(670 The Score) The Bears entered this offseason with little excitement following consecutive 8-8 regular seasons but will enter training camp as a team filled with great intrigue. That's what comes with the drafting of a rookie quarterback like Justin Fields.
The Bears' trade up to select Fields at No. 11 overall in the NFL Draft in late April changed the dynamic surrounding the organization, which has been a middling team with little hope in the past couple years. While Fields isn't expected to start when the Bears visit the Rams for their opener on Sept. 12, his mere presence and future is highly anticipated.
The Bears will report to training camp at Halas Hall next Tuesday, marking the beginning of a season filled with renewed energy. While the focus will be on Fields, there are plenty of notable storylines to follow.
1.) Festival of intrigue
Make no mistake, there's no greater storyline for these Bears than the quarterback position.
Fields is currently the Bears' backup behind veteran starter Andy Dalton. When Fields will take over as the starter has been left open-ended by coach Matt Nagy, who has only said the Bears will know when he's "ready." In theory, Fields could prove that before the season opener against the Rams, but the full expectation is it will be Dalton starting that game, health provided.
A three-time Pro Bowler, the 33-year-old Dalton joined Chicago on a one-year deal in March. He wasn't the organization's initial priority, as the Bears pursued Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson on the trade market. A little more than a month after adding Dalton, the Bears then surprised by moving up for Fields, who has received all the buzz since touching down in Chicago.
The Bears are intent on giving Dalton his opportunity to lead a reworked offense, one that will likely count on running the football more than before under Nagy. In a perfect world for the Bears, Dalton would assert himself well as the starter, the team would succeed and Fields would patiently wait for his opportunity in 2022.
But these quarterback transitions rarely work seamlessly, which is why the focus during training camp will be on the rookie Fields. Chicago is eagerly awaiting his ascension to the starting role.
2.) Gold rush?
When the Bears' defense was one of the best in the NFL in 2018 and 2019, players and coaches would often remind of nose tackle Eddie Goldman's underappreciated presence. With Goldman opting out of playing in 2020, it was clear how important he was.
Without him, the unit took a step back, ranking 14th in scoring defense, 11th in total defense and 15th in rush defense. The Bears struggled to fill the void of Goldman, their space-eating anchor up front.
It remains unclear whether Goldman will be with the Bears for training camp. He skipped the team's mandatory minicamp in June but recently has been training locally, perhaps an indication that'll he be present for training camp. The deadline to opt out of this season has passed, meaning Goldman would need to choose a route such as retirement if he preferred not to play in 2021.
Getting Goldman back is just one part of this equation. It's also worth wondering what type of playing form he'd return in. Goldman is a player whose weight has fluctuated in the past, and staying in football shape as a defensive lineman can be a great challenge.
The Bears really need Goldman back this season, as his steady presence was sorely missed enough already.
3.) New identity?
There has never been a lack of talk from the Bears about running the football. Under the watch of Nagy, it has simply been a lack of action and execution in running the ball.
It was only late in the 2020 season, with the Bears in desperate state, that Nagy truly committed to the running game. The offense took on a new identity and found some success with a reshaped offensive line creating better rushing lanes for running back David Montgomery, who averaged 99.7 rushing yards in the last six games of the regular season. It was a glimpse of what the offense could be in 2021.
Regardless of whether it's Dalton or Fields at quarterback, the Bears need to rely on their running game. The offense will look slightly different depending on if it's Dalton or Fields under center, but an established ground attack can be something the Bears rely on.
Nagy finally seems committed to running the football more than 20 times per game, recognizing it's what can bring consistency to his offense. With that in mind, the Bears created a deeper, more dynamic backfield by signing veteran Damien Williams and drafting Khalil Hebert to join Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. They also traded up to select offensive tackle Teven Jenkins in the second round. He represents the highest tackle selected by general manager Ryan Pace in the seven drafts that he has overseen in Chicago.
Training camp will provide a look at what Nagy has in store for the offense, which he has already talked about being a scheme built around the run.
4.) Added edge?
Edge rusher Robert Quinn's lucrative contract pressed the Bears up against the salary cap this offseason, which ultimately forced them to release top cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Quinn, 31, signed a five-year, $70-million deal with Chicago in March 2020 and then produced just two sacks.