After a tumultuous preseason that included a Roquan Smith hold-in, uncertainty about Teven Jenkins’ fit with the team and three exhibition victories under new coach Matt Eberflus, the Chicago Bears are eight days away from their Sept. 11 season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field.
The Tribune’s Brad Biggs this week answers questions about a potential new stadium in Arlington Heights, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and more.
Any idea on how many seats the new stadium would have? — @hegotswag56
That’s a good question. Perhaps the team will share some details at the meeting it is holding Thursday at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. We’re talking about a proposed new stadium — the Bears have yet to close on the land that was home to Arlington International Racecourse.
I spoke last year with Marc Ganis, the president of Chicago-based sports consulting firm Sportscorp, who is very familiar with league and stadium issues, and this question came up. As you probably know, Soldier Field has the smallest seating capacity in the NFL at 61,500. Ganis said a new stadium — if it is built — would be larger, but the standard seating capacity would remain under 70,000. The Los Angeles Rams, who have the newest stadium in the league, announced 70,445 fans for the season opener against the Bears in 2021. Sixteen stadiums, including Soldier Field, have a listed capacity below 70,000. Fourteen are between 65,000 and 69,596.
“I doubt they will go that large (the 81,441 capacity of Lambeau Field in Green Bay),” Ganis told me. “I would think the high-60s would be the right number. There’s an odd cost factor associated with the geometry of the stadium. The most expensive seats to construct are the seats that are the furthest away from the field as you expand the building. As you increase the capacity, you have to expand the size of the entire building. So you add five rows at the top of the stadium to add another few thousand seats. Those are the most expensive seats to build while being the seats that generate the lowest revenue.
“Is it 66,000? 69,000? Do they have an ability to have standing room to get it to 72,000? That is the general range.”
Are the Bears leaning toward an open-air stadium, closed dome, retractable roof if/when they move to Arlington Heights? — @bret_buganski
The team hasn’t offered specifics regarding what they envision for a possible new stadium. If the Bears want to maximize revenue for a new stadium, which they would control, they would need a roof on the structure. That would allow them to host events year-round. A retractable roof would be significantly more expensive. I am sure we will have answers to many of these questions in the near future — along with a slew of new questions.
What are the top three positions offensively and defensively that need to be addressed later this season or next? — @tannermartello
It would be difficult to address positions of need in-season because the Bears would be relying on players who are on the street or cut loose by other teams. It’s a little premature to assess what their needs will be without seeing them play 17 games, but a few positions come to mind. General manager Ryan Poles tried to make a splash in free agency by signing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who failed a physical. I don’t know that they have the signature three-technique tackle who is qualified to play the Cover-2 scheme. Could Justin Jones prove to be that player? Sure, it’s possible. Poles knows he will need to address the wide receiver position. Darnell Mooney has the ability to emerge as a legitimate No. 1. I don’t think he’s there yet, but if he’s still ascending, he could get there. The collection of others they have at the position looks like No. 4 options in a really good passing game. So receiver help is needed. The offensive line looks like a big TBD. Let’s see how rookie Braxton Jones fares at left tackle and how Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom perform.
Of the players the Bears added in the last few days, are there any who stick out as having a chance to start or at least playing significant snaps in Week 1 against the 49ers? — @ajlight315
Poles added seven players on waiver claims since the initial 53-man roster was formed Tuesday afternoon. Three of them were undrafted rookies. The one addition who will have an opportunity to contribute immediately is defensive tackle Armon Watts. He essentially took the roster spot of Khyiris Tonga, who started all three preseason games and was waived to create room for Watts. I don’t know if Watts will start right away, and there is some question about his ability to defend the run, but he has the ability to get after the quarterback from the inside, so I could see him being part of the rotation right away.
Which of the receivers not named Darnell Mooney has stood out to you? Dante Pettis has looked solid enough for a bigger role. — @eduerrwaechter
Pettis had a nice summer in training camp and preseason and definitely has drawn the attention of quarterback Justin Fields. We haven’t seen a lot of Byron Pringle because he has been out with a calf injury. The team has indicated he will be back soon. Equanimeous St. Brown had moments in training camp in which he looked good. Rookie Velus Jones missed a lot of practice time with an undisclosed injury that is a good bet to be a soft tissue deal. Outside of Mooney, this group looks like possible No. 4 options in a high-level passing offense. Maybe St. Brown or Pringle will step forward, and Jones’ ceiling is unknown at this point. I see Pringle, Pettis and St. Brown being the top options after Mooney. What order they’re in could depend on the week and the matchup.
If Luke Getsy does well and gets a head coaching gig in 2023, do the Bears have a Plan B? — @bbshooks
If Getsy is hired elsewhere as a head coach in 2023 — and the Denver Broncos interviewed him for the job that went to Nathaniel Hackett — it would be a great development for the Bears. That would mean Fields had a huge season and took a major step forward to prove he is the franchise quarterback. Face it: If Fields is so-so this season, that won’t do a ton for Getsy’s stock as a potential head coach. But if Fields puts together a really good season with the state of the offensive line and talent at wide receiver, that would make Getsy a commodity. It would be a blow for the Bears to lose Getsy to another team after one season, but he would be leaving with the offense turned around and the quarterback playing well. I know it sounds counterintuitive to say the best thing that could happen to the Bears is if Getsy is hired as a head coach elsewhere, but I truly believe that. As far as a replacement, quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko will have a big hand in the development of Fields and has coached a variety of offensive positions.
