UA-59049186-1 2022 Chicago Bears Preview: Offense - Good if it Goes

2022 Chicago Bears Preview: Offense

Justin time. [Photo: ESPN]

There was much griping over the Bears’ offense the last few years. The reason for that is that the offense didn’t make any sense. Mitchell Trubisky was not the guy Matt Nagy needed for his offense which was predicated on routes setting up and the QB making reads. Or at least that’s how the offense is supposed to work. I don’t think Nagy really knew how to run it.

Nagy’s gone and the man in charge of the offense now is Luke Getsy. Getsy played football at Pitt for two years before finishing his college career at Akron. After an offseason stint with the 49ers in 2007 didn’t turn into anything, Getsy got into coaching, starting as a GA at Akron. After two years in that role, he headed to D-II West Virginia Wesleyan, where he was OC and QB coach. After a year there, it was another GA stint, this time at Pitt, then back to D-II at Indiana (PA) as OC and QB coach there. His first on-field coaching role at the D-I level would come in 2013 as P.J. Fleck’s WR coach at Western Michigan. After a year in Kalamazoo, he was hired by the Packers as an offensive quality control coach then promoted to wide receivers coach there after two years as a QC coach. Getsy spent two years coaching receivers in Green Bay before heading to Starkville to be OC and receivers coach at Mississippi State under Joe Moorhead. After a season there, it was back to Green Bay, this time under Matt LaFleur and tasked with babysitting Aaron Rodgers. In 2020, he got a passing game coordinator title added on.

So what can we expect the offense to look like? Well, you may have heard the term “wide zone” thrown around. Eric Boles at FishDuck has a really good yet concise primer. Important to note is that wide zone does not always mean outside zone. Whereas outside zone wants to run, well, outside, wide zone means simply stretching the defense out and taking what’s there, whether that’s bouncing runs outside or taking advantage of the defense stretching out and going through it. Now, let’s meet the team.

Quarterback

Justin Fields leads the Chicago Bears offense. A second-year man out of Ohio State, Fields was the source of much excitement and optimism for the future when the Bears traded up to take him 11th overall in the 2021 draft. Then-coach Matt Nagy felt it best to have Fields sit for a year and learn behind seasoned vet Andy Dalton. That lasted until week 2 when Dalton was injured in a game against his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, at which point, it was Justin time.

After a win over the eventual AFC Champs that provided some flashes of a bright future, Fields made his first NFL start against the Cleveland Browns and spent the afternoon getting pounded, looking lost, and sometimes both. It was the sort of thing that can ruin a young QB, but to this one’s credit, he didn’t let it. The rest of his rookie campaign was mostly struggles, with a play here or there that made you believe that the Bears finally have their guy; that they just need to give him some time and an offensive line that doesn’t act like he owes them money. And maybe some wide receivers that don’t openly quit. Lookin’ at you, Allen Robinson!

In early returns from camp and the preseason, Fields’ mechanics look night and day as opposed to a year ago. He’s playing with more poise and his footwork has improved tremendously. He appears to be grasping Luke Getsy’s offense. His arm talent was never in question. The biggest flaw remaining in his game is his processing speed. This space asserts that that will come as he gets more comfortable within the offense, particularly since this one actually makes sense.

Trevor Siemian is Fields’ backup. A 7th-round pick by the Broncos in 2015 out of Northwestern, Siemian rode the bench in Denver and collected a Super Bowl ring in doing so. Beats working in real estate, which was what he originally planned to do before he got drafted.

Peyton Manning retired after that Super Bowl victory and Brock Osweiler got signed by the Texans because they’re one of the few teams worse with quarterbacks than we are. Thus, there was a void at the QB position in the Mile High City. Siemian won the job, beating out future Bear Mark Sanchez and future Panther (that’s Michigan Panther) Paxton Lynch. As the starter in 2016, Siemian wasn’t terrible. He won 8 of his 14 starts, completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 3401 yards, with 18 TDs to 10 INTs. His numbers took a hit the following year and he got benched in favor of Brock Osweiler, who had made his way back to Denver. The Broncos would eventually turn to Paxton Lynch, who got hurt, opening the door for Siemian, who was just a guy and then got hurt himself, and that was it for him in Denver. The Broncos traded him to Minnesota, where he again rode the bench, this time without a ring to show for it.

Siemian signed with the Jets and got pressed into action in week 2 of the 2019 season with Sam Darnold out with mono. Siemian went 3-for-6 for 6 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury that turned out to be season-ending.

