As The Chicago Bears approach training camp in the upcoming week, many Bears fans will get to witness a preview of the 2022 season. While the Bears have been known for having a top defense throughout recent years, they are now approaching a new year filled with uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball. Is there cause for concern on the newly put together defense, or is there no room to worry? Today I grade the Bears defensive position groups before training camp is underway.
Projected Starters: Trevis Gipson, Robert Quinn
Early in free agency, The Bears shocked media headlines as they traded star pass rusher Khalil Mack. Mack, the longtime star of the franchise, was shipped off to The Los Angeles Chargers and now the Bears go into 2022 with seasoned veteran Robert Quinn and the young and upcoming pass rusher Trevis Gipson. Quinn had himself a career year as he put up 18.5 sacks in 2021, second in the league among all pass rushers. Gipson had a promising year as he is coming off a seven sack season while appearing in nine games. While Quinn’s future with the Bears remains uncertain as of right now, Gipson looks to improve and prove that he can be a quality starter in the league. With the new additions of Al-Quadin Muhammad, as well as fifth round pick Dominique Robinson, the Bears edge rushers go into 2022 with a promising young lineup of pass rushers.
Projected Starters: Khyiris Tonga, Justin Jones
During free agency the Bears looked to add veteran Larry Ogunjobi, a talented defensive tackle who finished the 2021 season with seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 29 solo tackles. However, due to a failed physical, the deal never went through and the Bears instead elected to sign 25 year old Justin Jones. Known primarily as a run stopper, Jones recorded three sacks, two tackles for loss, and 19 solo tackles while appearing in 11 games for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2021. While Jones is a mostly proven player, the same can’t be said for second year player Khyiris Tonga. Tonga appeared in 15 games, recording zero sacks, one tackle for loss, and 10 solo tackles. This group is very thin when it comes to depth, as Angelo Blackson is the only recognisable name to back up the starters. The Bears go into the season with perhaps one of the worst defensive tackle groups in the whole league.
Projected Starters: Roquan Smith, Nicholas Morrow, Matt Adams
Aside from star linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bears linebacking core is a shaky to say the least. The 2021 season was business as usual for Smith, as he tallied a career high 163 combined tackles, as well as 12 tackles for loss and three sacks. Smith looks to repeat in this upcoming season as he enters his contract year. Nicholas Morrow is coming off the 2021 season, having not played a single game. In 2020 however, he racked up 78 combined tackles along with nine pass deflections and one interception, which put Marrow in elite company with other coverage linebackers. Matt Adams played in all 17 games this past season, only recording 10 combined tackles. Adams isn’t seen as a quality starter as of right now, but the lineup could look different after he was arrested for illegally carrying a firearm. One notable name that could replace him is Jack Sonborn, the ex-Wisconsin standout who the Bears signed as an undrafted free agent. The Bears linebacker core doesn’t necessarily look bad, but there is lots of room for improvement.
Projected Starters: Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Duke Shelley, Tavon Young, Thomas Graham Jr.
The Bears beefed up their secondary in the 2022 draft, selecting two defensive backs, one of which was Kyler Gordon. Gordon put on an impressive season at Washington, intercepting two passes and deflecting seven. The Bears selected him with the 39 overall pick to help improve an underperforming secondary. Also starting at corner is third year veteran Jaylon Johnson, who had an impressive 2021 campaign as he broke up nine passes and intercepted one. Tavon Young was added in free agency to help improve the nickelback position. Young had one interception in 2021, along with three pass deflections and 35 combined tackles while starting seven games. As a signing that gathered nearly no attention from the media, Young looks to help improve the secondary from the get go. Thomas Graham Jr. and Duke Shelley are both young cornerbacks who were taken in the last rounds of their respective drafts. Graham Jr. shined against Justin Jefferson and the Minnesota Vikings, giving Bears fans hope he could play a larger role in 2022. Shelley appeared in 10 games in 2021, totaling up three pass deflections and 37 combined tackles. Shelley is a very good tackler but does not offer much in terms of coverage. The Bears cornerback room definitely improved this offseason as they look to build upon their 2021 performance.
Projected Starters: Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker
Eddie Jackson is somewhat of a shell of his former 2018 self. That isn’t to say that Jackson is a bad safety as he was able to reach a career high in combined tackles in 2021 with 76. Now that Jackson is under a new regime with a different defensive play caller, he looks to repeat his performance from the 2018 season. When the Bears reached the 48th pick in the 2022 draft, they selected Jaquan Brisker from Penn State in hopes of solving their problem at strong safety. Brisker seems like the answer, as in 2021 he secured two interceptions and defended five passes at Penn State. Reports also indicate that Brisker is performing well in practice. The Bears hope that the tandem of the veteran Jackson and rookie Brisker will prove to be a formidable duo in the secondary.
The Bears defense is by no means comparable to the top defenses in the league, but they do show a lot of upside and intrigue heading into the 2022 season. As The Bears begin to rebuild their team for the future, they look to do it on the backbone of the young talent they have on defense.