Chicago Bears: Brock Vereen

INDIANAPOLIS – New Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace faces a multitude of hurdles to rebuild a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league the past two seasons, but a familiar problem refuses to go away.

Safety.

In terms of pure offseason needs, the Bears must prioritize finding quality defensive linemen and inside and outside linebackers to fit coordinator Vic Fangio’s hybrid 3-4 scheme.

Canty
But safety remains an area where the Bears need to improve.

The Bears have selected a safety in 11 of the last 13 years, failing to ever fix the position long-term.

Pace tried to explain why talent-evaluators struggle to identify talent at safety.

“I think the reason why that position is difficult is because it’s such an instinctive position," Pace said Wednesday at the NFL combine. “I think if there’s an area where scouts, we make mistakes, is judging instincts.

When I think of a safety; No. 1 is instincts, ball skills and open-field tackling. Those are things that come to mind. You know, sometimes the ball is coming out quick in the college game now with the spread offense. But the No. 1 reason why that position gets misevaluated sometimes is because of the instincts.”

Veteran Ryan Mundy turned out to be a bargain free-agent acquisition for the Bears last season, finishing second on the team with 108 tackles and tied for first on the defense with four interceptions.

After Mundy, the depth chart at safety is fuzzy.

One of last year’s fourth-round picks, Brock Vereen, showed some promise (38 tackles, one interception) as a rookie, and definitely projects to be a solid NFL special-teams player. However, the jury is still out whether Vereen can hold up as a full-time safety. Meantime, much-maligned Chris Conte is an unrestricted free agent and is highly unlikely to return to Chicago after a variety of injuries. He sat out the final three games of the regular season. Conte finished second on the team with three interceptions.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Bears selecting Alabama safety Landon Collins at No. 7 overall in his first mock draft, but moved Collins all the way down to Pittsburgh at No. 22 in his latest projections.
Chicago Bears safety Brock Vereen should return to Halas Hall for the team’s offseason conditioning program with a little more incentive to perform after watching his older brother Shane Vereen, the starting running back of the New England Patriots, celebrate his team’s win in Super Bowl XLIX.

Vereen
B. Vereen
The team’s official website caught up with Brock Vereen recently to discuss his older brother’s accomplishment.

“It was surreal,” Brock Vereen said. “It really hasn’t sunk in for me yet, so I definitely know it hasn’t sunk in for him. But he can call himself a Super Bowl champion, and that’s something that will last your lifetime.”

A fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, Vereen played in all 16 games as a rookie, including five starts, and contributed 38 tackles, an interception and forced a fumble in addition to tallying eight stops on special teams.

Given the turnover on the coaching staff, Vereen’s role in 2015 is unclear. But with pending free agent Chris Conte expected not to return and the team wanting an upgrade at the position, Vereen will likely be given an opportunity to win a starting job at one of the safety spots.

Brock Vereen excited about family reunion

October, 22, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears first-year free safety Brock Vereen has had the date circled on his calendar for months.

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S. Vereen
Vereen
B. Vereen
Sunday’s game in New England potentially pits Vereen against old brother Shane -- the Patriots' starting running back and key contributor on offense with 259 rushing yards (one touchdown), and 23 receptions for 185 yards and two scores.

The brothers have yet to battle each other during a game -- until now.

"After draft day obviously we looked up each other's schedules," Brock Vereen said. "Since then it's something that we've both been anticipating, but we're very excited for it to actually be here.

You know, it's an exciting time for my parents and my family. But from a personal standpoint I've got to stay focused and get ready to go."

A fourth-round draft pick, Vereen started Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins (five tackles), and is a candidate to see the field on defense in New England. Vereen is also tied for fifth on the team with five special teams tackles.

Of course, Vereen’s defensive playing time likely hinges on the health of safety Chris Conte (shoulder). Conte practiced without restrictions Wednesday, but the safeties' 2014 track record is concerning. Conte failed to finish four of the first six games before being inactive against the Dolphins.

"There are definitely things I feel I did well and there's definitely things I need to improve on," Vereen said regarding his first NFL start.

Would Vereen hesitate to clobber his brother Sunday, if the opportunity presented itself?

"That's my job; just like he would be looking to run me over or break my tackle," Vereen said. "So we're very excited."

Bears OL reunited at practice

October, 16, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Injuries forced the Chicago Bears to use four different offensive line combinations through six games, but all five starters were together on the practice field Thursday in preparation to play the Miami Dolphins.

Left tackle Jermon Bushrod (ankle/knee) is likely to return to action on Sunday after being upgraded to full participation in practice, while right tackle Jordan Mills (right) did limited work following a rest day on Wednesday.

