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Bears camp: Analyzing the top issues as the opener looms

With the Bears’ Sept. 13 opener looming, Sun-Times Bears expert Patrick Finley examines what he has seen so far in training camp.

Bears tight end Jimmy Graham stretches with his teammates during training camp.
AP Photos

With the Bears’ Sept. 13 opener looming, Sun-Times’ Bears expert Patrick Finley examines what he’s seen so far in training camp:

The Bears quarterback situation is …

Unsettled, and will be even after the Bears name a starter. Coach Matt Nagy has been clear the competition won’t end once the season begins. The Bears’ first two games should set the starter up for success. If they don’t, though, the starter will be looking over his shoulder before the leaves start to turn.

Who will start at running back?

Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson on a technicality — in each of the past two seasons, Nagy has lined up his team in the franchise’s famed T-formation for the first play of the year. Presuming David Montgomery can’t return in time for the Lions game, plan on the Bears using a platoon, with Cordarrelle Patterson leading the team in carries with, say, 12.

Matt Nagy’s biggest challenge is …

To produce an above-average offense after hiring three new assistants to help chart a new direction; racing through a short offseason in which two quarterbacks had to share snaps, and have been underwhelming in doing so; and despite the fact that receiver Allen Robinson has been nursing an ankle problem and Montgomery a groin injury. If he can pull it off, the Bears’ defense can carry it the rest of the way. But we said that last year, too.

What problem have the Bears solved in training camp?

They have only one tight end on the roster who began last year’s training camp with them. The new tight ends have a limbo-low bar to clear this season — the Bears had the league’s worst unit last year — but seem up to the task. Jimmy Graham could be a dangerous red-zone weapon, while Notre Dame rookie Cole Kmet and free agent signing Demetrius Harris are upgrades over Adam Shaheen at the in-line “Y” spot. Even J.P. Holtz and Eric Saubert look like they’ll contribute.

What problem looms?

The quarterbacks, of course. Unless Nick Foles or Mitch Trubisky shock the league by being the best version of themselves for months at a time, the Bears’ 2021 starter isn’t on the roster. Presuming general manager Ryan Pace survives to make the decision, would the Bears trade for a veteran again next offseason? Or move up in the first round again?

Who has impressed you the most?

Roquan Smith has played most of the team’s padded practices without Akiem Hicks — who has a quad injury — there to keep blockers off of him. You can’t tell. Smith looks fast and rangy, and every bit the star the Bears believe he can be.

This rookie stands out …

I believe cornerback Jaylon Johnson will make the biggest impact this season, but he’s been limited in team drills while he works back from March shoulder surgery. So I’ll take receiver Darnell Mooney, who’s learned the playbook quickly and doesn’t seem intimidated by the NFL. His speed makes him a difference-maker.