After not catching on anywhere in 2020, Siemian signed with the Saints and became the starter after Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending knee injury. Siemian started the next four games, lost them all, and then was benched for Taysom Hill. Siemian wasn’t really that bad in his 4+ game stint as the starter (1083 yards, 9/3 TD/INT), but Sean Payton loves him some Taysom. I don’t get it, either.

NFL punchline Nathan Peterman is a warm body in case of disaster. A 5th-round pick out of Pittsburgh by the Bills in 2017, Peterman has been mostly awful. He possesses a career 3/12 TD/INT ratio and his best known for his horrific first NFL start where he completed six passes to his own team and five to the Chargers and then got benched at halftime. If you know why he’s here, please let me know; I have no idea.

Running back

There’s some uncertainty at the running back position for the Bears as new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy installs his wide zone scheme. Fourth-year man David Montgomery figures to be the lead dog, but may not be the best fit for the offense. A third-round pick in the 2019 draft out of Iowa State, Monty was named one of the league’s 100 best players this year. He’s been a solid back his entire career; a strong runner who’s capable as a receiver out of the backfield. However, Monty hasn’t been very efficient, averaging over 4 yards per carry only once so far in his career, in 2020. Some of that likely had to do with offensive line issues and nonsense offense issues, so we’ll see what happens this year when at least the latter is likely to be fixed. As noted previously, though, Monty’s hard running style isn’t the best fit for Getsy’s wide zone-based scheme. He’s got the vision to make the cuts through the defense, but isn’t the fleetest of foot.

Khalil Herbert is a better fit for the scheme and could take some touches away from Monty. A sixth-round pick last year out of Virginia Tech, Herbert showed some flashes during his rookie season, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 103 touches for a total of 433 yards while finding paydirt twice. His ability as a receiver out of the backfield is a work in progress and for that reason, Monty may still be the lead dog in Chicago. Still, Herbert figures to get a good amount of action during his sophomore campaign.

Trestan Ebner is a rookie out of Baylor. A sixth-round draft pick, Ebner ran a 4.43 40 at the combine, so speed is not an issue here. Ebner also has solid experience as a receiver out of the backfield, tallying 1515 yards in 127 receptions over 58 games as a Bear of the green and gold variety. His new colors are better. In those new colors, a major role in 2022 is unlikely, but he could be a nice complement to the two aforementioned backs, particularly as a receiver. His pass catching ability also gives Luke Getsy another way to screw with opposing defenses. Think Tarik Cohen but not as fast.

Darrynton Evans draws mention here thanks to a couple flashes in the preseason. A third-round pick in 2020 by the Titans out of Appalachian State, Evans did very little in two years in Nashville behind Derrick Henry. A waiver wire pickup by the Bears in May, the team looks to tap into his heretofore unrealized potential. Early returns suggest he could be a quality depth piece. He starts the year on the practice squad.

Khari Blasingame is a fullback, and thus, will be a favorite of all the fans who think the Bears need to “RUN DA DANG BALL!” Blasingame got his first taste of what it means to be a Chicago Bear when he was recognized as the team’s new free agent fullback signing while renting a moving truck shortly after inking his deal. For future reference, Khari, yes, here in Chicago, we love Da Bears (Daaaaaa Bears) and we also love running da dang ball. Blasingame spent the entirety of his three-year career in Tennessee where he was primarily a blocker with little in the way of stats.

Wide receiver

The Bears went into the 2022 offseason with limited resources as it was. Then the Jaguars wrecked the receiver market by giving Christian Kirk absolutely bonkers money. Given that and the fact that the Bears aren’t likely to be competitive this year, New Ryan decided to go the Moneyball route at the position.

The hope here is that Darnell Mooney can become a legitimate WR1. Survey says…maybe? Early returns from training camp and the preseason have been promising. Justin Fields clearly likes and trusts him. He went over 1000 yards a year ago in a nonsense offense. However, this year, Allen Robinson is gone. I mean, physically. Mentally, he was gone while he was still on the field. But even then, he was still physically there and had the presence of a top-tier wide receiver, so opposing teams felt the need to account for him, even though he had very visibly quit on this team. Seriously, Allen, thanks for nothing. Hope the Rams go 0-17.

Anyway, Mooney is the man here now. A third-year man out of Tulane, Mooney was one of Old Ryan’s late-round finds. This one, a fifth-rounder. So hooray Old Ryan for that. Mooney had a strong rookie year in 2020, catching 61 passes for 631 yards and 4 touchdowns. The following year, his touchdown numbers stayed the same, but he caught 20 more passes and racked up a total of 1055 yards receiving. Mooney is a shifty receiver who’s dangerous in space and a willing blocker in the run game and should be a great fit in Luke Getsy’s offense.

