Gabriel: Assessing Bears' Strengths, Weaknesses

September 05, 2018 - 11:35 am
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(670 The Score) NFL rosters are always fluid because of injuries, waiver acquisitions and trades. That was well-reflected when the Bears acquired All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack from the Raiders on Saturday, which turned a potential weakness for Chicago into a strength.

With that in mind, let's assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Bears as they prepare to open a much-anticipated season at Green Bay on Sunday night.

Quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel

Bears fans have plenty of reason to feel good about the quarterback position, but it's still a question mark given that Trubisky is only in his second season. Trubisky played little in the preseason, so we need to see a couple regular-season games to know more about how he fits first-year coach Matt Nagy's new offense. It projects to get the best out of him. Daniel gives the Bears one of the best backups in all of football at the most important position on the field.

Running back: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Michael Burton

This position group is as good as any in the NFL. Howard has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and will still improve. Cohen is an explosive playmaker as a runner, receiver and returner. Cunningham is a good backup who can give any team 10 good touches a game as well as perform on special teams. Burton is the only question mark. He needs to be a good blocker in this scheme, and we haven't seen enough of him to know if he can perform the way the Bears need him to.

Receiver: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims

My, what a difference a year can make. Receiver was the weakest position on the Bears in 2017. It's now one of their strengths because of the work they did in free agency and the draft. This group has size and speed with three big-time playmakers in Robinson, Gabriel and Miller, who could be the best rookie receiver in the NFL. An added bonus is that in the preseason, White looked more like the player whom the Bears hoped they were drafting back in 2015. 

Tight end: Trey Burton, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker

The tight end is one of the most important pieces in Nagy's offense. Entering camp, the Bears' hope was that second-year pro Adam Shaheen could have a breakout year. There were positive signs early in the preseason, but then he suffered a serious foot injury that will keep him out until at least midseason. Burton could very well be the Bears' leading receiver. He’ll line up split wide, on the wing or in the slot and because of his speed and athleticism will create mismatches. He has a lot of big-play ability. Sims is the blocking tight end and will help the running game. Brown or Braunecker will try to fill the role that Shaheen was supposed to have. While both are athletic, they don’t have the natural traits or size that Shaheen has. Still, both can run and have special teams value.

Offensive line: Charles Leno, Eric Kush, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Brad Sowell, Rashaad Coward, James Daniels

On paper, this is a good-but-not-great group. The tackles (Massie and Leno) are solid, but neither will make it to the Pro Bowl. The backups are Sowell and Coward, and Sowell can also play guard. Moved to offense just this year, Coward came on quicker than expected and will challenge for a starting spot in another year. He has all the tools to excel at tackle.

When healthy, Long is one of the better guards in football, but he's dealt with myriad injuries in recent seasons. Kush played well in the preseason after getting hurt in training camp in 2017. After a strong rookie year in 2016, Whitehair leveled off last season. He has to get back to the way he played as a rookie. Daniels will be an eventual starter at either center or guard and has a bright future. At 21, he's raw and talented.

Harry Hiestand coaching this unit helps make it a strength. He's one of the most respected coaches in the game.

Defensive line: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols, Nick Williams

In Hicks and Goldman, the Bears have as strong an inside duo as there is in the NFL. Hicks should have been voted to the Pro Bowl a year ago, while Goldman is just getting to that level. Both Robertson-Harris and Bullard will rotate at the other five-technique. Williams a journeyman who had a surprisingly strong preseason and can play on the nose or the five-tech. He's athletic with some pass rush ability. Coming from the FCS level, Nichols is raw but strong and quick. I don’t think he will see a lot of action early on, but he'll play as the season progresses. 

Outside linebacker: Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts, Aaron Lynch

This position looked like it would be a weak link a week ago, with Floyd at less than 100 percent, Lynch having missed all of camp with an injury and Irving and Fitts being inexperienced. With the addition of Mack, it's a strength. He's one of the three or four best defensive players in the game. Mack and Floyd can give the Bears the best edge pass rushing they've ever had. If Lynch ever gets healthy, he can be a force. An added bonus for Lynch is that he could potentially rush from the inside in sub-package situations. Irving had a good preseason and is ready for snaps in reserve. Acho is a quality backup who can be good in a limited role.

Inside linebacker: Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe

Trevathan is the ideal inside linebacker in a Vic Fangio defense with his speed, quickness and instincts. But he has durability issues. Smith is a question mark at this time because he missed most of camp and hasn’t yet played a down in the NFL. Kwiatoski can start if he has to but is better off as the first player off the bench. He's capable of giving the Bears quality snaps, but there's concern whether he could do that for a whole season. Iyiegbuniwe is a raw rookie with upside who isn't ready to do more than play special teams right now.

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Marcus Cooper, Sherrick McManis, Kevin Toliver

Amukamara and Fuller are quality starters who next step is to create more turnovers. Callahan is a good slot corner who can play outside if he has to. I don’t trust Cooper as much as the Bears hierarchy does. He has talent but doesn’t play to it. McManis is a special teamer who won’t see time at cornerback unless there are a bunch of injuries. Toliver is a raw rookie who didn’t live up to expectations while at LSU. He has to prove he's ready to be a pro. The natural talent is there. In camp, he showed suspect ball skills.

Safety: Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson

The Bears have to hope that the starters stay healthy, as the depth at this position is suspect. Jackson had a great rookie season and should improve this year. Amos has shown steady improvement since coming to the Bears in 2015. I thought Houston-Carson was playing his best football this summer until he broke his arm. How effective he can be with a cast on remains to be seen. I see Bush as more of a special teams player. His instincts in coverage are average.

Specialists: Cody Parkey, Pat O’Donnell

Parkey should give the Bears their best placekicking since Robbie Gould. That said, he had a little stretch this summer in which he was inconsistent. O’Donnell’s leg strength isn’t his problem, but being consistent is. He needs to come up with the big kick when it is needed. In recent years, he hasn’t done that.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​​