“Today was like the first time we’ve all practiced together since Week 1,” Mills said. “I wasn’t there in OTAs (foot surgery) and parts of camp. Then it was Kyle Long when he had his illness. Then unfortunately Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson got hurt in the same game (Buffalo) with the same injury. Then Bushrod [suffered his injury at practice before Carolina game]. But all these dudes [we have as reserves] played so well it was like nobody ever left.”

Linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) and safety Chris Conte (shoulder) were the only ones to sit out Thursday’s indoor session, but head coach Marc Trestman refused to officially rule out either player, yet.

Trestman said the Bears have rotated safeties Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen and Danny McCray this week at practice, but Mundy and Vereen lined up together in Atlanta after Conte left the game, the fourth game he’s been unable to finish in 2014. Conte did cardiovascular work on Thursday.

Linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and D.J. Williams (neck), and safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring) had limited participation.

Cornerback Sherrick McManis (quadriceps/knee) and linebacker Shea McClellin (hand) practiced without restrictions and are expected to be available to face Miami.
CLEVELAND -- Here are five things we learned in the first half of the Chicago Bears’ preseason finale versus the Browns.

1. 53-man roster mostly set before game: The Bears offered up a fairly complete picture of the final roster when they decided to sit numerous reserve players like: Josh Morgan, Ka’Deem Carey, Brock Vereen and Michael Spurlock. Unless the Bears find better alternatives over the weekend; all four appear to be in decent shape as the final cut date looms on Saturday. However, the decision to rest Carey and Vereen is somewhat curious. Outside of their draft status as fourth-round picks, neither did much to stand out over the summer. And no, Shea McClellin was never going to be cut. The Bears have not abandoned hope of salvaging the career of the former first-round draft choice.

2. David Fales knows the offense: Fales lacks ideal arm strength, but he does come across as a smart quarterback who understands where the ball is supposed to go. He did a decent job under intense pressure, and showed serious courage by throwing the ball deep on several occasions. The Bears are probably better off keeping only two quarterbacks on the active roster, but Fales showed enough smarts in the preseason to warrant a spot on the practice squad, if he clears waivers as expected.

3. Santonio Holmes can help Bears: Holmes proved he still has some juice left when he broke a tackle to score a 32-yard touchdown, followed by a 30-yard punt return. Granted, Holmes accomplished this against Cleveland backups, but he made the most of the opportunities presented to him. Holmes has too much experience to let walk away. Josh Bellamy had himself a solid first half with two catches for 43 yards in the opening quarter, but Holmes seems a smart choice to be the No. 4 wideout behind Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Morgan, with Spurlock also in the mix. We’ll see how/if Marquess Wilson’s injury complicates the situation when it boils down to determining the 53.

4. FirstEnergy video screens a nice touch: The Browns installed two giant video screens in the upper decks behind each end zone, a move that greatly enhances the in-stadium experience in Cleveland. The Bears need to strongly consider adding similar technology at Soldier Field, because the current video setup is below average for a stadium built in the last 11 years. The fans would love it. And it opens up tons of marketing and sales opportunities for the club. That’s a win-win for everybody involved.

5. Browns took it seriously: Cleveland needed starting quarterback Brian Hoyer to orchestrate a touchdown drive. The Browns are desperate for good vibes heading into Week 1. We all know Cleveland will probably stink again, but this is a franchise that is trying to sell hope to its tortured fan base. They call this place the “Factory of Sadness” for a reason. But the home fans actually seemed upbeat after the first 30 minutes, especially when Johnny Manziel fired a touchdown pass. Mission accomplished for the Browns.

Bears hopeful for Conte return in Seattle

August, 16, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman praised the preseason work of veteran Ryan Mundy on Friday, but refused to anoint any starters at safety in the aftermath of the team’s 20-19 victory over Jacksonville.

That’s likely because former starting free safety Chris Conte has yet to participate in live action since being elevated off the PUP list, although that could change next Friday when the Bears travel to Seattle to play in the all-important third preseason game versus the defending Super Bowl champions.

“We want to get him in there and we certainly want to give him a chance to compete,” Trestman said. “We’ll see where he is coming into this next week. If the trainers give him the go-ahead to start working with the focus of playing on Friday night [he will]. We’ll see this week.”

Fellow safety Craig Steltz is also targeting the Seattle game to make his preseason debut, unless he experiences a setback of some sort at practice next week. Steltz and Conte practiced for the final three days in Bourbonnais before the team broke camp for the summer.

Mundy and Danny McCray opened up at safety for the Bears versus the Jaguars before subbing out in favor of Adrian Wilson and Brock Vereen. McCray finished second of the team with four tackles.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Lovie Smith finished 10-6 in his final season with the Chicago Bears before being fired. Marc Trestman comes in and leads the Bears to an 8-8 record in 2013. Yet expectations soar here on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, where crowds for training camp practices routinely swell to 10,000.

