Head coach: Matt Nagy. I really want Nagy to work out for the Bears. As a Bears fan (this will come up again), I personally wanted Nagy to get the job during the search that led to his hiring in 2018, and I still believe he can be the long-term answer for this franchise. After all, Saints coach Sean Payton thought enough of Nagy’s play-calling to steal a play that Chicago ran against New Orleans in the playoffs. Nagy has led this squad to the playoffs in two of his three seasons at the helm.
I can also understand why some Bears fans were still calling for Nagy’s dismissal after last season. Not only did he finish 8-8 for the second straight year, but the offense has kind of sucked. Don’t forget: When Nagy was hired, he had the reputation of being an offensive genius. But Chicago ranked 22nd or worse in points and yards in both 2019 and 2020, only getting into the top 10 in either category in 2018 (ninth in scoring). Did you ever watch a game in the Trubisky era when the Bears were trailing and you thought to yourself, Yeah, Mitch can rally the team here? No. You never did.
Here comes the part where I play peacemaker: While Nagy couldn’t fulfill his original mission of making the former No. 2 overall pick into a top-end QB, he did get to the playoffs twice with Trubisky, which might be as impressive as, say, winning a Super Bowl with a dropped-out-of-the-sky Tom Brady. Not quite, but close. And you can argue that having Trubisky as his QB1 makes it tough to fairly judge Nagy. But Trubisky is gone, having signed to back up Josh Allen in Buffalo, and Nagy is out of excuses. He needs to prove he’s the coach I believe him to be. It’s like when I finally upgraded my golf clubs. I could no longer blame them for my terrible shots — it was all on me. I’m sure Matt is up for the challenge. (And it doesn’t hurt that the Bears have a quarterback.)
Quarterback (for at least one game): Andy Dalton. You ever sit there late at night, looking for something to watch on TV, and you flip through all the channels, exhaust your options on Netflix and Amazon Prime, then finally settle on Friends? It’s not The Office, but it’s not terrible — a perfectly fine placeholder to occupy your mind until it’s time to go to bed. That’s the offseason signee in this situation: not quite what you were looking for, maybe starting to show his age, but still decent enough. And Nagy just reiterated that the Red Rifle’s QB1.
Look, we probably all want rookie Justin Fields to open the season under center, but when it comes to the first-round pick, it’s like when we first heard rumors of a legit Justice League Snyder cut. You wanted to see it so bad, but you also didn’t want to rush it before it was ready. In the meantime, the Bears can roll with the 33-year-old Dalton, a good quarterback who can win games in the right situation.
Projected 2021 MVP: Eddie Jackson, safety. As exciting as things could be at QB and on offense, there is plenty to be psyched for on defense. A lot of that starts with newly promoted defensive coordinator Sean Desai, a disciple of Vic Fangio. Bears fans are no doubt hoping the defense can get back to where it was in 2018, Fangio’s final season with the team, when Chicago ranked first in points allowed and third in total defense. And that’s what Desai plans to do, saying he wants to perform a “tune-up” and “make sure our players are playing to their strengths on a consistent basis and they’re going to buy into the system and the whys and the hows of why we’re doing certain things.”
That’s exactly what the Bears need. I know a lot of people will say Chicago needs to get something out of Robert Quinn, a huge free-agent signing last year that, to put it mildly, didn’t work out very well. While Quinn was working toward a measly 2.0 sacks, the dude he replaced, Leonard Floyd, was out there killing it with the Los Angeles Rams. But for me, the biggest need is for Eddie Jackson to play like he did in 2018, when he earned first-team All-Pro honors with six picks, two forced fumbles, a sack and three defensive touchdowns. Hopefully the jersey switch to No. 4 and that “tune-up” in defensive philosophy will help Jackson regain the form that made him one of the best safeties in the game.
2021 breakout star: Darnell Mooney, wide receiver. Well, Darnell has already broken out in the heads of at least two prominent defensive players. Witness the lengths to which Rams corner Jalen Ramsey went last month to let Bears fans know just how unbothered he was by their championing of a move Mooney made against Ramsey last season. And then Packers safety Darnell Savage also got his feelings hurt by some fans, too. Chicago surely hopes the 2020 fifth-rounder provides even more fuel for online beefing between Bears backers and opposing DBs this season.