the quarterback key position battle.
Through a week of training camp, it seems that Dalton has given head coach Matt Nagy reason to keep his promise. According to all reports, Dalton has been poised and professional at camp. He has been deadly accurate and has rebounded from mistakes made on previous plays. Dalton looks as if this is his 11th training camp. Through one week, Dalton is clearly ahead in this key position battle.
While Dalton’s experience and poise are giving him a competitive advantage over Justin Fields in this key position battle, it’s only a matter of time until he not only reigns in the starting job but keeps himself in the saddle for years to come. There’s an unspoken truth that reverberates from the fanbase all the way up to ownership: this will be Fields’ team. And while Fields isn’t blowing away players and coaches through the first week of his very first training camp, the talent is being clearly demonstrated and he’s rapidly progressing. Just today it was reported that Fields had already mastered calling plays in the huddle, and the next step is post-snap progressions.
Overall, it seems that Dalton will get the veterans’ nod over Fields heading into the preseason, and most likely the regular season as well. The question at that point won’t be “if”, it’ll be “when”. When will Dalton finally have a really poor performance that warrants the heir apparent to take his throne? When will the coaching staff finally think Fields’ intelligence and talent are polished enough to put him in the game? Only time will tell, but time is on Justin Fields’ side. Andy Dalton is in a close bout with Justin Fields in this key position battle.
A key position battle that already had some questions just got a whole lot more interesting. The talented, but troubled Anthony Miller had seemingly cemented himself in this spot heading into training camp; the question was who would take the position from him.
The Bears had grown frustrated with his inconsistency both on and off the field and brought in some talented veterans and young players to challenge him for the spot. However, the Houston Texans decided to make things simpler for the team, and the Bears struck a deal with them to trade Miller to Houston along with a 2022 seventh-round selection for a 2022 fifth-round pick.
The trade blew the whole competition wide open, and there’s a number of enticing players vying for the opportunity in this key position battle. It’s only right to start with the newcomers to Chicago, wide receivers Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin.
Byrd comes from the esteemed Patriots organization where he caught 47 passes for 604 yards. Byrd was one of the bright spots of an abysmal Patriots offense. He’s a speedy and fluid pass-catcher who could work over the middle of the field with ease from the slot.
Similar to Byrd is Goodwin, who has world-class speed, so much so that he competed to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. He decided to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season to take care of his family, but both he and Byrd have consistently flashed at Bears camp through one week. Both of them are in the thick of this key position battle.
The next two players don’t exactly get the veteran nod to be in the lead of this key position battle, but they absolutely have a shot to take that number three receiver role, or at the very least earn some playing time. Enter rookie Dazz Newsome and third-year pro Riley Ridley.
Newsome immediately became a fan favorite in Chicago, boasting a very fun and upfront personality that gelled very well with the positive and upbeat mentality that head coach Matt Nagy brought to Chicago. Unfortunately, Newsome landed awkwardly on his shoulder in OTA’s and suffered a broken collarbone that required surgery. The good news is that, as of August 2nd, Dazz was cleared to practice and was activated from the PUP list. Dazz has some ground to make up, but his skill set is what you’re looking for from an explosive number three receiver.
Riley Ridley is most likely bringing up the rear of this key position battle, but not from a lack of maximizing opportunity. He has only been targeted eleven times in his NFL career, but he’s caught ten of them for 108 yards. This has many Bears fans frustrated because he makes the most of his targets, but he never gets in the game. This tells the fans that the coaching staff must not trust Ridley out on the field, whether that’s from a lack of understanding the playbook or something else.
All hope is not lost, however, because even though Ridley had a rough start to his training camp, he has shined the last couple of days, developing a promising rapport with QB Justin Fields. Ridley is definitely down in this key position battle, but he is certainly not out.
#2 and Slot Cornerback
I know I keep harping on about this, but the loss of All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller really was a gut punch to a defense that could’ve truly been elite. With a dominant front seven that boasts the likes of Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, to a solid safety duo with the immensely talented Eddie Jackson and the consistent Tashaun Gipson, Fuller was the last piece of the puzzle that could’ve put the Bears defense over the top in defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s scheme.
Alas, Fuller is now out partying with his ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in Denver, so now the Bears have to rely on their young blood to keep the cornerback position together in this key position battle. Fortunately, the Bears have one of the most interesting and talent-filled cornerback rooms in the NFL.
With Fuller departing for the Rocky Mountains, all of the cornerbacks have to shift a little bit. Jaylon Johnson, one of the best rookies in the league last year who had an eye-popping 15 passes defended, assumes the role of the number one cornerback. Johnson leaves the number two cornerback role vacant, and the Bears have always had trouble filling that slot cornerback role. We have two starting cornerback spots open as the prize, so now let’s meet the contestants in this key position battle.
The group that is most likely competing for that second corner spot is Desmond Trufant, Kindle Vildor, Artie Burns, and Tre Roberson. Trufant is a solid veteran who has had success in the NFL before, most notably with his tenure with the Atlanta Falcons, where he accrued 12 picks over seven seasons. He had a subpar 2020 season with the Detroit Lions, but there’s hope within the Bears organization that he can return to the aggressive, twitchy defender that had success in Atlanta.
Kindle Vildor is one of my favorite young players, and that’s because I love an aggressive, versatile cornerback that can play both inside and outside. He really shined during the 2020 preseason, and fans are hoping that Vildor gives them more reason to be excited this preseason.
Fans were excited about Artie Burns last year when the Bears signed him from the Steelers, but he tore his ACL during a workout, and he quickly faded into obscurity. One year later, Burns is healthy and practicing, and fans are looking for a reason to get excited about the former first-round pick.
The last real competitor for this second cornerback spot in this key position battle is Tre Roberson, and he has an interesting story. Roberson was a star with the Calgary Stampede in the CFL, where he had an impressive 95 tackles and 10 interceptions in two seasons. He suffered a non-football injury last season, so fans will finally get to see the electric play of the former CFL star in training camp and preseason.
Finally, we arrive at the slot cornerback spot in this key position battle, and we have a few contenders for this as well. Kindle Vildor is definitely in the thick of this competition as well due to his versatility, but a strong prospect for this position is Duke Shelley. Duke Shelley has had a lot of inconsistent play at corner over the last couple of years, but his size and lateral speed are well suited for the slot corner role. He has played well on special teams as well, which keeps him in the cornerback room. Fans will be looking for more consistency from Shelley as we approach the preseason.