Chicago Bears facing lots of questions heading into camp

  • Whether or not Chicago Bears defensive back Quintin Demps can help in the takeaway department for the defense is just one of many lingering questions as the Bears head into training camp this week.

    Whether or not Chicago Bears defensive back Quintin Demps can help in the takeaway department for the defense is just one of many lingering questions as the Bears head into training camp this week. Associated Press

Updated 7/24/2017 6:27 AM

As the Bears return to Bourbonnais and Olivet Nazarene University for their third training camp under head coach John Fox, we take a look at several more important questions facing the team.

From the acquisition of safety Quintin Demps to pass rusher Pernell McPhee to wide receiver Kevin White to all the coaching staff changes, there are a lot of questions to sort out during camp, which begins with Thursday's first practice.


Q: Can free-agent safety Quintin Demps provide the takeaways that the defense has been missing the past two seasons?

A: Before the past two seasons, the fewest takeaways the Bears had in a season -- even a nine-game season -- was 20. Their total of 11 last season was easily a franchise worst, and the worst in the NFL. In 2015, they had just 14 takeaways.

The Bears intercepted just 8 passes last season, tying the 2015 team for fewest in franchise history, and no individual had more than 2 picks. They recovered only 3 fumbles last season, the fewest in team history.

In addition to the 8 interceptions in 2015 -- cornerback Kyle Fuller was the only one with 2 -- the Bears recovered just 6 fumbles, their third-lowest total ever.

Demps had 6 picks for the Houston Texans all by himself last year in his ninth season. He also had 4 in 2013 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 4 in 2014 for the New York Giants.

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He has some advice for his takeaway-challenged teammates in the secondary, especially the safeties, who combined for 1 interception last year:

"Turnovers are not something you go get," Demps said. "It's something you let come to you by doing your job first and then helping out. You'd be surprised how they come to you by doing your job first and then helping out."

Q: Will the Bears ever get their money's worth from Pernell McPhee?

A: No. McPhee will never be the player the Bears thought they were getting for $38.75 million over five years in 2015.

He's produced 10 sacks in two seasons while battling knee problems, but he's still an emotional leader, and he could produce some pass-rush pressure as a role player. But, even though he's just 28, McPhee seems unlikely to ever be an every-down contributor.

Q: Will Kevin White become the go-to wide receiver that was expected when the Bears took him seventh overall in 2015?

A: That would be a stretch this season. White has the size (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) and the speed (4.35 in the 40). But injuries have kept him out of 28 of 32 games in his first two seasons.


Optimists point out that White has had two years in the system, so he should hit the ground running this year. But his shin and ankle injuries have prevented him from running routes in games and even in practice, and his lack of refined route-running was about the only knock on him coming out of West Virginia.

Still considered raw as an NFL route-runner, he will need game experience to get better, so it's unrealistic to expect greatness from him until late in the season, if it occurs at all in 2017.

Q: How quickly can the roster adapt to a large group of new assistant coaches?

A: Six changes to John Fox's coaching staff have been made since the end of last season, and while the new assistants have had a full off-season with their players, both sides remain in transition.

In mid-January, Jeremiah Washburn replaced Dave Magazu as offensive line coach, Curtis Modkins took over for Stan Drayton as running backs coach and Roy Anderson was hired to take over as the assistant defensive backs coach for Sam Garnes.

Five weeks later, Zach Azzanni replaced Curtis Johnson as wide receivers coach, Brandon Staley succeeded Clint Hurtt as outside linebackers coach and Derius Swinton was hired to take over for Richard Hightower as assistant special teams coach.

Q: Will special teams be any more special than the mediocre group of 2016?

A: There was nothing outstanding about last season's group, which has plummeted since the glory days under Dave Toub (2004-12), when the Bears were annually one of the top 10 special teams units in the NFL.

No area impressed last season, with the possible exception of kickoff coverage, which was No. 7. But the Bears were last (32nd) in punt-return average allowed, 27th in field-goal percentage, 29th in net punting average and 25th in gross punting average.

The addition of unrestricted-free-agent running back Benny Cunningham upgrades the kickoff-return squad, but he may have to battle for a roster spot. In his four years with the Rams, Cunningham averaged 27.1 yards per return, significantly better than the Bears' 2016 average of 21.4, when Deonte Thompson averaged 23.0 as the primary kickoff returner.

Last season's primary punt returner, Eddie Royal, was waived, so the competition is wide open. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson averaged a ridiculous 23.0 yards on punt returns for Alabama last year, but he had just 11 attempts before suffering a leg fracture that occurred on a punt return.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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