7 questions for the Bears as they approach their season opener vs. 49ers

Plenty of intrigue swirls around Justin Fields, Roquan Smith and others as the Bears kick off the season and their rebuild under GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus.

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A photo of Bears linebacker Roquan Smith taking a selfie with fans after a 2021 game at Soldier Field.

Roquan Smith is primed for a big season, but it could be his last in front of Chicago fans.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As the Bears get ready to launch a new season and a new era, here are some of the key questions they’ll answer:

Where will Justin Fields rank among the NFL’s QBs this year?
Around 20th among the 32 starters. That’s about where Mitch Trubisky was in his second season, too, in 2018. The big question for Bears general manager Ryan Poles is whether that’s the ceiling on what Fields can do or an incremental step toward cracking the top 10 in 2023.

Did Poles do enough this offseason?
Not quite, but it must be taken into account that he took over a sub-.500 team with salary-cap problems and depleted draft assets. A major teardown was necessary before he could really begin to build. Pass rusher Khalil Mack would’ve helped this season, for example, but financial relief and draft picks the Bears got by trading him were more important in the long run. The biggest objection to Poles’ offseason is that he did not provide concrete help for Fields at wide receiver and on the offensive line. He believes he did, but it takes a lot of faith to agree.

The most glaring need the Bears have is ...
Cornerback, still. A good defense needs at least three. Right now, Jaylon Johnson is the only sure thing. The Bears are hoping second-round pick Kyler Gordon makes an instant impact and Kindle Vildor can turn it around after being benched last season.

A rookie who will make the biggest impact is ...
Gordon. He’s pivotal. If he’s as good as the Bears say he is, that changes a lot about their shaky secondary. Poles said his staff decided in pre-draft preparation that it was completely unrealistic to think he’d still be available at No. 39 overall. He came from a Washington program known for producing great cornerbacks and has experience playing inside and outside.

The team MVP will be ...
Roquan Smith. He’s a do-it-all linebacker who is about to enjoy the perfect intersection of stepping into his prime and shifting into a role that maximizes his strengths. He’s going to have a monster season. And he’ll get a monster contract, but it might not be with the Bears.

How will Roquan Smith fare in a prove-it year?
He will, indeed, prove it. But there shouldn’t really be anything for him to prove at this point. He’s a fifth-year veteran who has lived up to the hype of being the No. 8 pick. He’s good against the run or in pass coverage, he’s a dangerous pass rusher and he’s smart.

What will the Bears’ record be in Matt Eberflus’ debut season?
5-12. It’s very difficult to predict something like that because so much will change for the Bears and their opponents. A November game that looks unwinnable now might have a completely different vibe by the time they get there. The Bears will struggle to win with a stripped-down roster, but they need to show signs that they’re headed the right way regardless.

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