What can we expect from wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and how long do you think it will take for him to get up to speed in this offense? – @jazz_trpt
We’re not going to know the answer to the first part of your question until we figure out the second part. He’s a young player with a new playbook, and it’s difficult to say how long it will take him to digest it all to become comfortable with the playbook. I touched base with a scout about Smith-Marsette, who said he has good burst and can sink and separate in his routes. The scout said Smith-Marsette’s hands were only OK and that concentration and detail were bigger questions than ability. Sometimes when a young player is released and goes to a new team, it’s a humbling experience and ends up being a springboard to greater success. Perhaps that will be the case with Smith-Marsette.
What player besides Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith needs to have a successful season for the Bears defense to have a successful season? — @rossblumenfeld
A lot of players will need to play well for the defense to improve from last season. If I had to single one out, it would be defensive tackle Justin Jones. The three-technique position is critical to the success of a Cover-2 scheme, and for the Bears to be really good up front, Jones will need to outperform his two-year, $12 million contract.
How many times has a rookie fifth-rounder started at left tackle for a team in the last 10 or so years, and how did they fare? — @birdderby
It’s rare to find a rookie drafted in Round 5 or later start at either tackle position. According to Pro Football Reference, only 10 such rookies have started eight games or more in their first season dating to 2010. The list includes three Bears:
- 2021: Larry Borom, Bears, eight starts, primarily RT
- 2020: Michael Onwenu, New England Patriots, 16 RT
- 2019: Dennis Daley, Carolina Panthers, 9 LT
- 2019: Justin Skule, San Francisco 49ers, 8 LT
- 2016: Joe Haeg, Indianapolis Colts, 14 RT
- 2014: Seantrel Henderson, Buffalo Bills, 16 RT
- 2013: Michael Bowie, Seattle Seahawks, 8 RT
- 2013: Jordan Mills, Bears, 16 RT
- 2012: Dennis Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles, 10 RT
- 2010: J’Marcus Webb, Bears, 12 RT
The Eagles’ Jordan Mailata is listed for 10 games started at left tackle in 2020, but he was drafted in 2018 and didn’t make his debut until 2020. Only two left tackles are on the list. Daley was just traded to the Tennessee Titans, and Skule was part of the 49ers’ cuts to reach the 53-man roster limit.
Does Alex Leatherwood project as a tackle only, or is there a chance — say if Cody Whitehair isn’t back next season — the Bears could have these two maulers at left and right guard with Leatherwood and Teven Jenkins? — @georgeholdcroft
The Bears really need to take their time in evaluating Leatherwood and then determine where their needs are before they pick a position for him. He lined up at right tackle during practice Thursday, and the hope, for the Las Vegas Raiders, was that he could be a right tackle when he was drafted 17th overall in 2021. Leatherwood struggled massively at right tackle, and the Raiders moved him inside so he wouldn’t be as exposed. Leatherwood is athletic enough to play tackle. But it didn’t click for him last season for whatever reason. The team and Leatherwood have a lot of ground to cover before we project him as a starter and call him a “mauler.” He didn’t play well at guard last season either. We still have a lot to see from Jenkins as well, but he had a solid preseason.
I don’t mind the Bears taking a chance on Alex Leatherwood, but why didn’t they just wait until after he cleared waivers? It looks as if no other team placed a claim on him, and I feel that’s a little much for a player who hasn’t shown much after one year. Hopefully he’s a steal. — @kidhaywire
The Bears were the only team to place a claim on Leatherwood and in getting him they also inherited his contract, which includes $5.9 million in guarantees. Had Leatherwood cleared waivers, any team that signed him could have gotten him for much less. So why did the Bears place a claim on Leatherwood? They clearly got good reports on him and believe strongly that they can help turn around his career. Perhaps they were worried another team or teams would put a claim on him. Acquiring him wouldn’t have been a sure thing if Leatherwood cleared waivers — he would have been free to sign with any team. The Bears took their shot and now have a chance and some time to bring him along. It’s a small investment if Leatherwood develops into a player for them, and it sure beats trading for an underperforming first-round pick — such as the Minnesota Vikings did when they picked up wide receiver Jalen Reagor from the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings are on the hook for Reagor’s contract and forked over compensation to acquire him. The Bears didn’t lose any draft capital in signing Leatherwood.
I know that priority for choices from the waiver wire are given in the order of team records from the previous season, but how does the NFL handle it? Does a player appear on the waiver wire with the first team in line having a certain period to give a thumbs up or down, like the time given between picks in the NFL draft? — Jerry L., Chicago
When player is placed on waivers, the other 31 teams have until 3 p.m. the next day to claim that player. In the event multiple teams place a claim, the team highest in the order is awarded the player. The deadline is the same no matter where each potential claiming team is in the order.
One of the most impressive things from the preseason was the Bears’ few penalties. During the Matt Nagy years, the Bears seemed to have far too many penalties, often at very inopportune times. Is it wishful thinking, or do the Bears thus far seem much more disciplined under Matt Eberflus? — Norm G.
The Bears were really good in three preseason games at limiting penalties, and you certainly would look for that to carry over to the regular season. Penalties are going to happen and will pop up at inopportune times. Are the Bears more disciplined? Possibly. They appear to be more organized. You’re not seeing the pre-snap penalties on offense that came with confusion and struggles getting the play calls in and that sort of thing. I think that is what most people found irksome about the offense under Nagy. The Bears had way too many pre-snap penalties and burned too many timeouts because the sideline operation wasn’t smooth.