Behind Mooney, it’s a third-round draft pick old enough to be Mooney’s grandpa (okay, kidding, but he is already older than Mooney) and a whole lotta question marks.

Velus Jones Jr. has been playing football since it was invented. Okay, kidding, but he is a 25-year-old rookie. Jones spent four years at USC doing not  very much, then transferred to Tennessee, where his redshirt year plus the covid year everybody got gave him two seasons to play as a Volunteer. After a 2020 season where he did some more not much, he broke out in 2021, catching 62 passes for 807 yards and 7 TDs. There’s been talk of the team using him in a role akin to Deebo Samuel’s in San Francisco to take advantage of his speed and ability with the ball in his hands. That was the case in camp, but we didn’t see much of him during the preseason.

N’Keal Harry was acquired from New England for a 7th-round pick after he spent three years as a Patriot and came just shy of 600 receiving yards. Total. The Bears took a flier to see if they could tap into the potential that made him a first-round pick in 2019 in the first place. The reclamation project is on hold, however, as Harry suffered a high ankle sprain during the preseason that required surgery that landed him on IR. When he gets back, the Bears should have themselves a big body possession receiver who’s a strong blocker in the run game. If he can improve his route running, then we’re really cooking with gas.

It is a requirement of the position of Chicago Bears General Manager that every holder of the office must bring in at least one guy from Notre Dame who stinks. Phil Emery had Jimmy Clusen. Ryan Pace had Sam Mustipher. Enter Equanimeous St. Brown. After a freshman season in South Bend in which he caught just a single pass, St. Brown blew up during his sophomore season, catching 58 passes for 961 yards and 9 TDs. He did not build upon that sophomore year and in fact, took a large step backwards in his junior season in 2017, catching only 33 passes for 515 yards and 4 TDs. He would be drafted in the 6th round by Green Bay, where he would do nothing of note. After catching 21 passes for 328 yards his rookie year, St. Brown spent 2019 on IR with an ankle injury. If you put his 2020 and 2021 seasons together, they wouldn’t match his rookie season, though he did have his first and still only touchdown in 2020. The genius in this signing is that Ryan Poles fills his Notre Dame jabroni quota early and gets it out of the way and there’s at least a chance that St. Brown might not really stink. There was always potential there; it’s worth taking a flier to try to bring it out of him. Justin Fields seems to like him. And if he does actually just really stink, at least this Notre Dame jabroni has a cool name.

Byron Pringle was an off-season free agent signing by Ryan Poles. A fourth-year veteran out of Kansas State, Pringle spent his first three seasons in Kansas City, the first two of which saw do not very much before an increase in production last year. In 2021, Pringle caught 42 passes for 568 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Bears are hoping he can build on that, but any building has had to wait as a quad injury limited Pringle’s preseason appearances.

Dante Pettis had a decent rookie season and has done very little since. A second-round pick by the 49ers out of Washington in 2018, Pettis caught 27 passes for 467 yards and 5 touchdowns in 12 games his rookie season. In 2019, his production took a steep downturn, as he caught only 11 passes for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while only appearing in one fewer game. He hasn’t broken the 100-yard mark since. In 2020, the 49ers waived him and the Giants picked him up. He did next to nothing in East Rutherford and now he’s here. He did enough during the preseason to make the 53-man roster, (possibly in part due to the fact that Tajae Sharpe will miss the entire season with a rib injury) but I wouldn’t expect a great deal of production here.

Tight end

Cole Kmet was a second-round pick in the 2020 draft because Ryan Pace just couldn’t let us have one full day of laughing at the Packers about them setting their first-round pick on fire by taking Jordan Love. No, Pace just had to have Kmet, a tight end your author had a fourth-round grade on. Kmet instantly became a fan favorite because he’s a local boy and went to Notre Dame. Thus far, he’s been the second coming of Kyle Rudolph. He’s not terrible, but nor has he made me wish we couldn’t get a do-over on that pick. His rookie year, he caught 28 passes for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns. Last year, his production increased respectably as Kmet caught 60 passes for 612 yards. He failed to a record a touchdown last season, but the offense failed to record touchdowns a lot and when they did get into position for one, that was Jimmy Graham territory. Graham’s gone now and the Bears didn’t make a splash at the position, so they’re banking heavily on Kmet. While Kmet has been a solid in-line tight end (TE-Y is a notation you may have seen) and a strong blocker, he is far from an elite athlete at the position and has struggled to create separation. He’s also struggled to make contested catches. Returns from camp have been glowing. The official position of this space is “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Ryan Griffin comes to Chicago after a half-dozen years in Houston followed by 3 as a Jet. In that time, Griffin has surpassed the 400 yard mark exactly once. Griffin should get some decent playing time, as outside zone schemes tend to feature a decent amount of 12 personnel.That being the case, ideally, the Bears would have found a more fearsome receiving threat, but this is what we’ve got.

