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Team Previews: Chicago Bears

Jim Coventry

Coventry covers football and baseball for RotoWire. He started playing fantasy football in 1994 and won a national contest in 1996. He also nabbed five top-50 finishes in national contests from 2008 to 2012 before turning his attention to DFS. A published author, Coventry wrote a book about relationships, "The Secret of Life", in 2013.

THE SKINNY
With stark uncertainties at both quarterback and wide receiver, the offense could be more stagnant than a season ago. On the defensive side of the equation, an improving front seven may not be able to make up for deficiencies in the secondary. In the end, a .500 record would be considered a success.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

DILEMMA AT QUARTERBACK
After combining for 19 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions as a team in 2016, the Bears cleaned house at quarterback, parting ways with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. The front office first addressed the position with the offseason signing of Mike Glennon to a three-year deal. After bringing in the experienced arm, GM Ryan Pace made a huge statement and perhaps a gamble by moving up one spot in April's draft to nab Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick. Glennon isn't expected to be pushed by the rookie, but the four-year pro hasn't started since Week 9 of the 2014 campaign with the Buccaneers, tossing just 11 passes during game action in the meantime. Prior to those minimal reps, he compiled a 5-13 record, 58.3 completion percentage, 217 passing yards per contest and a 28:15 TD:INT ratio across 18 starts. As a result, Glennon presents an evident question mark in advance of training camp and the preseason slate. Trubisky, meanwhile, is even more of a wild card due to his collegiate resume. Receiving little more than spot reps behind Marquise Williams during his first three seasons at North Carolina, Trubisky earned all 13 starts as the signal-caller last year. A steep learning curve awaits, but Trubisky is unlikely to see the field in 2017, barring something befalling Glennon.

WHO WILL STEP UP AT RECEIVER?
Going into the 2017 season, the Bears appear to have one of the NFL's weakest receiving corps after losing Alshon Jeffery in free agency and cutting Eddie Royal. The good news: Cameron Meredith emerged last year, recording 888 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. Among his accomplishments, he hooked up with reserve QBs (Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley) for his four 100-yard outings. Furthermore, Meredith averaged 87.8 yards per game over the last five weeks. Behind Meredith, though, there are plenty of unknowns. After he was selected seventh overall in the 2015 draft, Kevin White has played in only four contests, all last season, due to two separate broken bones in his lower right leg. Avoiding the injury bug will be key to reaching his potential, but he'll also have to vie for targets with newcomers Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz. At tight end, Zach Miller took a step forward in 2016, notching the third-most yards through the air (486) for the Bears, but his campaign came to an early end due to a fractured Lisfranc in his right foot. Aside from TE Dion Sims, an offseason pickup, the rest of the corps includes unproven wideouts (Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson and Daniel Braverman) and tight ends (rookie Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker).

HOWARD POISED FOR THE MAINSTREAM
As a fifth-round selection in the 2016 draft, Jordan Howard was treated as an afterthought to begin his rookie season, but he seized the feature back role from Jeremy Langford after the latter suffered a serious ankle sprain in Week 3. Powered by an amazing run of nine straight games with at least 99 yards from scrimmage to end the campaign, Howard's 1,313 rushing yards were second in the NFL behind only Ezekiel Elliott. Although Howard will understandably be among the class of running backs off the board first, last year's production, specifically as a pass catcher, may be difficult to match. After Howard hauled in just 29 of 50 targets, the Bears added viable receiving backs during the offseason, namely Benny Cunningham in free agency and 2017 fourth-rounder Tarik Cohen. Although not a lock, one or both of those players could take over some of the passing-down work and negatively impact Howard's overall output. Secondly, his six rushing touchdowns came in four different games. An inconsistent offense hurt his cause, as he finished 19th in the NFL in red-zone rushes with 32, which was 10th-most out of the 12 1,000-yard backs from last season. Finally, he picked up 20 or more carries just four times, meaning if he doesn't maintain his first-year mark of 5.2 YPC, he may lack the volume to be an elite option on a weekly basis.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Jordan Howard
Howard was the one constant in the Bears offense last season, finishing as the sixth-ranked running back with 107.4 yards per game from scrimmage. The output was powered by seven 100-yard performances on the ground in 15 outings, which he'll aim to match in 2017 in a unit lacking an established quarterback or other skill-position talent.

