First of a two-part series
There is no shortage of questions regarding the 2017 Bears as they prepare to report for NFL training camp on Wednesday.
Answers are in much shorter supply for a team that is 9-23 in two seasons under head coach John Fox and must show significant improvement in order for the coach to keep his job.
Here are several of the most compelling questions heading into camp, which kicks off with Thursday’s first practice in Bourbonnais.
Q: How will the first-team snaps be distributed among the quarterbacks?
A: None of the four quarterbacks on the roster — Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky, Mark Sanchez and Connor Shaw — has ever taken a regular-season snap for the Bears. Shaw played briefly last preseason before suffering a fractured leg.
So there won’t be nearly enough practice reps in camp to get all four QBs up to speed in the offense and in sync with the offensive starters, no matter how hard they studied in the off-season. Glennon begins the season as the starter, so he’s the priority when it comes to first-team reps. The expectation is that Trubisky will get the next most work with the first team. As an eight-year veteran, it’s expected that Sanchez won’t require as much work to get up to speed.
Q: To what extent will some key injured players be able to participate?
A: Guard Kyle Long (ankle, shoulder), linebackers Danny Trevathan (knee) and Pernell McPhee (shoulder, knees), tight end Zach Miller (foot), quarterback Mark Sanchez (knee), wide receivers Kevin White (ankle) and Cam Meredith (thumb), center Hroniss Grasu (knee), rookie safety Eddie Jackson (fractured leg) are the most noteworthy players who will be watched carefully as they return to workouts from injury.
Trevathan will begin camp, and probably the regular season, on the physically unable to perform list. Long isn’t yet 100 percent after ankle surgery, and although he avoided shoulder surgery, that issue must be monitored.
McPhee, whose bad knees have plagued him for two seasons, had shoulder surgery on March 23. Meredith might not be 100 percent at the start of camp, but should be fine by the start of the regular season, barring a setback.
Miller is a viable threat when healthy, but his roster spot could be in jeopardy if he cannot contribute immediately.
Q: Who will fill the slot receiver spot?
A: To help offset the loss of Alshon Jeffery, the Bears signed three veteran wide receivers in free agency — Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz.
The problem is that all three fit best in the slot.
All have had varying degrees of success in the NFL, but not lately, as injuries have disrupted all three. Bears officials hope the 30-year-old Cruz can recapture the magic that made him a major threat for three years from 2011-13 (241 catches, 3,626 yards).
Wright (27) and Wheaton (26) are young enough that they could still have some upside. Wright had 94 receptions for 1,079 yards in 2013 before knee and calf injuries put him on the sidelines. Wheaton caught 44 passes for 749 yards and a 17.0-yard average per catch in 2015 before a shoulder injury limited him to three games last season.
Q: Which rookie will emerge as the training camp sensation?
A: Last year it was seventh-round wide receiver Daniel Braverman, whose impressive early play did not carry into the preseason or the regular season.
A good bet this year is fourth-round running back Tarik Cohen, a 5-foot-6 jitterbug whose quickness clearly stands out.
Fourth-round safety Eddie Jackson will also be worth watching, especially if he is sufficiently recovered from the broken leg that prematurely ended his final season at Alabama last year. If Jackson is 100 percent, he could compete for the punt-return job, a role in which he was spectacular before his injury last season.
Q: What can 2015 rookie stars Jordan Howard and Cody Whitehair do for encores?
A: Howard, a fifth-round pick out of Indiana, rushed for 1,313 yards as a rookie, more than Matt Forte (1,238), Anthony Thomas (1,183), Gale Sayers (867) or Walter Payton (679). And he didn’t start the first three games. The Bears are deep at running back, but Howard is the reason they were No. 6 in average gain per rush last season, one of few bright spots on a 3-13 team.
Second-rounder Whitehair started all 16 games at center despite never having played the position at Kansas State, where he was a guard and tackle. If veteran Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton stay healthy, they and Whitehair will form an elite interior O-line.
Coming Monday: Bob LeGere answers some key questions facing Quentin Demps, Pernell McPhee, Kevin White, the coaching staff and more.
• Follow Bob’s Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.
Here’s a glance at the tentative training camp schedule for the Bears at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. Visit chicagobears.com for the latest schedule and time changes.
Day, date: time
Thursday, July 27: 11:15 a.m. (no pads)
Friday, July 28: 11:40 a.m. (closed to the public)
Saturday, July 29: 11:15 a.m. (Vamos Bears Day and Back to School Fair)
Sunday, July 30: 11:15 a.m. (Youth Football Day)
Monday, July 31: 11:30 a.m. (no pads)
Tuesday, Aug. 1: OFF
Wednesday, Aug. 2: 11:15 a.m. (Ladies Day)
Thursday, Aug. 3: 11:15 a.m.
Friday Aug. 4: 11:40 a.m. (closed to the public)
Saturday, Aug. 5: 3 p.m. (Family Fest at Soldier Field)
Sunday, Aug. 6: OFF
Monday, Aug. 7: 11:15 a.m. (Armed Forces Day)
Tuesday, Aug. 8: 11:15 a.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 9: OFF
Thursday, Aug. 10: Bears vs. Broncos (Soldier Field)
Friday, Aug. 11: OFF
Saturday, Aug. 12: 12:05 p.m. (Kids Day) (no pads)
Sunday, Aug. 13: 11:15 a.m.