Bears’ Top 2023 Position Battles: Is Khalil Herbert RB1?

Bears OTA Position BattlesMAIN

Getty Running back Khalil Herbert will be involved in one of the Bears' most intriguing position battles of 2023.

The Chicago Bears are now midway through their second week of organized team activities for the 2023 offseason, and while the make-or-break period of roster competitions won’t get rolling until training camp in July, now is a time for the team to get an early look at who might contribute most for them this season.

The Bears added 12 new veterans, 10 rookie draft picks and more than a dozen undrafted hopefuls to their 90-man offseason roster over the past three months and are well on their way to crafting a stronger team than the 2022 rendition that finished 3-14.

Some veterans, such as wide receiver D.J. Moore and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, have clear roles to fill as the newly crowned leaders of their respective positions, but there are others — veterans and rookies alike — who will spend the coming months working to earn their keep and avoid the roster bubble for August’s 53-man roster cuts.

Here’s a mid-OTAs look at the Bears’ five most important position battles of 2023:


Bears OTAs Battles2

GettyBears center Lucas Patrick.

While many fans hoped the Bears would invest in a new center in the 2023 NFL draft, the team appears to be set on letting veterans Cody Whitehair — their starting left guard of the past two seasons — and Lucas Patrick battle it out for the starting job this year. Whitehair would seem to have an advantage over Patrick with more than 3,800 career snaps played at the position, but Patrick logged solid reps at center in Green Bay and was initially brought to Chicago to play center before a hand injury mucked it all up.

If Patrick looks like he is at least as capable as Whitehair, the Bears could be tempted to move on from Whitehair — who turns 31 before camp — to free up $9.9 million in cap space for the 2023 season. Don’t forget, the Bears also have 2022 sixth-round Doug Kramer looking to bounce back after suffering a season-ending injury last August. He is unproven and could be on the cut bubble, but signs of competence from him could strengthen their resolve to make a hard choice with either Whitehair or Patrick.

Defensive Tackle

Bears OTAs Battles3

GettyBears rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr.

The Bears have largely neglected the edge-rushing spots on their defensive line, but the interior looks like it could have a bright future. The real question is: Will Justin Jones and newly signed veteran Andrew Billings enter the season as starters or will Day 2 rookie picks Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens bump one of them out?

How quickly Dexter and Pickens get up to speed with the Bears’ defensive scheme will be one of the most essential things to watch during workouts this summer. If they need time, the Bears can take comfort in knowing Jones — who was their starting three-technique in 2022 — can hold things down with a year in the system under his belt. The Bears did feel comfortable throwing their rookies into the fire last season, though, so there could be an opportunity for one of them to earn a Week 1 starting role.

The progress of Travis Bell, one of the Bears’ two seventh-round picks, will also be worth monitoring. While he doesn’t have the prestige of Dexter or Pickens and is viewed as an underdog as the first player ever drafted out of Kennesaw State, Bears general manager Ryan Poles has lauded his attitude and energy. A strong showing in OTAs and camp could help solidify a rotational role for him when the season starts.

Running Back

Bears OTAs Battles1

GettyBears running back Khalil Herbert.

When the 2022 season ended, the presumption was the Bears would let David Montgomery walk and pass the torch to Khalil Herbert as their new lead back. While they did make efforts to keep Montgomery, he did ultimately end up signing elsewhere and set up Herbert for the role he has done his part to earn over the past two seasons.

Will Herbert be the clear-cut No. 1 option in Chicago’s backfield by Week 1, though?

The Bears added two more significant challengers for Herbert during the offseason, signing D’Onta Foreman (914 years, five touchdowns in 2022) to a one-year deal and using one of their fourth-round picks on Texas standout Roschon Johnson. Now, there’s no reason why all three can’t contribute meaningful snaps for the Bears in 2023, but the possibility of Herbert getting outperformed in the preseason shouldn’t be discounted, especially if Johnson manages to quickly grasp the scheme and playbook.

However it works out, all three are expected to be on the initial 53-man roster after camp, but the same cannot be said for both Travis Homer and Trestan Ebner. With a fullback on the roster (Khari Blasingame), the Bears seem unlikely to carry more than four backs into the season, and Homer was just signed to a two-year deal to help out on special teams. A great camp could save Ebner, but his roster status is in flux for now.


Bears OTAs Battles4

GettyBears cornerback Kyler Gordon.

Jaylon Johnson might be the only settled spot in the Bears’ cornerback room after they added two rookie draft picks to the equation. Kyler Gordon had a strong finish to his rookie season, but second-round rookie Tyrique Stevenson — who the Bears traded up to get — figures to be an immediate contender for the perimeter role opposite Johnson and could push Gordon into the slot to begin the season.

The backup/rotational battles at the cornerback position are also likely to be heated. The Bears now have fifth-round rookie Terell Smith trying to fight for a place in the rotation along with returning veteran Kindle Vildor (in the final year of his contract in 2023), former third-round pick Michael Ojemudia (added midway through 2022) and standout rookies Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell.

Only competition can determine who belongs on the 53-man roster.

One more thing: Johnson is not currently attending the voluntary portion of OTAs and is looking for an extension as he prepares for the final year of his rookie contract. While that is nothing to worry about at this point, it could become a problem if negotiations sour and Johnson decides he wants to hold out of camp for a new deal. For now, let’s just assume the best and that Johnson will be back as CB1 for another season (at least).


Bears OTAs Battles5

GettyBears rookie kicker Andre Szmyt.

OK, so this one is more of an honorable mention battle than anything, but the Bears crowning a new placekicker for 2023 cannot be completely ruled out at this point. Cairo Santos has been a mostly reliable starter for the Bears for the past three seasons, but the Bears could avoid paying $4 million of his $4.5 million cap hit if they opt to release him this summer — and that could present a golden opportunity for Andre Szmyt.

The Bears signed Szmyt as an undrafted rookie after he had a prolific career at Syracuse. He received the Lou Groza Award, given the best placekicker in college football each season, back in 2018 and finished with numerous program records by the time his career with the Orange was done. He is an underdog, to be sure, but if the Bears feel confident in what he shows them during the offseason, the 31-year-old Santos could move onto the chopping block.

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