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9 Bears players to watch during training camp


All eyes no doubt will be on quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Justin Fields when the Bears report to Halas Hall next Tuesday, July 27, to begin training camp. But there will be other storylines to monitor as well. Here are nine non-quarterbacks to watch on the practice field this summer:

Jeremiah Attaochu, outside linebacker

The Bears are hoping that the veteran free-agent acquisition upgrades their pass rush this season, and training camp will be the first time this year that Attaochu and the rest of his teammates will practice in full pads. One-on-one and 11-on-11 drills will give Attaochu opportunities to display and hone his edge-rushing abilities. While Khalil Mack led the Bears with 9.0 sacks last season, the team's other outside linebackers combined for just 6.0 sacks. The Bears certainly could use more production at the position behind Mack, and they're confident in Attaochu, an eighth-year pro who registered a career-high 5.0 sacks last year with the Broncos while playing only 38 percent of Denver's defensive snaps.

Tarik Cohen, running back/return specialist

When the Bears begin training camp practices next week, more will be known about Cohen's recovery from a torn ACL he sustained last season in a Week 3 win in Atlanta. The Bears bolstered their running back position by signing veteran free agent and Super Bowl LIV hero Damien Williams to complement starter David Montgomery. But Cohen remains dangerous with the ball in his hands, and his return would buoy an offense that's determined to produce more explosive plays. A healthy Cohen would also provide a huge boost on special teams; he's served as the Bears' primary punt returner since he arrived in 2017 as a fourth-round pick and also could be a candidate to replace Cordarrelle Patterson on kickoff returns.

Eddie Goldman, nose tackle

The Bears no doubt will be thrilled to see Goldman back on the practice field for the first time in 19 months. The veteran nose tackle opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. He then declined to participate in the voluntary offseason program and also skipped the Bears' mandatory full-squad minicamp in June. Matt Nagy told reporters that he "feels really confident" Goldman will report to training camp, but the Bears coach also acknowledged that he understands why some outside Halas Hall may be skeptical that will happen, saying "that's natural and OK and normal, but we fully expect him to be there." The Bears are hoping that Goldman not only returns after a one-year hiatus but is able to revert to the form he displayed in 2019 when the 6-3, 318-pounder was named a Pro Bowl alternate.

Marquise Goodwin, receiver

The Bears are hoping that the veteran free-agent acquisition picks up in training camp where he left off in offseason workouts, when Goodwin flashed his speed and playmaking ability. The eight-year NFL veteran was signed in April to add depth and competition at the receiver position behind Allen Robinson II and Darnell Mooney and could be one of the most intriguing players to watch in training camp. The Bears are hoping that Goodwin, who represented the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games as a long jumper, will help them take the top of opposing defenses. Training camp will be a critical time period for Goodwin to continue to develop trust and timing with Bears quarterbacks while also knocking off some rust; the 5-9, 179-pounder opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Teven Jenkins, tackle

The Bears are eager to get their second-round pick in pads for the first time in training camp to see the physicality and nasty demeanor he played with at Oklahoma State. Obviously, it's difficult to show those attributes in non-contact offseason practices. Jenkins is seemingly just as enthused about practicing in pads, telling reporters in June: "It's been however many months for me and I've been missing that sound, missing that feeling, and I'm very excited to get back out there." Jenkins' development figures to be one of the most important storylines in training camp as the Bears look to anoint a new starting left tackle after releasing veteran Charles Leno Jr. in early May. Jenkins certainly will be challenged in training camp drills, facing savvy veterans such as Mack and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

Jaylon Johnson, cornerback

Expectations are high for Johnson to build off a successful rookie season and take another step in his second year with the Bears in 2021. The second-round pick from Utah made an immediate impact as a rookie, preserving a 27-23 comeback win over the Lions in last year's season opener by breaking up a pass in the end zone as time expired. Johnson started the first 13 games last year before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. The 6-foot, 195-pounder compiled 44 tackles and tied for ninth in the NFL with 15 pass breakups, despite missing the final weeks of the season. Johnson's performance in training camp will bear watching, especially after the Bears released top cornerback Kyle Fuller in March due to salary cap reasons.

Cole Kmet, tight end

Like Johnson, Kmet was a 2020 second-round pick who showed promise as a Bears rookie despite not having the opportunity to hone his skills in offseason practices or preseason games—both of which were cancelled due to COVID-19. As Kmet's playing time increased during the course of the season, so did his production; the 6-6, 262-pounder caught 20 passes for 149 yards in the first five games after recording eight receptions for 94 yards in the first 11 contests. The Bears are confident that Kmet will continue to grow as he gains more NFL experience. He's built a special rapport with veteran tight end Jimmy Graham, who sees limitless potential in Kmet, saying: "For him, there's truly no ceiling. He can be as good as he wants to be."

Kindle Vildor, cornerback

The Bears are high on the 2020 fifth-round pick from Georgia Southern, who performed well as a rookie when he was called upon late last season after Johnson was sidelined. Pressed into his first extended NFL action, Vildor recorded 15 tackles while playing 134 snaps in the Bears' last four games after being on the field for just one defensive play in the first 12 contests. Vildor continued to impress this offseason—he intercepted two passes in one minicamp practice—and will look to earn playing time at cornerback and nickel back in training camp. During the offseason, the Bears released not only Fuller but nickel back Buster Skrine. If Vildor continues to progress and make plays on the ball, he could help fill the void.

Damien Williams, running back

Like Goldman and Goodwin, Williams will practice in pads in training camp for the first time since 2019 after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. The last time Williams played in an NFL game, he rushed for 104 yards and scored two late touchdowns to help lead the Chiefs to a 31-20 comeback win over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. The Bears signed Williams in late March, hoping that the versatile 5-11, 221-pounder will complement starter David Montgomery and flash the same ability to make plays he displayed in Kansas City. Williams has played six NFL seasons with the Dolphins (2014-17) and Chiefs (2018-19), rushing for 1,231 yards and 12 touchdowns on 294 carries and catching 138 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs.