Four Bears with the most to prove during the 2022 training camp

In one week, the Bears will report to Halas Hall for the first training camp of the Ryan Poles-Matt Eberflus era.

With a new regime in town, almost every player on the Bears’ roster enters the season fighting to prove to Eberflus and Poles that they should be part of the Bears’ long-term rebuild plans.

However, the pressure is not equal. The Bears have a few players who will be under the gun immediately when camp starts.

Here are the four Bears with the most to prove during training camp.

Teven Jenkins

Let’s start with the obvious.

Jenkins, a 2021 second-round pick of the previous regime, had a tough rookie season that was derailed by a back injury. The Oklahoma State product reshaped his body this offseason, hoping to become quicker and more agile to thrive in the Bears’ new wide-zone attack.

A conversation with the new regime early in the offseason put Jenkins at right tackle, with Larry Borom handling the left side. That was the case for the first half of the Bears’ offseason program. But things changed late in OTAs, with the Bears shifting Borom to right guard and putting rookie Braxton Jones in as the first-team left tackle.

Eberflus was adamant that was part of the plan as the Bears tried to find the best offensive line combination to put in front of Justin Fields.

Jones spent the second half of the offseason program taking a crash course in being a starting NFL left tackle. Jones very well could factor into the Bears’ future offensive line plans, but the best thing for all parties would be for Jenkins to reclaim his starting right tackle spot and give Jones a full NFL season to get stronger and faster to match the NFL game.

Jenkins has the talent to be a franchise tackle. But it’s up to him to show Eberflus and Poles they should believe in the talent of a guy they didn’t draft. That task begins in training camp.

N’Keal Harry

Harry finally got out of Bill Belichick’s doghouse when the Bears traded a 2024 seventh-round pick to the New England Patriots for the wide receiver.

The Patriots selected Harry in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft ahead of Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown, and DK Metcalf. Harry never found his footing in New England, and now he heads to Chicago looking to resurrect his NFL career.

Harry is a sound run blocker, a trait that should fit well in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme. He’s a big-body receiver who could give Justin Fields a jump-ball threat in the red zone and a reliable target on third down.

However, Harry struggled to gain separation during his time in New England and will enter a wide receiver room filled with people fighting to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

Harry must hit the ground running and build chemistry with Fields quickly to cement himself as a vital member of the WR corps.

Tavon Young

The Bears signed Young to a one-year deal this offseason with the belief he’d be the team’s starting slot corner.

But Young has been pushed and may have been surpassed by Thomas Graham Jr., who has impressed the Bears’ new staff with his work ethic this offseason.

“I love, you know, he puts in extra time,” cornerbacks coach James Rowe said of Graham during OTAs. “He comes up and meets with David Overstreet, who coaches our nickels mostly. He comes up and meets up with him every morning at 7 am Very smart player. He is able to handle the workload outside and inside. He is intent on being good , and we love what we see from him so far.”

Graham got a fair amount of first-team reps during mandatory minicamp. Young has struggled to stay healthy during his career, so he needs to be available during training camp to win the battle for the starting nickel spot.

Cole Kmet

There’s no doubt Kmet will be the Bears’ starting TE1 when the 49ers visit Soldier Field on Sept. 11. The pressure Kmet faces during training camp won’t be to win a starting job or earn a roster spot. Instead, training camp will give Kmet a chance to build off a strong minicamp and start to cement himself as part of Poles and Eberflus’ long-term vision.

A second-round pick of the previous regime, Kmet never popped the way Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace believed he would when they selected him out of Notre Dame. But Kmet now finds himself in an offensive scheme that can bring the best out of him.

“You kind of see how the tight end is involved in the run scheme and off of that, the play-action movements and all those types of things can be really advantageous for tight ends,” Kmet said during OTAs about Getsy’s offense. “You see guys around the league in similar offenses, whether it was Tonyan a couple years back with Green Bay. Or you look at what George has done in San Francisco. You even look at some things with Minnesota and how they’ve used tight ends the past five years or so. You see those things and you can see how tight ends can get really involved in this offense.”

With the lack of talent at wide receiver, the Bears need Kmet to become a true field-stretching weapon for Fields this season. If Kmet can make a concerted effort to be a good run blocker, he’ll have opportunities to make big chunk plays down the field in this offense.

Entering Year 3 after two disappointing seasons, Kmet is approaching a career crossroads in Chicago. With Eberflus and Poles evaluating everyone on the roster, this will be the most important camp of Kmet’s young career.

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