The Bears' switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense will enable third-year pro Trevis Gipson to return to the defensive end position he played at Tulsa.
A 2020 fifth-round draft pick, Gipson lined up at outside linebacker in his first two NFL years in Chicago, emerging as a playmaker over the second half of last season.
"It's actually more comfortable for me," Gipson said Tuesday after the Bears conducted their first minicamp practice. "I can get off faster with my hand in the dirt. In a two-point [stance], I'm looking around, there's a bunch of movement in the backfield. I can create more explosion when I have a hand in the dirt, getting off in third down or whatever the case is."
Gipson blossomed last year, especially after Khalil Mack sustained a season-ending foot injury. Gipson appeared in 16 games with nine starts, registering 39 tackles, 7.0 sacks, seven tackles-for-loss, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two pass breakups. He excelled down the stretch, recording four of his seven sacks in the final five games and three of his five forced fumbles in the last two contests.
"It boosted my confidence a good amount," Gipson said. "I started gaining more confidence. I started becoming more comfortable in my play, my strengths and weaknesses, knowing what I need to use best."
Work in progress: On the first day of minicamp Tuesday, the Bears lined up Larry Borom at left tackle and Teven Jenkins at right tackle. But coach Matt Eberflus cautioned reporters against drawing any conclusions.
"We're looking at a lot of things right now," Eberflus said. "So, you might see guys at a lot of different spots. A guy could be playing 'X' receiver or 'Z' receiver or 'U' tight end or 'Y' tight end, left defensive end, right defensive end.
"We're going to play with a lot of different combinations right now because we're just trying to figure out what guys do and what they do best. You could see those guys flip during OTAs. They could flip sides. We're just looking to see what guys do best."
With the regular season still five months away, the Bears are in no hurry to cement their starting lineup.
"We're going to make sure that we look at all the information and then make a good decision," Eberflus said. "This is a work in progress. We're going to work this all the way through to the first game. We're going to try different combinations in there, on both sides of the ball."
Dependability piece: Determined to put Justin Fields in the best position to excel, general manager Ryan Poles studied quarterbacks who flourished in their second NFL seasons. One commonality he discovered was the existence of a talented playmaker at one of the skill positions.
"It's the dependability piece," Poles said in February at the NFL Combine. "Sometimes it can be a slot receiver, sometimes it can be a second tight end, sometimes it's a big outside [receiver]. There's just a relationship piece that they can go to that they trust, that they work with all offseason, that they get that connection that allows them … it's almost like they get bailed out with that guy, and I think it's important."
On Tuesday, Fields was asked about the traits he's seeking in that "dependability piece."
"There are multiple things," Fields said. "One, you've got to have that connection. Y'all have to be on the same page with what concept you're running, with what coverage you're running to. And then the second thing is that 'it' factor, that dog mentality where no matter what the situation it is, what coverage it is, who's guarding you, that he's going to make a play.
"Just that mentality and having that mentality in big moments will describe that player that you're talking about."
Audition time: Five veteran free agents are participating in this week's minicamp on a tryout basis: receivers JoJo Natson and David Moore, cornerbacks Ryan Lewis and Greg Stroman and safety Christian Uphoff.
Natson has primarily been a return specialist in three seasons with the Jets (2017) and Rams (2018-19), averaging 20.6 yards on 35 kickoff returns and 7.7 yards on 61 punt returns in 32 games.
Moore has appeared in 50 games with 14 starts over five seasons with the Seahawks (2017-20), Broncos (2021) and Packers (2021). He has caught 78 passes for 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged 8.8 yards on 21 punt returns.
Lewis has played in 25 games with nine starts over four seasons with the Cardinals (2017), Patriots (2017-18), Bills (2018), Colts (2019), Eagles (2019), Dolphins (2019), Commanders (2020) and Giants (2020).
Stroman appeared in 20 games with three starts in three seasons with the Commanders from 2018-20 after arriving as a seventh-round draft pick.
Uphoff entered the NFL last year with the Packers as an undrafted free agent from Illinois State. He was released last Aug. 31 as part of Green Bay's final cuts.