Bears buzz in air as camp set to open

A new coaching staff, a young, potential franchise quarterback, and a trio of free agent offensive playmakers add up to a renewed sense of excitement for the Chicago Bears as the club prepares to open training camp for the 2018 NFL season Thursday in Bourbonnais.

For the first time in recent memory, fans will trek to the campus of Olivet Nazarene University with tangible hope for improvement. As Matt Nagy inherits the head coaching role following the disappointing tenure of John Fox, the offense appears poised to make a major jump in performance.

Nagy’s training under Andy Reid in Kansas City and Philadelphia made him an appealing choice for Bears General Manager Ryan Pace. A former Arena Football League QB, Nagy’s ability to communicate and relate to second-year QB Mitch Trubisky provides the key to Chicago’s fortunes. Trubisky showed promise in his rookie season, demonstrating the poise and athletic ability that triggered the Bears surprise 2017 draft night trade up with San Francisco.

With new weapons Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel, Chicago looks to elevate an offensive attack that leaned heavily on the legs of Jordan Howard.  A more proficient passing game should give the Bears more balance, and allow Howard and Tarik Cohen to become more effective and keep defense guessing.

In addition, Nagy’s staff was bolstered by the return of acclaimed offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who returns to the Bears and the NFL after stops in the collegiate game at Tennesses and most recently, Notre Dame.  Hiestand’s fundamentally-sound teaching and no-nonsense attitude is exactly what Chicago’s underperforming offensive line needs.  Beset by injuries and juggling personnel, the Bears seek more consistency along their front wall to enable Trubisky the time needed to implement Nagy’s run/pass options.

Defensively, much remains the same, starting with the welcome return of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio’s touch has helped Chicago regain some of its defensive swagger, as the Bears have steadily improved under his watch.  The key to 2018 appears focused on continual progress by a handful of young players, including OLB Leonard Floyd, DT Eddie Goldman, and young safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos.  In 2018 first-round LB Roquan Smith (barring a long holdout), Chicago has a plug-and-play defender that should match up well with modern offenses. Smith possesses the range, striking ability, and coverage instincts to be a four-down player.

The question mark defensively is whether the Bears can muster a consistent pass rush and find a suitable bookend at OLB to Floyd. Gone are veterans Willie Young, Pernell McPhee, and Lamarr Houston, descending players with limited production but who have not yet been fully replaced. Expect the Bears to scout the preseason heavily as they explore alternatives to boosting this position.

While Ryan Pace’s stint as Bears General Manager contains its share of blemishes, the reconstruction phase appears to have a steady foundation worthy of optimism. When the whistle blows for the first workout Saturday, the Bears begin the work of digging out of the NFC North basement and competing with division heavyweights Minnesota and Green Bay.

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