Veteran Bears who could be challenged by the rookie class of 2023

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus didn’t say as much directly when he took the podium in Halas Hall at the start of the Bears’ rookie minicamp, but the message was clear.

There will be competition; some that started last year will not do so in 2023.

“We believe in all those guys that are currently on our roster, or they wouldn’t be here,” Eberflus said when asked about rookies pushing veterans for certain jobs. “So all those guys are going to compete. And obviously, we believe in the guys that we recruit. So when you start to increase your talent on your roster, the competition gets better and it gets more. And I think that’s a healthy thing, you know.” . The NFL is all about competition. It’s about, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get these places. And you have to compete for that spot.'”

Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles injected a slew of much-needed talent into a roster that collapsed during a 3-14 season a year ago. Most of that talent came in the form of 10 draft picks, with first-round pick Darnell Wright leading a group that has many Poles convinced the ship is headed in the right direction.

Wright will start Day 1 at right tackle, barring an injury.

But he won’t be the only rookie to start when the Bears take the field in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. Several key members of the second class of the Poles landed in a positional battle the moment they set foot on Halas.

As a result, several veterans are on notice as the second week of OTA kicks off.

Kindle Vildor

This is the headline after the Bears moved to the second round to draft Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson at No. 56.

Stevenson is a long, physical, pressing cornerback with good ball skills. The Bears’ plan is for Stevenson to win the No. 2 corner job, allowing Kyler Gordon to focus solely on the nickel.

Last season, Vildor allowed 26 catches on 39 targets for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Vildor’s 112.0 passer rating vs. 13th-worst among cornerbacks with at least 290 coverage snaps, according to PFF. Gordon was right on top of him at 110.8.

While the Bears would prefer Stevenson to win the job, they don’t plan to give it to the rookie. Stevenson worked the second field during the first media-watched OTA session, while Vildor, Jaylon Jones and Michael Ojemudia all earned first-team replays with Jaylon Johnson absent.

Khalil Herbert

The departure of David Montgomery to the Detroit Lions seemed to indicate that Herbert would take over in 2023. The signing of D’Onta Freeman gave the Bears a solid double in backfield.

Then came the selection of Texas running back Roschon Johnson in the fourth round. From the moment the Bears landed Johnson, his infatuation with the do-it-all running back was clear. The Bears view Johnson as a franchise and cultural pillar.

Those guys don’t sit on the sidelines for long.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and running backs coach David Walker said the running back room would have an open competition for carries, with Herbert starting the offseason as RB1.

Herbert is a one cut and return explosive. He fits perfectly as a home run threat in the Bears’ wide-zone scheme. But Herbert struggles with pass protection and hasn’t been a reliable pass-catching weapon early in his career.

If Johnson can dominate the offense and show he can check both boxes, he’ll have a good chance of winning the job.

Velus Jones Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis

There is no receiver that fits into this category. They are everyone who comes after Chase Claypool on the depth chart.

The acquisition of DJ Moore puts Darnell Mooney and Claypool in roles that befit their abilities. It also means less will be expected from St. Brown and Pettis, who were key targets in a no-hit passing game last fall.

While the Moore trade gave some structure to the receiving room, the selection of Cincinnati wide receiver Tyler Scott packed it with people. The former junior Olympian gives the Bears a dynamic vertical threat who can stretch the field and make catches in traffic. At the very least, Scott should force safeties to respect the deep pass, opening up the midfield for Moore, Mooney and Cole Kmet to operate.

Scott’s arrival also means that one or two of the three receivers mentioned above likely won’t make the starting 53-man roster.

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The Bears like St. Brown’s run-blocking. Both Pettis and Jones have value as special teams return men. Scott’s arrival should light a fire under Jones, who struggled during his rookie season.

It’s a four-horse race for WR4 this offseason, and Scott’s speed is potentially the biggest trump card.

justin jones

The Bears signed Jones last offseason after Larry Ogunjobi’s deal fell through. Jones is a valuable leader in the locker room, but he only had 27 pressures and three sacks last season.

Eberflus’ defense requires a Disruptive Technique of Three to function at optimal effectiveness.

Enter: second-round pick Gervon Dexter and third-round pick Zacch Pickens.

The Poles selected two penetrating defensive tackles on Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft.

While Dexter will have to be rebuilt from the ground up, Pickens has already begun to display the driving, fast-breaking ability the Bears covet in a three-point technique.

The Bears will rotate their interior defensive linemen to keep them fresh. Expect Jones to be the starting three coach on Day 1, but if Pickens can consistently wreak havoc, he could eat Jones’ plays.

Jack Sanborn

Sanborn was the feel-good story of the Bears’ dismal 2022 season.

The undrafted rookie is a confident tackler, plays faster than he tested at the combine and is almost always in the right spot.

With the signing of Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards in free agency, Sanborn is slated to be SAM’s starting linebacker.

However, the Bears drafted Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell in the fifth round. Sewell was a projected top-60 pick a season ago, but saw his draft stock drop after a mixed final season in Eugene.

Sewell is a violent downhill linebacker with exceptional blitz skills. Sewell struggles in coverage and doesn’t have great lateral quickness, but he’s a better athlete than Sanborn. He fits Eberflus’s linebacker mold better than Sanborn.

Sanborn will have the upper hand going into training camp, but it won’t be a surprise if the competition goes all the way.

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