Chicago Bears: Preview of 2013 Training Camp
Guide to the Chicago Bears Training Camp Preview
Guide before moving on:
1. You'll see two lists of players. The top one is of players likely to be on the team next year, the bottom is one of players trying to prove themselves for a surprise spot on the roster or practice squad.
2. Anyone with "(S)" after their name denotes that they'll definitely/likely start in 2013.
3. Every single player on the official roster as of July 20 is listed in this slideshow.
4. Below those two lists is an analysis of who/what to watch for this training camp and preseason.
The Chicago Bears are set to report for training camp this upcoming Thursday, July 25 with their first practice the next day. With it comes much excitement as the Bears look to be very competitive in the upcoming 2013 NFL season.
There has been a clear focus shift on the team as GM Phil Emery fired defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith and brought in offensive and quarterbacks guru Marc Trestman to run the team and call the plays on offense. Emery also shored up the biggest two issues on the offense -- as well as perhaps the entire team -- by bringing in many new offensive lineman and a new group of tight ends, both of which should be much improved.
Emery didn't stop there as he also brought in a new offensive coordinator in Aaron Kromer, who held the same position with the New Orleans Saints -- one of the most prolific offenses ever over the past half-decade -- and he is considered to be very good at coaching and putting together the offensive line.
However, the Bears' GM didn't completely shun the defense this offseason. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker looks to keep a similar 4-3 scheme so that the core group that has existed on the Bears for years -- sans Brian Urlacher -- will be able to play much the same way as they did last season where they were one of the best in the league.
All of these changes lead to a season where they hope to improve from 10-6 and barely missing the playoffs last year. Despite the strong record, the vast majority of their wins (nine of them) came against non-playoff teams. With seven games against 2012 playoff qualifiers, they look to find a higher rate of victory in 2013.
On the team: Jay Cutler (S), Josh McCown, Matt Blanchard
Anybody who has been paying close attention to the Bears this offseason knows that they're high on Blanchard, the second-year undrafted signing. That doesn't mean he'll be able make the roster, but odds are they'll keep him on as the emergency quarterback behind Cutler and McCown. However, it will be interesting to see if he can unseat McCown as the No. 2, which is really the only battle here to watch for this year.
One other thing to keep an eye on is simply Cutler's understanding of the new offense and his relationship with the receivers, running backs and tight ends in the process.
Running Backs / Fullbacks
On the team: Matt Forte (S), Michael Bush, Armando Allen
Trying to make it: Harvey Unga, Michael Ford, Tony Fiammetta (FB)
Forte and Bush are clearly the No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the upcoming season. With Allen having the most experience as an NFL running back, I expect him to earn the third spot over Ford and Unga, who will be working for a spot on at least the practice squad.
Fiammetta is the only fullback on the roster and was signed after the release of Evan Rodriguez, who had potential, but couldn't stay out of trouble off the field. If he proves his worthiness, he could earn a roster spot, but Trestman may also opt to not use a fullback at all, or perhaps just use one of their tight ends in that role in rare cases each Sunday, as he typically doesn't run much I-formation, if any, in his offense..
On the team: Brandon Marshall (S), Alshon Jeffery (S), Earl Bennett
Trying to make it: Devin Aromashodu, Eric Weems, Joe Anderson, Marquess Wilson, Golden Brittan, Jerrell Jackson, Josh Lenz, Marcus Rucker, Terrance Toliver
Now, the top three there are obviously the top three receivers coming into the season. But after them, I honestly could not tell you who will be receivers four-through-six on the roster. I would expect it to be Aromashodu, Weems and Wilson as the first two are clearly the most experienced and Wilson was their seventh-round selection, but the first two have been rather underwhelming in their careers and Wilson is unproven. Given those facts, I'd have to say it's an open competition after the obvious first three.
Watching who can pickup Trestman's offense the quickest and make plays in their preseason games will be something that's actually interesting because of the uncertainty with all of those roster spots up for grabs.
On the roster: Martellus Bennett (S)
Trying to make it: Kyle Adams, Steve Maneri, Fendi Onobun, Brody Eldridge, Gabe Miller
Again, this is a situation where we only see the clear starter and the other two-to-three spots behind him are wide open. With a new coaching regime, Adams' job isn't safe, so he doesn't go on the first list. Maneri and Onobun have some experience, but haven't done much in the league. As for Eldridge and Miller, well nobody really knows anything at all about them unless you do some in-depth Google searching.
My expectations are that the Bears will end up keeping four tight ends and no fullbacks. From the little I've read over the offseason on any tight end other than Bennett, it appears that Onobun has been impressive in minicamps and Maneri is supposed to be a very strong blocker -- which I'd hope so at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. So, for who's going to make the roster, I predict they'll keep Bennett, Adams, Onobun and Maneri.
