Bears’ Backfield Headlines 3 Training Camp Battles to Watch

Bears Training Camp

The Chicago Bears have had quite a few veteran players show up ahead of the official start of training camp on July 25. That included quarterback Justin Fields ahead of an undoubtedly critical season. But his job is secure leaving the intrigue over who will start to other position groups.

Watch These 3 Position Battles During Bears Training Camp

A Bears team that went 3-14 last season would figure to have any number of jobs available. But general manager Ryan Poles’ methodical overhaul of the roster has had the opposite effect.

Chicago has a few clear-cut – bordering on glaring – holes to fill on the current roster.

Beyond quarterback, the Bears’ linebacking corps appears to be squared away. The same can be said for the wide receiver room and secondary where at least three of the four (four of five counting nickel packages) spots are locked down while rookie Tyrique Stevenson has the early track on the final spot heading into camp.

There is a saying that the most popular guy in town is the backup quarterback. But, perhaps fittingly for Chicago, it could be the backup running back – technically the backup’s backup – that may have that moniker.

Running Back: D’Onta Foreman v. Khalil Herbert v. Roschon Johnson

The Bears bring back incumbent Khalil Herbert, 25, who rushed for 731 yards on 129 carries last season. He made 13 total appearances, drawing one start.

His 5.7 yards per carry ranked fifth in the NFL. He also tallied four rushing touchdowns and added 57 yards and one score on nine receptions. He was one of eight backs to tally at least 100 carries and finished the season with zero fumbles, per Stathead.

But Chicago signed D’Onta Foreman, 27, in free agency.

Foreman rushed for 914 yards on 203 carries in 17 games (nine starts) with the Carolina Panthers last season. He punched the ball into the endzone five times and fumbled just once. The size advantage certainly goes to Foreman as the 6-foot, 235-pound bruiser far outweighs the 5-foot-9, 212-pound Herbert.

He is not the receiver that Herbert is, drawing just nine targets all of last season. The Panthers went with a committee approach after trading Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers.

The dark horse in this race is not free agent acquisition Travis Homer whose role seems set regardless. Instead, it’s rookie fourth-round pick Roschon Johnson who has only drawn rave reviews since being drafted with the No. 114 overall pick.

Johnson, 22, splits the weight difference between Foreman and Herbert at 225 pounds.

He also enters the league with more bonafide receiving chops that his veteran teammates save for Homer. There is a good chance that the Bears will employ a committee approach this coming season – Herbert and former starter David Montgomery (now with the Detroit Lions) each had over 100 totes with the latter surpassing the 200-carry mark.

Foreman is only on a one-year deal and his addition might have tipped how the Bears view Herbert who was not great in pass protection last season. It would take some work but the opportunity could be there for Johnson.

Prediction:

Foreman wins out of camp and Johnson is the lead back by season’s end.

EDGE: Trevis Gipson v. Rasheem Green v. Domonique Robinson v. DeMarcus Walker

Chicago added to every position group this offseason, as any 3-14 team should. But the only area that remains a glaring question mark is along the defensive line and, specifically, on the edges where Domonique Robinson and Trevis Gipson are joined by newcomers Rasheem Green and DeMarcus Walker, both of whom were signed in free agency.

Fourth-year EDGE Terrell Lewis is also in the mix after standing out during Spring activities.

The Bears recorded just 20 sacks in 2022, their fewest since 2003 when they had 18 sacks and the second-fewest in franchise history. It is again, perhaps, fitting that they traded Robert Quinn – the franchise’s single-season sack leader – at the trade deadline.

In a telling sign, there is buzz that they have continued to explore the free agent market as head coach Matt Eberflus suggested they would.

“We’re interested in a lot of free agents,” Eberflus said on May 31 via the Bears’ YouTube channel when asked directly about adding a pass rusher to the roster. “We’re interested in a lot of guys, at all positions right now. So we’re just excited about being able to look at those guys, and potentially add as we go through camp and getting closer to the season.”

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So the winner of this battle may not even be on the roster just yet – the Bears added Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield right before camp last season and they went on to start 10 and five games, respectively, last season. There is brand recognition among the list of free agents including Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue.

But the still-rebuilding Bears could have to overpay to keep one of them from taking a similar market-value offer from a contender. Or they could turn to the next tier of players. That group still comes with name power but falls a step below the aforementioned duo.

Veterans Justin Houston and Carlos Dunlap are both 34 years old. The former had 9.5 sacks just this past season compared to the 4.0 for the latter. But Dunlap is just one year removed from posting 8.0 sacks with the Seattle Seahawks.

Prediction:

Walker and Green were added for a reason and should probably be expected to start. But look out for Robinson, a converted wide receiver in college whom Poles was previously high on.

Battle of the Pivot: Cody Whitehair v. Lucas Patrick

Offensive lineman Cody Whitehair, 31, is the second longest-tenured Bear behind long-snapper Patrick Scales. He slides back to center where he spent the better part of the first five seasons of his NFL career after two seasons spent exclusively at guard. Whitehair was the fourth-highest-graded lineman on the team behind Schofield, Teven Jenkins, and Braxton Jones, per Pro Football Focus.

The Bears let last year’s starting center, Sam Mustipher, walk in free agency, and he joined the Baltimore Ravens. Mustipher was one of two Bears linemen to appear in all 17 games last season. He also received the lowest grade out of any of the Bears’ rotation of linemen.

They do, however, still have 2022 offseason acquisition Lucas Patrick, 29, currently lurking as a utility interior lineman heading into camp.

Like Whitehair, Patrick has experience at both guard spots as well as at center.

But he was signed to be the team’s starting center last season. Injuries cut his campaign short on the front and back ends. But there could be a chance he earns the starting pivot spot. Especially if Whitehair’s previous issues with snapping the ball in shotgun formation – which often led to balls sailing over the quarterback’s head – resurface.

Prediction:

Whitehair wins the job but injuries get Patrick into the lineup at some point.