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Top training camp storylines on Bears offense

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

When the Bears kick off training camp at Halas Hall a week from Tuesday, these will be the top storylines to watch on offense:

(1) The development of Justin Fields

The second-year quarterback seemingly possesses all the physical traits and intangibles to become the star player the Bears envisioned when they traded up to select him with the 11th pick in the 2021 draft. But the former Ohio State standout had an up-and-down rookie year and is in the process of learning a new offense for the second time in as many NFL seasons.

The Bears expect Fields to take a big leap from Year 1 to 2 after he threw for 1,870 yards with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating in 2021. Unlike last year when he entered training camp as the No. 2 quarterback behind veteran Andy Dalton, Fields will take reps with the first-team offense this summer, just like he did throughout the entire offseason.

The 6-3, 228-pounder will continue to work closely with new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko, particularly on footwork, timing and fundamentals. The new coaching staff appears intent on putting Fields in the best position to succeed by accentuating his strengths and working to improve his weaknesses. That no doubt will involve taking advantage of his rare speed and athleticism. Last season, he rushed for 420 yards and two touchdowns on 72 carries.

Football is obviously a team sport, but no individual will be more closely monitored by fans and media in training camp than Fields. The Georgia native has seemingly done everything possible to prepare himself for a successful season. A tireless worker on the field and in the weight room and classroom, he trained with receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet in Atlanta before the Bears' offseason program began in an effort to build chemistry with his teammates on and off the field.

(2) Competition on the offensive line

Ideally, the Bears would like to have their five starting offensive linemen already in place so the unit could develop cohesiveness. But non-contact offseason practices didn't allow the team to fully evaluate individual linemen, so the competition for jobs when the pads come on in training camp is expected to be fierce.

The most intriguing battles likely will take place at the tackle positions, where three young players appear to be vying for two spots. The Bears experimented with two combinations during offseason workouts: 2021 fifth-round pick Larry Borom lined up at left tackle and 2021 second-round choice Teven Jenkins played right tackle for the first six practices, while 2022 fifth-round selection Braxton Jones worked at left tackle—with Borom moving to the right side—for the final six workouts.

It's unclear how they'll line up in the first practice a week from Wednesday, but it will especially be interesting to see whether Jones remains at left tackle. The Southern Utah product impressed the Bears with his athleticism and football intelligence in offseason practices—attributes he demonstrated in college and during a private pre-draft workout conducted by Bears assistant offensive line coach Austin King in Utah.

Jones is one of four offensive linemen the Bears selected in this year's draft, a calculated move that first-year general manager Ryan Poles made to not only add talent and depth at the position, but to create competition. After choosing Jones, the Bears picked tackle Zachary Thomas and center Doug Kramer in the sixth round and guard Ja'Tyre Carter in the seventh.

"It's human nature to relax when there's no threat to your job, so I want these young guys to come in and compete for jobs," said Poles, who played offensive line at Boston College before signing with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2008.

(3) The emergence of a second wide receiver

With the departure of veteran Allen Robinson, Mooney enters training camp as the Bears' undisputed No. 1 receiver. Since his arrival in 2020 as a fifth-round pick, the Tulane product has exceeded expectations: his 142 career receptions are the most by a Bears player in his first two NFL seasons, and last year he topped 1,000 yards in an offense that started three different quarterbacks and ranked 30th in the league in passing yards.

While Kmet, a third-year tight end, no doubt will be counted on as a key contributor in the passing game, it's important that a second receiver emerges behind Mooney. It could be a player the Bears added during the offseason, when they signed veteran free agents Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown and David Moore; selected Velus Jones Jr. in the third round of the draft and traded a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for N'Keal Harry.

Pringle joins the Bears after catching 67 passes for 898 yards and seven touchdowns the past three seasons with the Chiefs. Last year he made the most of expanded playing time, establishing career highs with 42 catches, 568 yards and five touchdowns.

None of the receivers, however, seemingly has a higher ceiling than Jones, an explosive playmaker who boasts a rare combination of size and speed. Built more like a running back than a receiver, he ran a 4.31 in the 40 at the NFL Combine, the fourth fastest time among all participants.

Jones also appears to be NFL ready; he played in 61 games over six college seasons at USC (2016-19) and Tennessee (2020-21). He blossomed last year, more than doubling his career totals with 62 receptions for 807 yards and seven TDs. He was also named SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year after averaging 27.3 yards with one TD on 23 kickoff returns and 15.1 yards on 18 punt returns.