The Chicago Bears enter the 2021 NFL season with a lot to prove.
Both head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are entering the final year of their contracts.
As they look to remain with the organization beyond this season, the pairing must find immediate success.
The Bears did make the playoffs last season, as the seventh seed, but were promptly eliminated by the New Orleans Saints in the first round, 21-9.
Chicago has had a flashy offseason, namely drafting quarterback Justin Fields with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Entering Week 1 of the preseason, the Bears have recently released their first unofficial depth chart.
To no surprise, Fields is listed as the backup to starting quarterback Andy Dalton.
But as Bears fans wait for Fields, there are still a few interesting things of note and a few interesting starters that could be telling of what Nagy and Pace’s plans are for the 2021 season.
3. Cole Kmet
The Bears drafted Cole Kmet with the No. 43 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
As a rookie Kmet appeared in all 16 games, started nine, and caught 28 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
Throughout training camp, Kmet has been one of the quarterbacks’ favorite targets.
Andy Dalton is running the two-minute offense and just had arguably the best throw of the day: a deep ball to Damiere Byrd for an over the shoulder catch.
That play put the Bears in position to kick the game-winning FG.
On the drive, Dalton targetted Cole Kmet four times.
— Nicholas Moreano (@NicholasMoreano) August 5, 2021
The big surprise with Kmet is that he is listed as the starter over veteran Jimmy Graham.
Graham is in the final season of a two-year, $16 million contract.
Last season he started 15 games for the Bears and caught 50 passes for 456 yards and eight scores.
If Kmet’s spot as the number one tight end sticks, clearly the coaching staff feels he is ready to take on a bigger role in the offense.
He is a better playmaker than Graham and can use his size and speed to open up the field or be a menace in the red zone.
After using a second-round pick on Kmet, it’s clear he is the future of the tight end position in Chicago.
It appears that the future is now becoming the present.
2. Kindle Vildor
The Bears’ leading cornerback this season will be Jaylon Johnson, who was selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
After releasing former Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller this offseason, his replacement became a big question mark in Chicago.
Chicago selected Vildor with the No. 163 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Georgia Southern.
In his first year with the Bears, Vildor appeared in all 16 games, started one, and made 17 total tackles while defending one pass.
His rookie numbers might not be all that impressive, but Vildor has shined throughout training camp.
Join the fan club ASAP pic.twitter.com/708suwipwj
— Noah—- Kindle Vildor Fan Club (@KindleVildorFC) August 7, 2021
Vildor may be young, he is entering his age-24 season, but he was a star when he was with Georgia Southern.
He was a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection.
Now, as he begins his second year in Chicago, it appears as if Vildor has made a strong impression on the coaching staff and is poised to take on a much, much larger role on defense.
1. Elijah Wilkinson
Elijah Wilkinson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos following the 2017 NFL Draft.
He has appeared in 44 games at the NFL level, starting 25 of them.
Now, Wilkinson is listed as the Bears’ starting left tackle.
They selected Teven Jenkins in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft with hopes he can take over the starting left tackle role.
However, he has been dealing with a back issue and has yet to take the field at training camp.
He is listed as the second-team left tackle on the depth chart.
Chicago also selected former Missouri lineman Larry Borom in the fifth round of the 2021 draft, but he is listed with the third-team.
For now, it looks as if Wilkinson will enter the season as the Bears’ starting left tackle.
Last season, while with the Broncos, Wilkinson allowed 18 pressures and two sacks in 315 pass protection snaps.
At just 26 years old, Wilkinson has room to improve and could end up being a solid offensive lineman for Chicago.
But after the Bears spent two draft picks on the position, he has his work cut out for him if he is truly going to be the Bears’ starting left tackle.