5 Key Storylines For Bears Training Camp

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(670 The Score) Expectations for the Bears are at their highest in years as they open training camp on the campus of Olivet Nazarene on Friday morning.

The Bears were one of the NFL's surprises in 2018 as they ascended from worst to first in the NFC North and went 12-4 to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Now, they're the team to beat in the division and a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The reigning AP Coach of the Year, Matt Nagy enters his second season leading the Bears with little drama and few concerns following his team. But it will be a challenge for Chicago to win the division once again -- and an even greater one to make a deep playoff run.

Here are five storylines surrounding the Bears as they open training camp in Bourbonnais, beginning with the biggest one:

1.) Kicking battle

To his credit, Nagy has embraced the Bears' ongoing kicking competition -- at least publicly with cameras capturing an easy smile -- but one can presume he and general manager Ryan Pace would've preferred there to be a solution by the end of veteran minicamp in June.

The Bears have employed five kickers since cutting Cody Parkey in March. They made rookie minicamp in May into an eight-man open tryout. They've hosted more kickers inside Halas Hall than they would want the public to know. After all of that, there's still no clear answer.

Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro will be the two players competing to become the Bears' kicker as camp opens. They have both displayed promise, but neither has operated with consistency -- the key trait the Bears and every NFL team seek from the position.

Fry has never kicked in the NFL but was 14-for-14 on field-goal attempts playing in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. Pineiro was a two-time All-SEC kicker at Florida and was traded to the Bears from the Raiders in May. Neither has earned the job to this point.

With fans gathered along the sidelines of the practice field in Bourbonnais, this will be the first occasion in which the Bears have showcased their kicking battle to the public. 

2.) Mitch-a-palooza 

Since the start of the offseason in January and all through the Bears' work to this point, Nagy has referenced to the progress of Mitchell Trubisky with genuine excitement.

Nagy isn't alone. Receiver Taylor Gabriel referred to the difference in Trubisky as being "drastic." No stranger to developing quarterbacks, Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said, "The air about him, it's way different."

The 24-year-old Trubisky is considered a tremendous worker, and he isn't shy about expressing that desire to be great. His personality is becoming more open as he enters this third year in the league.

But now Trubisky must take all of his work this offseason and bring it to the field. Leading the Bears through training camp is the start of that process.

Trubisky completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. He earned the nod as a Pro Bowl reserve, a sign of his progress. But the Bears offense must make strides of its own after finishing 21st in total offense at 343.9 yards per game.

The Bears need more from their offense, and that starts with Trubisky.

3.) Run DMC

When were Pace, Nagy and the Bears set on parting ways with Jordan Howard and finding a better fit at running back? They would never say, but the team had scouts dispatched to college games watching running backs throughout last season.

Two days prior to the Bears' regular-season finale, they had scouts in San Antonio watching Iowa State running back David Montgomery, whom Chicago traded up to select in the third round of the draft in April.

Howard rushed for 3,370 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 24 touchdowns over 47 games in his first three NFL seasons. But the Bears didn't believe he was the right back for Nagy's system for several reasons -- namely his poor route-running ability that prevented him from being a weapon as a receiver. 

Now, Howard is an Eagle and the Bears have three running backs in veteran Mike Davis, Pro Bowler Tarik Cohen and the rookie Montgomery. How they will define roles for the trio isn't yet clear, but it should become more vivid during training camp.

Davis is a four-year NFL veteran whose abilities are known. Cohen is an electric player whom Nagy doesn't want to burn out. That likely means Montgomery will get the greatest workload at running back -- whenever he proves he's ready to handle the burden.

4.) No Ha Ha here

After signing a one-year deal in the offseason, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was eager to prove himself as a part of the Bears' defense. He will have to wait after suffering a knee injury late in the team's offseason program.

What happened to Clinton-Dix still isn't clear, but the Bears placed him on the physically-unable-to-perform list ahead of reporting to training camp. It leaves uncertainty regarding his status looking toward the start of the regular season.

Under the conditions of the PUP list, a player can't practice with his team but is eligible to return at any point in the preseason. Should those individuals not be ready for a return by the regular season, they must remain inactive and away from practice during the first six weeks.

A Pro Bowler in 2016, Clinton-Dix signed with the Bears with the hope that he could prove to be a high-level player once again. 

Instead, Chicago will first turn to fourth-year safety Deon Bush and hold out hope Clinton-Dix will be back for the regular-season opener at Soldier Field on Sept. 5.

5.) Those difficult decisions

NFL executives and coaches often speak of how awful it is to cut a player from the roster. Moving from 90 players to 53 is difficult, and that's just what teams want of their training camps and preseasons. It means players were competing at a high level and making decisions hard.

The Bears are in a fortunate position entering camp with continuity and an established roster that may not require surprise cuts. But there are some cut candidates potentially in play.

Fourth-year defensive end Jonathan Bullard has underwhelmed with respect to his third-round selection in the 2016 draft. While the Bears racked up 50 sacks in 2018, Bullard was shut out in that category. Meanwhile, fellow defensive linemen Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris have surpassed him on the depth chart.

Inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has provided valuable depth and even started 14 games over the last three seasons but could be vulnerable to a release. What plays in his favor is there isn't much else behind starters Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan at his position.

There are no other obvious candidate for a release, but Pace will be evaluating carefully as the Bears work through camp.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.