Ranking the Bears’ position groups after the roster was trimmed to 53 players Saturday:
1. Outside linebacker
Starters: Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn.
Backups: Barkevious Mingo, James Vaughters, Trevis Gipson.
There’s little doubt that a motivated Mack can be one of the best players in the game. There are questions about Quinn, though. The Bears gave him $70 million this offseason to do what Leonard Floyd couldn’t — rush the passer. But he practiced in full just once during training-camp practices open to media — at the Soldier Field scrimmage — and has been used sparingly in team drills. The Bears described their caution as a ramp-up that’s the result of a personal issue.
2. Defensive line
Starters: Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris.
Backups: John Jenkins, Brent Urban.
The Bears began training camp with nose tackle Eddie Goldman opting out and ended it with Hicks missing 13 days because of a quad injury — only to return for the final, low-impact practice. After missing 11 games last year, Hicks’ return is one of the most anticipated this season. Presuming he’s healthy, the position group profiles as the heartbeat of one of the NFL’s best defenses.
Starters: Eddie Jackson, Tashaun Gipson.
Backups: Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Sherrick McManis.
The Bears gave Jackson a four-year, $58.4 million extension in January, locking him in for the duration of his prime. He’ll have his third new running mate in as many years. The Bears haven’t chosen between Gipson and Bush yet. Gipson has 23 interceptions in the last eight seasons, and Bush is entering his fifth year with the team. The Bears also are keeping Marqui Christian, but he has been suspended for two games and does not count against the 53-man roster.
4. Inside linebacker
Starters: Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan.
Backups: Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods.
It’s easy to predict big things for Smith in his third year and point to Trevathan’s leadership traits, but the Bears have to be concerned about the depth behind them. Smith and Trevathan missed 11 starts last season, and their replacements, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Nick Kwiatkoski, left via free agency.
5. Wide receivers
Starters: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Ted Ginn.
Backups: Darnell Mooney, Riley Ridley, Javon Wims.
The Bears have less than a week to make Robinson an even richer man — or risk letting him play out the final season of his contract. They’re talking up Miller as an improved, motivated No. 2 receiver, but there are questions about the rest of the group. Ginn provides a deep threat, and Mooney is a dark horse to do the same.
Starters: Kyle Fuller, Jaylon Johnson.
Backups: Buster Skrine, Duke Shelley, Kindle Vildor.
The Bears flirted with playing Skrine at outside cornerback in base coverage and moving him to the slot on passing downs, but Johnson could be ready to play outside full-time after returning cautiously from March shoulder surgery. After cutting Kevin Toliver, expect the Bears to add a veteran piece, either on the active roster or practice squad, as insurance.
7. Tight ends
Starter: Jimmy Graham.
Backups: Cole Kmet, Demetrius Harris, JP Holtz, Eric Saubert.
The Bears believe they’ve made their largest leap at tight end. It won’t be hard for that to come true — last year, no Bears tight end totaled more than 14 catches or 91 receiving yards. Last season, only two teams in the NFL ran fewer plays with two tight ends on the field than the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy will change that, with Graham in the slot and either Kmet or Harris — or both — blocking.
8. Offensive line
Starters: LT Charles Leno, LG James Daniels, C Cody Whitehair, RG Germain Ifedi, RT Bobby Massie.
Backups: T Jason Spriggs, G/T Arlington Hambright, G/T Rashaad Coward, G Alex Bars.
The Bears can talk all they want about establishing a running-game identity, but it will come down to this: Can their line, which has just one new starter from last season, move defenders out of the way? Line coach Juan Castillo has ushered in a new attitude and a tweaked rushing attack. Spriggs hasn’t practiced since hurting his knee two weeks ago. If he misses the opener, Coward would serve as the swing tackle.
9. Running backs
Starter: David Montgomery.
Backups: Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Ryan Nall.
Montgomery’s health will be the storyline of Week 1. If his groin injury — suffered Aug. 26 and believed to need two to four weeks to recover — heals in time to play in Detroit, he’ll be the lead back. If not, Nagy will have to mix and match for a week or two. It’s encouraging that the Bears have not, to this point, pounced on a veteran rusher.
Starter: Mitch Trubisky.
Backup: Nick Foles.
On a Friday night during Labor Day weekend — the definition of a news dump — word leaked that the Bears picked Trubisky to start over Foles. Let’s hope the call was more a matter of urgency in a shortened preseason than a sign of their faith in the decision. It appears to be the former; Nagy said earlier in the week that knowing the winner would benefit the Bears more than gamesmanship would hurt the Lions. Third-stringer Tyler Bray is expected to land on the practice squad.
11. Special teams
Starters: K Eddy Pineiro, P Pat O’Donnell, LS Patrick Scales.
The Bears’ kicking situation is more precarious than it was at this time last year — and that’s saying something. Pineiro made the roster but, because he’s been fighting a groin injury, Cairo Santos might actually be more likely to play in the opener. The Bears have said all along they plan to have two kickers on hand as a coronavirus precaution. Santos will head to the practice squad if he clears waivers Sunday but could play a bigger role.