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Who impressed at OTAs? What does Justin Fields need to show at camp? 4 key topics as Chicago Bears head into their summer break.

Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus sent his team into its summer break with the message that players need to stick to their individual strength, conditioning and nutrition plans so their bodies are ready for training camp.

After nine organized team activity practices, a team bonding event at the United Center and a three-day mandatory minicamp, the Bears have five weeks to regroup before preparation for the 2023 season kicks into high gear.

As the Bears reset, the Tribune’s team of writers addressed four key topics surrounding the team.

1. The player I noticed the most during OTAs and minicamp was _________.

Brad Biggs: DJ Moore.

It was impossible to miss the new wide receiver, and with him wearing jersey No. 2, the Bears are banking on a slew of big plays from 1 (Justin Fields) to 2. At times passing elements at practice had a purpose, and it was easy to tell the coaching staff was trying to facilitate the relationship on the field. Moore isn’t very tall — he’s listed at 6 feet — but he’s thick and powerful and is a skilled route runner. I should note it was impossible to miss the size and length of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in the middle of the defense. He plays with good range, and you better believe defensive coordinator Alan Williams is looking forward to seeing Edmunds be in on a host of takeaways.

Colleen Kane: DJ Moore.

This isn’t really a surprise given Moore’s production over five seasons in Carolina with several quarterbacks. But it’s a reason for optimism nonetheless. Moore and Fields seemed to quickly develop an easy chemistry. Fields told reporters on the final day of veteran minicamp that Moore’s body language was easy to read and his communication and experience helped speed up the adjustment process. Given the struggles of the Bears passing game last season — and the lack of wide receiver depth in recent years — it was striking to see Moore making plays during practices like the No. 1 receiver the Bears have been waiting for.

Dan Wiederer: DJ Moore.

It was a small sample size, sure. But very quickly you could see the growing chemistry between Moore and Fields and what it could mean for a Bears offense in need of a boost. Moore’s ability to use his speed, strength and savvy to create separation makes him a quarterback-friendly target on every series. Fields needs a trusted go-to guy, so that early click was impressive. Creating that synergy in the spring is invaluable, particularly as the Bears try to enliven their passing attack by becoming more productive on third down, in the red zone and in clutch moments. Defensive tackle Justin Jones was among the many players and coaches who noted the Fields-to-Moore connection. “It’s going to be crazy this year,” Jones said.

2. The rookie I am most eager to watch in training camp is _________.

Biggs: Gervon Dexter.

The defensive tackle is a sight to see at 6-6, 312 pounds. There’s really no wrong answer here because right tackle Darnell Wright and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson are intriguing. But considering the team needs — the Bears were really undermanned on the interior of the defensive line last season — and the explosive penetrating ability Dexter possesses, he’s going to be interesting to follow. When David Turner, the defensive line coach at Florida for Dexter’s first two seasons with the Gators, made a comparison (at least in part) to another defensive tackle he coached — Kansas City Chiefs star Chris Jones — that grabbed my attention.

Kane: Tyrique Stevenson.

Eberflus and safety Eddie Jackson had positive things to say about the mindset that Stevenson, a cornerback selected in the second round, brought to OTAs and minicamp. Eberflus said his competitiveness and confidence were more like that of a veteran, and Jackson compared him to second-year safety Jaquan Brisker in terms of his drive and passion to play. Brisker turned in a pretty good rookie season, so that intrigues me to see how Stevenson looks in training camp. Eberflus said he wants to see Stevenson get himself into “elite shape” over the next six weeks, and the coach thinks the Bears will see Stevenson take a step forward when they can get pads on and he can be more physical. A secondary led by Jaylon Johnson, Stevenson, Kyler Gordon, Jackson and Brisker could be fun to watch.

Wiederer: Roschon Johnson.

Stevenson is a close runner-up for me, given his size, confidence and competitiveness. He already has made a rapid climb and figures to be a Week 1 starter if he stays on this trajectory. Johnson, on the other hand, is part of a crowded running backs group that also includes Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Trestan Ebner and Travis Homer. It’s not out of the question that Johnson will need time to emerge as a regular contributor and could spend his rookie season making his biggest impact on special teams. But with the way the Bears have talked up his skill set, leadership and work habits, it’s also easy to envision him carving out a significant role in the backfield fairly quickly. Spring practices offer little as far as running back evaluation. So when the pads come on at training camp and the Bears get into preseason action in August, getting a true progress report on Johnson will be fun.

3. When Justin Fields gets to training camp, the quarterback needs to show _________.

Biggs: That he has improved since the beginning of the offseason.

