Five questions as Bears report to camp

As Chicago Bears players and staff begin their migration to Bourbonnais for Thursday’s first official training camp practice, the organization is at a crossroads following a disastrous 3-13 campaign in 2016. Whether they can improve or turn things around is part of an overarching series of questions as the football season begins.

Here are five things to think about while the countdown to the regular season opener (September 10) continues:

1. Is this the last year for head coach John Fox and his staff?  Fox is in the midst of his worst stretch as a veteran NFL coach. His two-year Bears record of 9-23 compares poorly to previous stops in Carolina and Denver. Worse yet was last year’s club that went winless on the road and struggled at home. Granted, the roster purge (only 9 players remain from the team Fox inherited) and injuries have contributed to the backslide, but Bears fans are looking for improvement and a clear direction in 2017. Not only is Fox coaching for his NFL career, but a slew of assistants departed after last year’s debacle and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, a respected presence, enters the final year of his contract. Chicago blocked the 49’ers from interviewing Fangio and possibly bringing him back to his former club. How Fox handles the QB position and development of young players will be key to his future.

2. Can Mike Glennon do enough to maintain his hold on the QB spot?  Fans coming to Bourbonnais are likely more intrigued with Mitch Trubisky’s development, but Glennon has been promised the caretaker role for now. He’s faced with extra pressure knowing Trubisky is waiting in the wings, whether it’s this season or next. Glennon has a lot riding on his play as well. He can cement his NFL future with the Bears, or more likely another NFL squad, with consistent play and strong leadership. It’s a situation he probably didn’t foresee when signing a huge free-agent deal in March, but the reality is that starting QB’s are given their shot and either sink or swim very quickly.  Glennon can turn to Jordan Howard as a safeguard and depend on generally decent protection from the offensive line. How much he will be aided by an unproven receiving corps could portend his future.

3. Who are the offensive playmakers? Other than Howard, who picked up where he left off in college by displaying a no-frills, straight-ahead running style based on patience and power, the Bears offer little to frighten opposing defenses. Much will be counted on by a wide receiver group large in numbers but short on production. Former first-rounder Kevin White faces a make-or-break year while Cameron Meredith needs to display that 2016 wasn’t a flash in the pan. Veteran reclamation projects like Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, and Markus Wheaton will have their opportunities to prove they can still play.

4. Can the defense improve enough to improve overall record?  A revamped secondary still has major questions. One corner position is up for grabs and the safety slot alongside free-agent import Quintin Demps remains unsettled. Demps is coming off a career season with 6 interceptions for Houston last year, but is 32 and in the twilight of his NFL career. How much does he have left? Former first-rounder Kyle Fuller has yet to fulfill his early promise and it wouldn’t be shocking if he was dealt during camp. On the positive side, the front seven appears solid and is chocked with depth. 2016 first-rounder Leonard Floyd could blossom in his second season.

5. Does anyone outside the organization care?  The Bears non-competitive performance on the field over the last several seasons has led to a malaise among Bears fans and followers. Training camp attendance at Bourbonnais has slipped noticeably and empty seats were plentiful at Soldier Field over the last two months of the 2016 season. Trubisky’s arrival and potential could be invigorating for a fan based largely accustomed to losing. Still, the Bears lack of progress, particularly under Pace and Fox, means patience is wearing thin. Another sub .500 season, which observers expect, could be the tipping point for another round of organizational changes.

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