It’s easy to see why. For a fan base accustomed to hard-nosed defense and shaky-at-best offense, Trestman flipped the script in 2013, taking Chicago’s attack to new heights with a major assist from general manager Phil Emery’s shrewd personnel moves.

The Bears broke record after record on offense last season, and the defense stumbled to historic lows.

If Trestman and Emery could basically work a miracle on offense in just one season, why can’t they do it on the other side of the ball in 2014?

“[I] feel very good about the competitive depth and the fights for positions that we're going to have,” Emery said. “Out of the three camps, I would say this camp has the best competitive level among the roster from 1 to 90.”

Emery achieved that by loading up on defenders: acquiring a mix of players poised to hit the sweet spot of their careers in Lamarr Houston and Willie YoungJared Allen, and drafting potential stars such as first-round pick Kyle Fuller. The Bears bolstered those moves with an overhaul of the scheme and additions to the defensive coaching staff.

“We started [with], ‘What could we do to get this team better?’” Trestman said. “I sat down with Phil [Emery], and we began to lay out a road map together on how we were going to rebuild this football team, and here we are at a stage where I don’t think there’s a player in our meeting room who doesn’t feel like there’s hope and high expectations. Now, it’s time to go to work.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJay Cutler is more comfortable in coach Marc Trestman's system, and all of his offensive weapons are healthy and ready to go.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jay Cutler’s grasp of the offense is firmer in Year 2 of Trestman’s system, and his performance this year at camp is significantly different from in 2013. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Cutler is his own problem solver and is making on-field adjustments so instinctively that he doesn’t need guidance from the staff. In his first camp under Trestman, Cutler misfired routinely, and there were concerns about whether he’d be effective in the regular season. After one particularly bad session in 2013, Trestman gathered Cutler and the other quarterbacks in the middle of the field in what could be described as a turning point. That’s not happening this year at camp as Cutler has become a bona fide field general.

2. Brandon Marshall is Brandon Marshall. He wasn’t at camp in 2013. He was coming off hip surgery that hindered his season preparation. Fully healthy now with an offseason to condition, Marshall is ready to go -- and with full comprehension of the offensive system. Throw in Alshon Jeffery’s ascension and you have the makings of something lethal on offense. The duo has certainly looked that way at camp as both routinely make so many eye-popping plays that Cutler could almost throw it up blindly and one of them would come down with the ball.

3. There’s a nastiness on defense and intense focus reminiscent of the units put on the field in Smith’s heyday. Practicing against one of the best offenses in the league, the defense should be losing more than it does at training camp. But this group routinely bests the offense, with dominating play by the front seven as a hallmark. Chalk it up to a combination of personnel additions and a culture shift brought about by an overhaul of the scheme and the acquisition of no-nonsense, get-in-your-face coaches such as Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mundy
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears brought Ryan Mundy in to compete at safety, but the position, at least in camp, continues to look shaky.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The defensive line makes plays at training camp. The corners and linebackers make plays. But you rarely see the safeties making an impact. That could be a result of a lack of chemistry because, with both spots up for grabs, the Bears are using several combinations at the position involving players such as Ryan Mundy, rookie Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and M.D. Jennings. Horrid play at this position in 2013 contributed significantly to the defense’s demise, and we haven’t seen many indications at camp that the Bears will turn that around in 2014.

2. Protecting Cutler could become an issue if some of the injuries suffered by the team's offensive linemen linger. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and tackle Jordan Mills (foot) missed the preseason opener, and the latter was seen wearing a walking boot when the club returned to training camp after that game. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is expected to miss time to a knee injury, and reserve guard/tackle Eben Britton still hasn’t returned from a strained hamstring suffered earlier at camp.

3. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009. So naturally, you’d think at some point in 2014 the Bears will have to turn to the backup quarterback. The problem is the candidates vying for the No. 2 job -- Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen -- have done little to inspire confidence the way Josh McCown did last year at training camp. For the most part, Palmer and Clausen have been merely average at camp, misfiring on occasion and making mistakes typical of players acclimating themselves to a scheme. The duo needs to pick it up or the Bears could wind up looking outside the current roster for a suitable No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Chris Conte says he’s the best athlete in Chicago’s secondary. He needs to prove it, which he'll finally have a chance to do now that he's off the physically unable to perform list. Conte certainly possesses the athleticism to be a playmaker on the back end, provided he regains his confidence. But time is running out for Conte to make a real push for one of the two open jobs at safety. What Conte has going for him right now is that none of the safeties vying for the starting jobs is making plays at camp.
  • The Bears hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive linemen hand fighting techniques as part of the scheme overhaul that requires the front four players to be technicians with their hands. It’ll be interesting to see how the results manifest themselves on the field. Every day after practice at camp, several defensive linemen -- and even some defensive backs -- work intricate hand fighting moves with Kim for several minutes. The players say the moves become almost natural once routinely put into practice on the field. We’ll see whether Kim’s assistance plays a role in the front four anchoring a run defense that finished last in 2013.
  • Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan are pushing Dante Rosario hard for the No. 2 job at tight end. Miller is more of a move tight end, and Mulligan is a classic in-line blocker who shows some impressive skills as a receiver. The two have received extra reps because of Martellus Bennett's suspension.

