The most intriguing positional battles to watch

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The Chicago Bears are scheduled to report to training camp on July 26, and there will be no shortage of positional battles to watch as camp and preseason unfolds. There are not only starting jobs on the line, but also roster spots.

With a new regime in place, there has been noticeable roster turnover this offseason, which includes many players on one-year contracts that prove it. But there are also plenty of young talents on the roster looking to establish themselves as long-term starters.

Here’s a look at the most intriguing positional battles ahead of Bears training camp later this month, from offensive line to defensive end to wide receiver.

1 offensive tackle

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

There are a lot of questions along the offensive line, but the biggest one concerns tackle positions. The Bears experimented with different combinations, which resulted in several tackle reshuffles, and that should continue in training camp.

While Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins started the offseason program at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, that changed in the final week of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. It was fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones at left tackle and Borom at right tackle, which presented another possible combination heading into training camp.

Jenkins was working with the second team offense at right tackle, and Matt Eberflus said he and his team will assess the position of the offensive line to see if they end up going back to Jenkins. But the real assessment doesn’t begin until the pads arrive, where Jones and Jenkins will compete for their respective tackling jobs.

2 Right Guard

AP Photo/Duane Burleson

Another concern along the offensive line is the hole in the right guard, which was vacated by James Daniels in free agency. General manager Ryan Poles attempted to shore up the position with the addition of Ryan Bates, but Buffalo ended up matching their offer sheet to retain him.

Unfortunately, that left the Bears with no clear answer to the position. Sam Mustipher and free agent addition Dakota Dozier split time at right guard this offseason. But Dozier landed on injured reserve with a leg injury apparent during the mandatory minicamp, which left Chicago even thinner at guard.

Eberflus said “all combinations are open” along the offensive line, which was his response to a question about Jenkins or Borom kicking inside to guard. If the Bears choose to go with Jones and Borom at tackle, Jenkins could be a candidate for that right guard spot. Or maybe a free agency veteran.

3 Defensive end

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The biggest question at the defensive end position concerns Robert Quinn’s future in Chicago. Quinn was a no-show for Chicago’s entire offseason schedule, including the mandatory minicamp. But Quinn remains on the roster, for now, which means he’ll be the best guy on the board for the Bears.

That leaves a starting job up for grabs on the other side, where third-year pro Trevis Gipson and newcomer Al-Quadin Muhammad will face off. Gipson is coming off an impressive season, where he totaled 9.0 sacks in relief from an injured Khalil Mack. Now Gipson is returning to his natural defensive position, where he will look to build on his strong season.

Muhammad joins the Bears after spending time with Eberflus in Indianapolis. Muhammad missed most of the offseason program, but he knows the new defensive scheme. While Gipson and Muhammad should see plenty of reps with Eberflus’ rotation along the defensive line, starting work will be one to watch.

4 slot cornerback

Matt Marton – USA TODAY Sports

The cornerback was the team’s biggest defensive weakness last season, and the Poles have taken steps to address it this offseason. This included Kyler Gordon being drafted in the second round, where he is expected to start on the outside against Jaylon Johnson. But that leaves the cornerback position up for grabs.

The Bears signed Tavon Young in free agency, and he immediately became the frontrunner for the nickelback job. He has the potential to be a huge asset, but there have also been injury issues. Still, his experience and production make him a low-risk, high-reward signing.

But Young doesn’t have the job yet as there’s competition in the slot between him and former sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr., who has shown signs of promise in his limited rookie action. Graham has the potential to carve out a role in this new defense. Regardless of who wins this battle, Chicago will have some depth in the slot with either Young or Graham.

5 Wide Receiver

Kamil Krzaczynski – USA TODAY Sports

The wide receiver position has been heavily criticized throughout the offseason, which makes sense considering Darnell Mooney is the only proven product for second-year quarterback Justin Fields. Chicago added third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr. and veterans Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown this offseason.

When looking at this receiving corps, there are really only two spots on the list up for grabs, with Mooney, Pringle, Jones and St. Brown being the top four options. And there’s plenty of competition for those final two spots, ranging from veterans like Dante Pettis and Tajae Sharpe to young players like Dazz Newsome and Chris Finke.

Right now, Pettis and Sharpe and the favorites clinch those last two spots on the receiver list. But anything can happen during the summer, where other players will be looking to prove themselves and lock in a valuable spot on the roster.

6 Nose Attack

Jon Durr – USA TODAY Sports

The Bears have a lot of change along the defensive line this offseason as they move to a 4-3 defense. They’ve lost three starters along the inside this offseason in Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Bilal Nichols. After failing to add Larry Ogunjobi after a physical failure, they signed Justin Jones to serve as a starting three technical.

While Jones is defined as the technical three, potential competition has emerged at the nose tackle position between veteran Angelo Blackson and second-year pro Khyiris Tonga. Blackson is someone who could play anywhere inside, but he’s an experienced veteran who could give him an edge over Tonga.

That battle saw more competition with the addition of Mike Pennel, who returns for his second stint in Chicago in as many years. Pennel failed to make the 53-man roster last offseason when the team went 3-4. Pennel can work in any system, but he has experience at a 4-3 during his two-year stint at Kansas City in 2019-20.

7 Strong Fullback

Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

With the Bears transitioning to a 4-3 defense, there’s a greater need at linebacker alongside Roquan Smith, who’s set for a huge contract extension this year. Chicago signed Nicholas Morrow in free agency, and he’s expected to be plugged into the weak side or center linebacker position with Smith filling the other.

That leaves the solid side linebacker position up for grabs, a position that Eberflus says rarely plays into his defense. Still, the favorite for the job appears to be Matthew Adams, who is also trailing Eberflus from the Colts to the Bears. Other players who could come into the equation include Noah Dawkins, Caleb Johnson and Joe Thomas. But right now it’s up to Adams to lose.

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