Last season the Bears led the NFL in rushing but struggled at times moving the ball through the air. As a result, they intend to focus more on the passing game when OTA practices begin May 22.
"This offseason obviously is going to be very big for us," coach Matt Eberflus said earlier this week at the NFL owners meetings in Arizona. "We're going to set it up to work on the passing game, [put] a little bit more emphasis on that during this offseason and then working into training camp."
That plan involves expanding 7-on-7 drills as well as increasing situational reps including two-minute, red-zone and third-down.
Entering his second year in the offense, the Bears expect quarterback Justin Fields to take another step as a passer. Fields blossomed into an electrifying playmaker last season, rushing for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns on 160 carries and throwing for 2,242 yards with 17 TDs, 11 interceptions and an 85.2 passer rating. His 1,143 rushing yards were the second most by an quarterback in NFL history behind Lamar Jackson's 1,206 yards in 2019.
Fields also set a single-game record for rushing yards by an NFL quarterback with 178 Nov. 6 against the Dolphins. In addition, he became the first quarterback with three TD runs of at least 50 yards, the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era with a rushing TD in six straight games and the first quarterback to rush for at least 70 yards in five consecutive contests since at least 1950.
"Like we said after the season, I believe Justin took a step," Eberflus said. "He took a step in the right direction. He made some dynamic plays that the whole league was talking about. He did a really good job with that. Just like our whole team—it's a young team—he needs to take that next step as the rest of us do."
Having a true No. 1 receiver certainly should help. The Bears acquired DJ Moore March 15 in a blockbuster trade with the Panthers in which general manager Ryan Poles also obtained four draft picks in exchange for the No. 1 overall selection.
Moore arrives in Chicago after topping 1,100 yards in three straight seasons—with 1,175 in 2019, 1,193 in 2020 and 1,157 in 2021. Last year he had 63 receptions for 888 yards and seven TDs for a Carolina offense that had three quarterbacks all start at least five games: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker—who has since signed with the Bears to back up Fields.
Eberflus revealed that Fields "had a big smile on his face for about a week" after the Bears traded for Moore. The veteran receiver also figures to be happy about being able to develop rhythm and timing with one established passer.
"It's just continuity with a quarterback and having that same guy in there," Eberflus said. "One of his skills is being a great route runner. He's really good at that—and his ability to get open. His relationship with Justin is going to be huge. They're starting to build that already, and it's going to be exciting to see."
Moore's addition gives the Bears a strong receiving corps that also includes Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown and Velus Jones Jr.
Mooney has exceeded expectations since arriving in 2020 as a fifth-round draft pick from Tulane. He registered the 18th 1,000-yard receiving campaign in franchise history in 2021 and his 142 receptions in 2020-21 were the most by a Bears player in his first two NFL seasons.
Last year Mooney started the first 12 games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury against the Jets, catching 40 passes for 493 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bears are confident that Claypool will benefit from spending an entire offseason working at Halas Hall. After being acquired in a midseason trade from the Steelers last year, the 6-4, 238-pounder caught 14 passes for 140 yards in seven games.
"He came in midway last year, so it's a little bit unfair for him to come in and learn the offense that way and be an expert at it, where the other guys had all of spring, all of training camp and then the first part of the year," Eberflus said. "He's really diving into the playbook. He's studying on his own this offseason. He's working really hard to get that done."
Asked what Claypool needs to do, Eberflus said: "Really for him it's just about learning exactly what we're asking him to do with the route running, with the motions, because we have a lot of motions to our offense. It's an important piece for him to be able to be effective."
The Bears also bolstered their passing game by signing veteran free-agent tight end Robert Tonyan. The McHenry, Ill., native joins his hometown team after spending his first five NFL seasons with the rival Packers, catching 137 passes for 1,437 yards and 17 touchdowns while appearing in 68 games with 18 starts.
Tonyan will pair at tight end with Cole Kmet, an ascending fourth-year pro who led the Bears in all receiving categories last season with 50 receptions for 544 yards and seven TDs.
"[Tonyan] is another big target that is familiar with the offense that for us is really going to help us in the passing game," Eberflus said. "I think he's coupled great with Cole, those two, 1-2 punch, certainly in the third downs and red-zone area where you need those big-body guys that are always open that can big body guys and have a big catch radius."