How Bears can have successful 2022 season even if wins don’t come originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Not all rebuilds are created equal. Some take off like a rocket, while others build gradually over time.
When a team is entering Year 0 of a lengthy rebuild, as the Bears are, it’s hard to set proper expectations for a team that most don’t expect to be in the playoff hunt this season.
How do you define success if your ceiling is seven or eight wins? Is it better to not overachieve in Year 1? Would finishing at the bottom of the conference be better in the long run than picking up a few wins over bad teams and toiling away in mediocrity?
Gauging the success of a rebuilding team’s floor plan can be difficult. But there will be clear checkpoints the Bears can hit this fall to ensure Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles’ rebuild gets off the ground as it should.
Justin Fields proves he’s the guy
A suspect offensive line and a coaching staff that refused to adapt its game plan to fit his strengths hampered Fields’ rookie season.
Despite that, Fields showed progress during the second half of the season, and the advanced stats paint a picture of a quarterback who got better with experience and is primed to make a giant leap in Year 2.
Fields’ development is critical for the Bears’ rebuild.
The Bears must exit the 2022 season with a clear picture of who Fields is and what he can be in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system.
Not having a long-term answer at quarterback will derail any rebuild. In the NFL, you either have a franchise quarterback you can build around, or you don’t.
Last season, he flashed his star potential in games against the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Putting Fields into Getsy’s quarterback-friendly, wide-zone scheme should allow the second-year quarterback to thrive doing what he does best.
If the Bears let Justin Fields be Justin Fields this fall, chances are they will exit the season with the belief they have their long-term guy under center.
Matt Eberflus’ methods work even if wins don’t come
The guy on the sidelines is the other essential component of the Bears’ rebuild.
Eberflus’ first season as an NFL head coach likely will be a trying one as far as wins and losses are concerned. But the 2022 Bears must show improvement throughout the season, absorb Eberflus’ message, and play hard even if the wins don’t come.
It’ll be more challenging to assess Eberflus this season than anyone on the field, but his growth as a head coach from Week 1 to Week 17 will be a critical measuring stick for the trajectory of this rebuild.
Rookies are who we think they are
Missing in the draft is one of the surest ways to kill a rebuild. If you miss on top 100 picks, you’ll almost certainly find yourself drowning as you try to swim upstream.
The Bears didn’t have a first-round pick this April, sending it to the New York Giants as part of the Justin Fields trade in 2021.
But the Bears still had two second-round picks and a third-round pick they had to nail. Eberflus and Poles addressed the secondary with both second-round picks, drafting cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker, and selected wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. out of Tennessee in Round 3.
Gordon and Brisker must start from Day 1 and show they can be long-term pieces in the secondary alongside cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Jones Jr. will likely have a more minor role initially, but his growth as an offensive playmaker will be significant for the Bears going forward.
Former Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said before the 2020 draft that however many picks you have in the first three rounds is the number of immediate contributors it should leave the draft with.
Those are words of advice to follow even if Mayock didn’t stick his own landing.
Gordon, Brisker, and Jones Jr. are Eberflus and Poles’ first draft swing. Hitting on them ensures the Bears have forward momentum entering an offseason in which Poles will have $100 million to remake the roster. Whiffing on any or all of them will mean the Bears have more holes to fill, and the new regime will have squandered its first chance to start reshaping the roster in their vision.
There are only so many ways to define a 4-13, 5-12, or 6-11 season as successful. Most of it will be projection anyways.
So, the final thing the Bears can hope to get out of the 2022 season is for one of their potential building blocks to break out and prove he should be sharpied into future plans.
That could be Trevis Gipson proving he’s a franchise edge rusher either in Robert Quinn’s absence or alongside the veteran. It could be Cole Kmet coming into his own as the field-stretch tight end and leak-action weapon in Getsy’s system. Perhaps it’s Larry Borom or Teven Jenkins showing the Bears have solved at least one bookend on the offensive line.
When it comes to premium positions in the NFL (QB, WR, TE, CB, Edge, OT), the Bears have only known commodity. That’s Jaylon Johnson.
If the Bears can get an unexpected breakout season from a player at one of those positions, it’ll go a long way toward building a sustained winner along Lake Michigan – err, Arlington Heights.
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