On the roster: Jermon Bushrod (S), Matt Slauson (S), Roberto Garza (S), Kyle Long (S), J'Marcus Webb (S), Jonathan Scott, Eben Britton, Jordan Mills
Trying to make it: James Brown, Edwin Williams, Cory Brandon, Derek Dennis, P.J. Lonergan, Taylor Boggs
The Bears will likely have three new starters this year with the additions of Bushrod (LT), Slauson (G) and Long (G), with the other two spots remaining Garza (C) and Webb (RT). Obviously, some of that could change as I really only see Burshrod, Garza and Slauson's spots safe. Long and Webb both need to prove they're the best two options at the other guard and right tackle spot, respectively, over guys like Scott, Britton and Mills. Of course, whether or not Mills makes the roster is a bit of a mystery, the only reason I have him in the top list is because he was a fifth-round selection in this year's draft, so you expect that to be reason enough to keep him around.
As for the rest of the guys here, unless there's a major surprise, Brown and Williams are the only two that have a realistic shot at a roster spot as the other four appear to just be camp bodies. But who knows, any surprise there is welcome.
Ends on the roster: Julius Peppers (S), Corey Wootton (S), Shea McClellin
Trying to make it: Cornelius Washington, Turk McBride, Kyle Moore, Cheta Ozougwu, Aston Whiteside
Peppers and Wootton are more than likely the two starters this upcoming year with McClellin coming in plenty as part of a three-man rotation. Who makes the roster after that is a big question. Washington was a sixth-round selection in this past draft, and though he's listed as an outside linebacker, he projects more like a 3-4 pass-rushing linebacker. That means on the Bears' 4-3 defense, he may lineup at DE. I expect him and either McBride or Moore to make the roster as the latter two have more NFL experience than Ozougwu and Whiteside.
Tackles on the roster: Henry Melton (S), Stephen Paea (S), Sedrick Ellis
Trying to make it: Nate Collins, Corey Irvin, Zach Minter, Brent Russell, Christian Tupou
Melton and Paea appear the most talented and likely to start. Ellis is an experienced veteran who had a lot of success with 12 sacks in his first three years with the Saints. However, the last two years he has struggled, but so has the Saints defense as a whole. Perhaps on a new team with a stout defense, he can get his form back, which I fully expect and he may be a very underrated pickup from this offseason as he'll likely make the team and play some important minutes in the rotation.
Last season, Collins started to come on as the year went on, I expect him to make the roster again, but the competition is wide open as the Bears have traditionally kept five-plus tackles and I only see three spots for sure taken.
On the roster: Lance Briggs (S), D.J. Williams (S), James Anderson (S), Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, Blake Costanzo
Trying to make it: J.T. Thomas, Patrick Trahan, Lawrence Wilson, Jerry Franklin
Aside from the three veteran starters in Briggs, Williams and Anderson, I expect rookies Bostic and Greene -- selected in rounds two and four, respectively, this year -- to be the main backups at inside and outside linebacker, again, respectively. Costanzo isn't a very good linebacker, but he's an excellent special teamer and is essentially a lock to make the roster for that reason. After him, though, I expect there to be one more roster spot for depth and special teams purposes. That position will be fought over by the other four guys on the bottom list with Thomas as the front-runner.
On the roster: Charles Tillman (S), Tim Jennings (S), Major Wright (S), Chris Conte (S), Kelvin Hayden, Tom Zbikowski, Craig Steltz
Trying to make it: Zack Bowman, Sherrick McManis, Isaiah Frey, C.J. Wilson, Demontre Hurst, Brandon Hardin, Anthony Walters, Tom Nelson, Cyhl Quarles
The top-three corners and top-four safeties are more than likely all set with that top list having all seven of them. After them, though, it'll be a battle for the last two-to-three corner positions and probably one more safety spot. Bowman and McManis were on the team last year, and are the only corners with much experience at all in the league, so I expect them to take two of the corner availabilities. If they keep a sixth, which isn't too likely, in my opinion, Frey is probably the front-runner for that spot. If they keep a fifth safety, which I do expect because of the special-teams versatility of the position, I expect Hardin or Walters to earn that spot. Hopefully, Hardin can stay healthy and show the potential that earned him a third-round selection in the 2012 draft.
On the roster: Robbie Gould (S), Adam Podlesh (S), Patrick Mannelly, Devin Hester
Trying to make it: Tress Way, Austin Signor
Gould and Podlesh are unquestioningly the starting kicker and punter with Mannelly as the long-snapper. It's weird just adding Hester here as only a kick/punt returner, but that's all he is now -- certainly a good thing. In fact, there have been rumors he may play some gunner on the coverage units as well, which would be interesting. In this case, the guys trying to make it simply don't have much of a chance. Signor and Way are just here to show off their legs for other teams and take a bunch of kicks away from Podlesh and Gould so they don't wear out their legs in camp drills. Of course, Mannelly will just be the long snapper again, one of the best in the business.