7 most intriguing position battles to watch at 2022 Bears training camp

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The Chicago Bears are set to report to training camp on July 26, and there will be no shortage of position battles to watch as camp and the preseason unfolds. There are not only starting jobs on the line but roster spots, as well.

With a new regime in place, there’s been some notable roster turnover this offseason, which includes a lot of players on one-year, prove-it deals. But there’s also plenty of young talent on the roster looking to establish themselves as long-term starters.

Here’s a look at the most intriguing position battles heading into Bears training camp later this month, from offensive line to defensive end to wide receiver.

Offensive tackle

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

There are plenty of questions along the offensive line, but the biggest is at the tackle positions. The Bears have been experimenting with different combinations, which has featured several shakeups at tackle, and that’s expected to continue into training camp.

While Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins started the offseason program at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, that changed in the final week of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. It was fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones at left tackle and Borom at right tackle, which presented another possible combination heading into training camp.

Jenkins was working with the second-team offense at right tackle, and Matt Eberflus said he and his staff were going to evaluate the offensive line position to see if they wind up going back to Jenkins. But the real evaluation doesn’t start until the pads come on, where Jones and Jenkins will be competing for their respective tackle jobs.

Right guard

AP Photo/Duane Burleson

Another concern along the offensive line is the hole at right guard, which was vacated by James Daniels in free agency. General manager Ryan Poles attempted to solidify the position with the addition of Ryan Bates, but Buffalo wound up matching his offer sheet to retain him.

Unfortunately, that left the Bears without a clear cut answer at the position. Sam Mustipher and free-agent addition Dakota Dozier were splitting time at right guard during the offseason. But Dozier landed on injured reserve with an apparent leg injury during mandatory minicamp, which left Chicago even thinner at guard.

Eberflus said “all combinations are open” along the offensive line, which was his answer to a question about either Jenkins or Borom kicking inside to guard. If the Bears opted to go with Jones and Borom at tackle, Jenkins could be a candidate to fill that right guard spot. Or perhaps a veteran in free agency.

Defensive end

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The biggest question at the defensive end position involves the future of Robert Quinn in Chicago. Quinn was a no-show for the entirety of Chicago’s offseason program, including mandatory minicamp. But Quinn remains on the roster, for now, which means he’ll be the top guy off the edge for the Bears.

That leaves a starting job up for grabs on the other side, where third-year pro Trevis Gipson and newcomer Al-Quadin Muhammad will compete. Gipson is coming off an impressive season, where he totaled 9.0 sacks in relief of an injured Khalil Mack. Now, Gipson is returning to his natural defensive end position, where he’ll be looking to build on his strong season.

Muhammad joins the Bears after spending time with Eberflus in Indianapolis. Muhammad missed most of the offseason program, but he comes with knowledge of the new defensive scheme. While both Gipson and Muhammad are expected to see plenty of reps with Eberflus’ rotation along the defensive line, the starting edge job will be one to watch.

Slot cornerback

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Cornerback was the team’s biggest weakness on defense last season, and Poles took steps to remedy that this offseason. That included drafting Kyler Gordon in the second round, where he’s expected to start outside opposite Jaylon Johnson. But that leaves the slot cornerback job up for grabs.

The Bears signed Tavon Young in free agency, and he immediately became the favorite for nickelback job. He has the potential to be a huge asset, but there have also been some injury concerns. Still, his experience and production make him a low-risk, high-reward signing.

But Young doesn’t have the job yet as there’s competition in the slot emerging between him and former sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr., who showed signs of promise in his limited action as a rookie. Graham has the potential to carve out a role for himself in this new defense. Despite who wins this battle, Chicago will have some depth in the slot with either Young or Graham.

Wide receiver

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The wide receiver position has been heavily criticized throughout the offseason, which makes sense given Darnell Mooney is the only proven commodity for second-year quarterback Justin Fields. Chicago added third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr. and veterans Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown this offseason.

When looking at this receiving corp, there are really just two roster spots up for grabs as Mooney, Pringle, Jones and St. Brown figure to be the top four options. And there’s plenty of competition for those final two spots, ranging from veterans like Dante Pettis and Tajae Sharpe to young players like Dazz Newsome and Chris Finke.

Right now, Pettis and Sharpe and the favorites to land those final two roster spots at receiver. But anything can happen during the summer, where other players will be looking to prove themselves and lock down a valuable roster spot.

Nose tackle

Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears have a lot of change along the defensive line this offseason as they transition to a 4-3 defense. They lost three starters along the interior this offseason in Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Bilal Nichols. After failing to add Larry Ogunjobi after a failed physical, they signed Justin Jones to serve as the starting three-technique.

While Jones is set as the three-tech, potential competition emerged at the nose tackle position between veteran Angelo Blackson and second-year pro Khyiris Tonga. Blackson is someone who could play either spot along the interior, but he’s an experienced veteran that could give him an edge over Tonga.

That battle saw more competition with the addition of Mike Pennel, who returns for his second stint with Chicago in as many years. Pennel failed to make the 53-man roster last offseason when the team ran a 3-4 scheme. Pennel can work in any system, but he has experience in a 4-3 during his two-year stint in Kansas City in 2019-20.

Strong side linebacker

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With the Bears transitioning to a 4-3 defense, there’s a greater need at the linebacker position alongside Roquan Smith, who’s primed for a huge contract extension this year. Chicago signed Nicholas Morrow in free agency, and he’s expected to be plugged in at the weak side or middle linebacker position with Smith filling the other.

That leaves the strong side linebacker job up for grabs, a position that Eberflus said rarely plays in his defense. Still, the favorite for the job appears to be Matthew Adams, who also follows Eberflus from the Colts to the Bears.  Other players who could factor into the equation include Noah Dawkins, Caleb Johnson and Joe Thomas. But right now, it’s Adams’ to lose.

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