BAROMETER

RISING: Cameron Meredith
With Alshon Jeffery in Philly, Meredith is the sole Bears holdover with a track record of recent success. Of the seven games in which he garnered six-plus targets last season, Meredith racked up at least 104 yards four times.

FALLING: Jeremy Langford
After posting 816 total yards as a rookie in 2015, Langford managed 3.0 yards per carry in the first two contests of this past campaign before getting injured in Week 3, giving Jordan Howard a chance to lead the backfield.

SLEEPER: Kevin White
If he can stay healthy, White will be given every opportunity to prove his worth as a 2015 first-round selection. To date, though, he's caught just 19 of 36 passes for 187 yards across four career appearances.

KEY JOB BATTLE RESERVE WIDEOUTS
The team brought in four reclamation projects to compete for roles on the team's wide receiver depth chart behind Kevin White and Cameron Meredith. Of the newly-signed, the Bears locked down Markus Wheaton, who has just one 100-yard game in 47 contests and one season with more than 12.8 yards per reception working with Ben Roethlisberger. However, because he profiles as an outside receiver, he'll have an excellent chance to secure a role, as Meredith will likely move into the slot on passing downs, based on his 2016 success in that role. Another new addition to the squad is Victor Cruz. Running routes as an outside receiver last year, rather than his typical slot role, he racked up 15.0 YPC, the second-best mark of his career, en route to 586 yards total. As the most accomplished wideout in this group of challengers, Cruz could offer more downfield ability than Wheaton. Both players seem to have a leg up on fellow offseason additions Kendall Wright and Rueben Randle. For instance, Wright has mustered 39.2 yards per game and scored six touchdowns in 21 games the past two seasons, while Randle didn't play a down after the 2016 preseason. The duo could very well be competing for two spots with holdovers Josh Bellamy, Daniel Braverman and Deonte Thompson.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Mike Glennon QB (from Buccaneers)
Will be the Week 1 starter, but Mitchell Trubisky is waiting in the wings.

Mitchell Trubisky QB (Rd. 1, No. 2 North Carolina)
Likely will need to learn the offense before getting a shot.

Kendall Wright WR (from Titans)
Hopes to return to 2012-14 form, when he averaged 806 yards per year.

Adam Shaheen TE (Rd. 2, No. 45 Ashland)
Division II athlete drafted to be the receiving tight end of the future.

Tarik Cohen RB (Rd. 4, No. 119 North Carolina A&T)
Explosive small-school runner profiles as a pass-catching back.

KEY LOSSES:
Alshon Jeffery WR (to Eagles)
Despite ample production, the oft-injured wideout moves on.

Jay Cutler QB (retired)
Eight-year stint with the Bears ends after more misses than hits.

Brian Hoyer QB (to 49ers)
Handed another chance to start in San Francisco.

THE INJURY FRONT
Zach Miller, TE Miller isn't a lock to be ready for training camp due to his recovery from a Lisfranc fracture that cost him the last six games of 2016. When ready, he'll be competing with a bevy of tight ends in an attempt to reclaim his role as the team's primary receiver at the position.

Kevin White, WR The 2015 first-round draft choice has been running at full speed this offseason, as he's working to come back from a fractured fibula that he suffered in Week 4 last year. He's fully expected to participate during training camp.

Cameron Meredith, WR The team's most impressive receiver from 2016 injured a ligament in his left thumb during OTAs, and with a potential 6-to-8 week recovery period, he may be ready for the start of training camp, assuming he doesn't encounter any setbacks.