Emma: 5 storylines to follow for Bears at OTAs


(670 The Score) After an offseason in which they improved their roster, the Bears are back work on the practice fields at Halas Hall.

The Bears began organized team activities Monday in Lake Forest (and will open their practice for media viewing Tuesday and several more times throughout the next four weeks of work) as a team with newfound hope for 2023. With that in mind, here are five important storylines to follow throughout OTAs.

Year 3 for QB1
There's nothing more important for the Bears in 2023 and beyond than third-year quarterback Justin Fields' development, and the practices in OTAs will offer an up-close look at what progress he has made this offseason.

After a challenging second season in which his Bears went an NFL-worst 3-14, Fields got away from Halas Hall for the early part of the offseason while training for what’s to come. He spoke at the end of last season about strengthening his leadership of the team and working to create greater chemistry with his offense.

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus, general manager Ryan Poles and their staffs are eager to see how Fields looks as he leads the offense through practices. Will he showcase a greater rapport with his receiving targets? Is his timing and rhythm in the pocket becoming more natural? Will a second offseason working with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy lead to more comfort?

The 24-year-old Fields is undisputedly a dynamic talent. His inconsistencies in his first two NFL seasons have stemmed from processing the defense from the pocket and the lack of playmakers around him.

Now, the Bears have revamped their offense and Fields has more structure with the same coaching staff and scheme in place from year to year. There are no excuses now for Fields.

New & improved?
The Bears are confident that two wide receivers in particular can help Fields have a breakout season.

Of course, the first is DJ Moore, whom the Bears acquired in March as part of a blockbuster trade that sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers. In those negotiations, Poles coveted Moore over a 2025 first-round pick and wouldn’t agree to the trade without him because he understood the need to provide Fields with a dynamic playmaker right now.

Moore posted 364 receptions for 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns over five seasons with the Panthers, and he'll now be the Bears' top target. Moore represents a significant upgrade for the Bears in their receiving group, and all eyes will immediately turn to how he clicks with Fields.

The other influential receiver for the Bears is Chase Claypool, whom Chicago acquired from Pittsburgh last November in exchange for its second-round pick. That selection turned into the No. 32 overall pick in this past NFL Draft, which represented a steep price to pay. Claypool had just 14 receptions for 140 yards and no touchdowns over seven games with the Bears and failed to inspire hope for his future.

The 24-year-old Claypool is entering a contract season in 2023 and has plenty to prove. After making that major investment in Claypool, the Bears hope to see him earn a long-term contract in Chicago and remain with the team as a trusted target for Fields.

In Claypool's short time with the team in 2022, there was disconnect between him and Fields. Claypool struggled initially with the scheme, then it seemed as if Fields didn’t trust him with the football.

Claypool expressed an interest in working with Fields away from Halas Hall this offseason. OTAs will provide a glimpse into where those two are in strengthening their connection.

Edmunds & Edwards
With plenty of salary cap space this offseason, the Bears spent the most at the linebacker position. Chicago signed veterans Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards to strengthen their defensive front and create what should be one of the better linebacking corps in the league.

The Bears are intent on Edmunds – who signed a four-year, $72-million deal, the biggest contract of the Poles era – playing middle linebacker. Edwards, who inked a three-year, $19.5-million deal, will work as the weak-side linebacker, a role that’s considered the playmaker spot in Eberflus’ defensive scheme. Jack Sanborn, who stepped in and played well as an undrafted rookie last season, will slide to the strong-side spot.

OTAs will offer the opportunity to see how Edmunds and Edwards look in the revamped defense and where their comfort level is in their responsibilities. Though practices in OTAs don't feature live contact, Edmunds and Edwards can still showcase their athletic talents and football IQs, which the Bears believe will help vastly improve their defense in 2023.

New-look O-line
During OTAs last year, the Bears inserted then-rookie Braxton Jones at left tackle. He went on to play 100% of the team’s snaps on offense in that role. Now, Jones is expected to be the lone offensive lineman who returns to his his starting position from 2022.

Eberflus and his coaching staff have stated on numerous occasions that they aren't afraid to use rookies in key roles. That means Darnell Wright, the No. 10 overall pick in the NFL Draft, should line up as the starting right tackle before the Bears hold veteran minicamp in June.

The Bears won't rush Wright into the starting right tackle position as he adapts to the playbook early on, but if he isn't comfortable there going into training camp in late July, there will be something wrong. In college at Tennessee, Wright proved to be willing worker and driven individual, so he should be ready to handle whatever challenge the Bears give him during OTAs.

There are question marks on the interior of the offensive line. The Bears appear ready to hold a competition between veterans Cody Whitehair and Lucas Patrick for the starting center spot. The team plans to slide Teven Jenkins over to left guard and start Nate Davis at right guard after signing him in free agency.

Whitehair seems to have the inside track on the center role, but there's a long way to go.

Straight hustle?
By now, the Bears are plenty familiar with the HITS principle of Eberflus. In OTAs, the H and the I – “hustle” and “intensity” — will be emphasized.

However, there are lines that can't be crossed, and that will be a storyline here in Eberflus' second season. Last June, the Bears were penalized for live contact during practices, which is prohibited until several days into training camp. That punishment was being docked one practice session, and it came after warnings from the NFL Players Association and after footage from practice revealed multiple prior infractions.

The Bears could face steeper penalties if they have contact issues during practices in OTAs or minicamp this year, so Eberflus will need to walk a fine line between demanding hustle and intensity from his players but also staying within the collectively bargained rules for the offseason program.

It’s also worth wondering whether any veteran players will skip these voluntary practices in part due to the intensity that Eberflus demands. Players aren't required to attend any offseason activities at Halas Hall until mandatory minicamp in June.

The Bears had near-perfect attendance for Eberflus’ first OTAs last spring.

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

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