Which of these second- and third-year Bears players need to have a big 2020 season?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith (58) before an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019.

    Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith (58) before an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Associated Press

 
By Sean Hammond
Shaw Media
Updated 7/22/2020 5:38 AM

So much about the 2020 NFL season remains veiled behind uncertainty. The Bears have not announced their official training camp schedule, and what camp might look like during a pandemic is still up for debate.

The future is also foggy for a number of key Bears contributors. Fourth-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky aside, the Bears have decisions to make in the relatively near future about numerous 2018 and 2019 draft picks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

How these second- and third-year Bears perform in 2020 will say a lot about their future with the team.

Roquan Smith

The No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 draft finds himself entering a critical season. The Bears will have make a decision on Smith's fifth-year option following this season. He impressed as a rookie in 2018, jumping onto the playing field with a juggernaut Bears defense and leading it in tackles.

He had a somewhat strange 2019 season, which included a bizarre one-game absence for personal reasons, followed by a pectoral injury that set him out for the final three weeks. Smith was leading the Bears in tackles prior to the injury.

Smith has, at times, shown his star potential with the Bears. This season, he could cement his place in the middle of the Bears defense, if he can stay on the field.

David Montgomery

Maybe the expectations were too high for a rookie running back? Montgomery was the team's top draft pick (in the third round) in 2019, and he showed flashes of potential in training camp and the preseason. When it came to the regular season, the Bears simply did not use Montgomery well, especially early in the season.

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And that was not his fault.

A struggling offensive line didn't help a struggling rookie running back. A new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor provides a fresh start for the run game. A year under the belt will help Montgomery, who did finish with a respectable 889 rushing yards and more than 1,000 all-purpose yards.

The Bears clearly believe in their 23-year-old running back. He earned the respect of his teammates in being voted the Brian Piccolo Award winner, given each year to one rookie and one veteran who exemplifies the "courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor" of the late Brian Piccolo.

Anthony Miller

Miller emerged last year as Mitch Trubisky's No. 2 option behind Allen Robinson at receiver. A second-round pick in 2018, Miller's 12.6 yards per reception were the best on the team of the players who caught at least 10 passes.

What the Bears need from Miller, though, is a consistent presence. He was an all or nothing receiver in 2019. There were seven games last season when he caught one or fewer passes (in six of those games he was targeted two or fewer times).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

According to his Instagram account, Miller has been working with Trubisky this summer. That will only help their familiarity with one another on the field.

James Daniels

The Bears had high hopes when they switched Daniels from guard to center prior to the 2019 season, moving Cody Whitehair from center to guard. It became apparent early on in the season that the Bears were having issues on the offensive line.

In retrospect, moving a center coming off a Pro Bowl appearance (Whitehair) out of the position doesn't make a lot of sense. The Bears swapped Daniels and Whitehair back midway through the season and rattled off wins in four of the next five games.

The Bears selected Daniels in the second round of the 2018 draft, after taking Roquan Smith with their first pick. The 2020 season marks the third year of his four-year rookie deal. At 22 years old, Daniels has youth on his side, but this will be a big year for him and his future with the Bears, especially with a new offensive line coach in Juan Castillo.

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