Jake Tonges makes the 53-man roster as a tight end/fullback hybrid that your author refers to as TE-H. An undrafted free agent rookie out of Cal, Tonges caught 47 passes for 620 yards with four touchdowns over three years of real action as a Golden Bear. (He appeared in one game as a freshman in 2018, but didn’t record any stats.) Your author cautions against expecting a great deal of production from Tonges, but he did have a couple flashes in the pre-season and did enough to earn a spot on the roster.

Offensive line

Braxton Jones is charged with protecting Justin Fields’ blind side. A fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah, Jones has experience in a zone run-based scheme. The question coming out of college was his pass protection skill. Early returns have been positive. Expect some growing pains when the games start counting, but it appears that Ryan Poles has found a legitimate starter here.

Cody Whitehair is the experienced hand on the Bears’ offensive line. A second-round pick in 2016 out of Kansas State, Whitehair started his pro career as a center, where he earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2018, before shifting over to guard. Coach Eberflus and the rest of the staff seem set on him staying at guard, as he didn’t shift back over to center when Lucas Patrick got hurt. Granted, that was preseason, but there hasn’t been talk of Whitehair playing center even with Patrick’s availability for week one in question.

Lucas Patrick comes to Chicago from Green Bay, where he started 28 games over the last two years. The former Duke Blue Devil played both center and guard up north and slots in as the starting center here. A hand injury ended his preseason early, but given his familiarity with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Teven Jenkins had an eventful offseason, to say the least. He missed the beginning of camp with an injury, though there were rumors of attitude issues that caused him to fall out of favor with the new regime, as well. That being the case, he was the subject of trade rumors that persisted even once he returned from injury and won the starting right guard spot, to the point that Ryan Poles had to assure him that the team was not trying to trade him. A second-round pick last year out of Oklahoma State, Jenkins’ college tape shows a nasty run blocker whose pass pro could use some work. Jenkins missed most of last season recovering from back surgery and is now playing guard after being drafted as a tackle, so expect some growing pains this season.

A second-year player out of Mizzou, Larry Borom was a fifth-round pick in last year’s draft. Upon being drafted, the question was “Is he a guard or a tackle?” We got our answer when he made his way into the starting lineup at right tackle last year. We got to play the “guard or tackle” game again this year with a new regime in place and once again, the answer is tackle as he has won the starting job at right tackle. In eight starts last year, Borom was solid and early returns suggest he continues his upward trajectory.

Alex Leatherwood comes to Chicago as a waiver wire pickup after being cut by the Raiders. A first-round pick in last year’s draft out of Alabama, Leatherwood had a lousy rookie year at right tackle in Vegas and the new regime there decided to simply cut bait. A five-star all-everything lineman in high school, there’s certainly a lot of potential there; Ryan Poles seems to think it’s worth trying to bring it out. The Bears own Leatherwood’s contract for the next three years at a very manageable rookie rate; we’ll see what they can do. It does seem likely that a move to guard is in his future.

Riley Reiff signed with the Bears right before camp, leading many to believe that he was the team’s new starting left tackle. Then it became clear that the Braxton Jones hype was legit. Then it became clear that the Larry Borom hype was, too. An eleventh-year vet out of Iowa, Reiff started at right tackle for the Bengals last year after four years in Minnesota where he patrolled the left side. Aside from a couple stronger years in Detroit, Reiff has mostly graded out in the high 60s to low 70s per PFF. While those aren’t world-beating grades, if Jones and Borom are beating him out, that portends good things about the Bears offensive line not just this season, but in the future.

Sam Mustipher is still here, I assume because he has some sort of dirt on one of the team’s higher-ups.Either that, or George McCaskey is afraid Olin Kreutz will punch him if he cuts him. I have no idea what Olin sees in the guy. A UDFA out of Notre Dame signed when former and now once-again Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand was the OL coach here, Mustipher has mostly stunk as a Bear. In his first NFL action in 2020, Mustipher displayed a decent mind for the position, but got pushed around too often. Still, he showed enough to think that maybe there could be something there, to the point that a year ago, this space called him “the living embodiment of Juan Castillo’s awesomeness.” Incorrect. My bad. Mustipher put on size, but did not get better. In fact, he got worse. He still got pushed around and added a penchant for blowing assignments to his bag of tricks. He is simply not an NFL lineman.

Twitter: @KevinSports312

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