The Bears want the timing and rhythm of the passing game to improve. That starts with Fields’ footwork and carries through his progressions and decisions. The Bears will probably be a run-based offense once again. It makes sense. They can be so much more dynamic with some improvements in the passing game. It’s really the emphasis of the entire season after the moves GM Ryan Poles made to surround Fields with better talent.

Kane: Continued and consistent growth.

There’s no question the 2023 season will be big for Fields. The Bears put their faith in him rather than use the No. 1 pick to draft a quarterback, believing he would make the necessary strides in his second season under coordinator Luke Getsy to elevate the passing offense. And the Bears can pick up Fields’ fifth-year option for 2025 next spring if he makes those strides. The knowledge of those stakes likely will compound the outside evaluation of his highs and lows in training camp. But Fields just needs to keep building — on the chemistry he has developed with Moore, on the confidence in his leadership that has drawn the attention of teammates and on the points Eberflus laid out for him: “increasing the footwork, his platform, the timing, his release, the reads.”

Wiederer: Comfort that leads to confidence that leads to command.

It’s well-established that Fields will have to check a long list of boxes in 2023 to firmly establish himself as the QB1 the Bears want to invest in heavily beyond his rookie deal. They’re asking Fields to show better pocket presence in his third season, to process what he sees from defenses quicker and to use his breathtaking gifts as a runner more selectively. Eberflus listed five focus areas for Fields to continue working on through the summer: footwork, timing, platform, release and reads. These are things Fields will be judged on throughout training camp as he tries to make a significant leap.

4. The biggest question for the Bears at the end of the offseason program is

___

Biggs: Justin Fields.

I thought about saying the pass rush, but there isn’t a lot of mystery there. The Bears are hoping some younger players break through and provide more consistent pressure this season. You have to recall what Poles said in the spring when he acknowledged one way or the other the team would have some spots on the roster that left something to be desired. Probably best not to list the offensive line or wide receiver here. So Fields is the biggest question because the Bears don’t quite know what his career trajectory will look like. The 2023 season will show us where things are headed for the franchise a year from now — when the hope is a methodical rebuilding phase has the team ready to seriously compete.

Kane: Will the Bears add more edge rushing talent?

This has been a question for months after the main offseason arrival to the defensive ends group was DeMarcus Walker. The veteran is a solid addition and seems determined to take over a leadership role. But given the thin returning group — and the lack of investment in the position through the draft — it’s natural to expect another signing. That’s not the only question I have. I also want to know if Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool will be healthy in training camp. Eberflus said he expects Mooney to return from his rehabilitation from an ankle injury in time for camp, and he characterized Claypool’s issues that kept him out of minicamp as minor. Their returns will be key. Even with Moore at the top, the receiving corps looks very different without those two.

Wiederer: Whether they will add a well-known pass rusher before September.

Poles and Eberflus have hinted they are pushing to check that box before training camp. But there has been little clarity on whom they might be targeting and when a possible union might come. Don’t be surprised, though, if Poles adds a veteran pass rusher to his roster before next month’s reporting date. The current group — Walker, Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson and Terrell Lewis — feels as if it could use a boost. And Poles is as aware of that as anybody. The Bears finished last in the NFL with 20 sacks last season, and if their defense is to become imposing again, it must start up front with the ability to put heat on quarterbacks.

Biggs: Justin Fields. I thought about saying the pass rush, but there isn’t a lot of mystery there. The Bears are hoping some younger players break through and provide more consistent pressure this season. You have to recall what Poles said in the spring when he acknowledged one way or the other the team would have some spots on the roster that left something to be desired. Probably best not to list the offensive line or wide receiver here. So Fields is the biggest question because the Bears don’t quite know what his career trajectory will look like. The 2023 season will show us where things are headed for the franchise a year from now — when the hope is a methodical rebuilding phase has the team ready to seriously compete. Kane: Will the Bears add more edge rushing talent? This has been a question for months after the main offseason arrival to the defensive ends group was DeMarcus Walker. The veteran is a solid addition and seems determined to take over a leadership role. But given the thin returning group — and the lack of investment in the position through the draft — it’s natural to expect another signing. That’s not the only question I have. I also want to know if Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool will be healthy in training camp. Eberflus said he expects Mooney to return from his rehabilitation from an ankle injury in time for camp, and he characterized Claypool’s issues that kept him out of minicamp as minor. Their returns will be key. Even with Moore at the top, the receiving corps looks very different without those two. Wiederer: WhetherMNG-TribPub Wire ()


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