Bears breakdown: Andy Dalton will start the 2021 season, but who will finish?

With the preseason over and Week 1 looming, the Sun-Times’ Mark Potash answers the Bears’ biggest questions.

SHARE Bears breakdown: Andy Dalton will start the 2021 season, but who will finish?
Andy Dalton has started 142 games in 10 NFL seasons heading into the Bears’ regular-season opener against the Rams on Sept. 12.

Andy Dalton has started 142 games in 10 NFL seasons heading into the Bears’ regular-season opener against the Rams on Sept. 12.

David Banks/AP

I expect Andy Dalton to . . .

Be better than Nick Foles was in the Bears’ offense last season, but not good enough to silence the cry for Justin Fields to start. For all his experience, decision-making and intangibles, Dalton still is at the mercy of the offensive line, which is a huge unknown entering the season. If the Bears can run the ball, Dalton will hold on to the job longer than many Bears fans would like him to.

When will Justin Fields play his first snap?

Against the Rams in Week 1 in a red-zone or goal-line package designed especially for him. Coach Matt Nagy locked himself into Dalton being the starter, but he still wants to play with his new toy. He’ll find a way to incorporate Fields in key situations — like the Saints use Taysom Hill — and hope his luck has improved since he tried to emulate Sean Payton’s alternate-quarterback tack last season, only to have Mitch Trubisky suffer an injury.

Do you trust Matt Nagy?

I trust Nagy to keep this team together. It remains to be seen whether he can design and call an offense that will be effective in the NFL. But if things aren’t working out, I trust him to make the quarterback change sooner rather than later.

The Bears’ roster still is missing . . .

Proven offensive tackles in their prime. Jason Peters is 39. Larry Borom is a 23-year-old rookie. Germain Ifedi is 27 with a sketchy history. The Bears were right to search for upgrades over Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, but they might end up missing both of them if Peters shows his age and Ifedi doesn’t take the next step.

Which defensive player is under the most pressure?

After Robert Quinn? Kindle Vildor. Even if Jaylon Johnson fills the Kyle Fuller role in the secondary, if Vildor is a weak link in the defense, it will be costly at that position.

Which injured player will they miss the most?

Alec Ogletree should be an acceptable replacement for Danny Trevathan in the Bears’ defense. And we don’t know how big a hole Teven Jenkins will leave. But the Bears don’t have a player with quite the gadget ability of running back Tarik Cohen. Even if Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert are productive as complements to David Montgomery, the offensive dynamic Cohen provides Nagy is tough to replace.

I feel better/worse about the Bears than I did on the first day of camp.

Worse, with an explanation. The Bears have potential to surprise on offense if the line play leads to a running game that gives Dalton a chance. But the line didn’t show much in the preseason and is counting on everything clicking when the regular season begins. That’s a big expectation. Then again, you never can underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL.

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