W2W4: Chicago Bears

August, 8, 2014
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The Chicago Bears (0-0) and Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) open the preseason Friday night at Soldier Field.

1. Backup quarterbacks: Expect Bears coach Marc Trestman to pull the starters after a series or two, which means we won’t see much of quarterback Jay Cutler. We already know what he can do. The team needs to see whether Jordan Palmer or Jimmy Clausen can get it done if called upon. So they’ll receive the bulk of the snaps in this game. Trestman already has said that Palmer will receive first crack at the No. 2 job. So he’ll probably come into the game immediately after Trestman pulls the starters. Palmer has been solid, yet unspectacular, in camp. The same can be said about Clausen, who has performed a little better so far than Palmer. Trestman isn’t likely to name a bona fide No. 2 after this game, but the picture should clear up a bit.

2. Safety play: While abysmal play at safety in 2013 can be attributed at least in part by inconsistency along the defensive line, there should be no excuses now with all the retooling the club has done along the defensive front. Almost every day, the Bears have opened practice with different combinations at the position as both spots are up for grabs. Adrian Wilson, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and rookie Brock Vereen have all taken first-team reps. The unofficial depth chart released by the team lists Vereen and Mundy as the starters. So there’s a good chance they’ll run with the No. 1 defense against the Eagles. But we should see all five of the aforementioned safeties extensively. Keep a close eye on Wilson, because there’s still a question as to whether he has anything left in the tank. The Bears hope Wilson pans out because he could add an intimidating presence on the back end that the club has lacked in recent years.

3. Front seven: The Bears spent the bulk of the offseason revamping a front seven that played a major role in the team ranking last in the NFL in 2013 against the run. The Bears made changes to the coaching staff, overhauled the scheme and added Jared Allen, Willie Young, and Lamarr Houston in addition to drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Now we get a chance to see whether all the work will reap rewards. There’s a chance Allen won’t play -- he’s been excused to be with his family for the birth of his daughter. So Young and Trevor Scott will likely take the bulk of Allen’s reps. Perhaps the most significant change in the scheme involves the emphasis on defensive linemen using their hands properly to engage and shed blocks. That’s why the Bears brought in martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive line hand-fighting techniques. So from the first team all the way down to the on-the-bubble players, we should see significant improvement in that area, which in turn should bring optimism about how the group will perform in the regular season.

Bears' Chris Conte lands on PUP

July, 23, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Three-year starting Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte will open training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and is expected to miss the team's first preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 8, general manager Phil Emery announced Wednesday.

Conte is still recovering from shoulder surgery he elected to undergo on March 26 to fix a lingering problem that plagued the safety for more than a year.

Conrath
Conte
There is no concrete timeline for Conte to return to the practice field.

"I can't predict healing," Emery said. "I wish I could. I'd make even more money than I'm making now. But Chris is where he's at. He made the decision that he wanted surgery and he pressed forward and he's in that recovery phase. We anticipate that somewhere here in camp, not before the first preseason game, but after that, that he'll start practice. Depending on how well he practices and how well he responds to contact will determine how many preseason games he plays after that first one. But it won't be the first preseason game."

Despite setting career-highs in tackles (90), interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (1), Conte experienced a bumpy 2013 season that culminated with a fourth-quarter busted coverage in the Week 17 finale against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Conte's struggles, however, were magnified by the Bears' porous front-seven on defense and their inability to tackle ball carriers before they reached the second level, which forced all of the team's defensive backs to repeatedly make difficult open field tackles. The Bears surrendered a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game last season.

Regardless, Conte faces intense competition to earn a roster spot in 2014 after the Bears beefed up the safety position by adding Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Brock Vereen (fourth-round draft choice).

Fellow safety Craig Steltz is likely to practice on Friday after he underwent offseason groin surgery, but a final determination won't be made until later in the week, per Emery.
Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) and left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) have received full medical clearance to begin camp. Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long will be sidelined indefinitely due to a viral infection.
With the start of training camp closing , here's the final player in our a look at the three Chicago Bears rookies most poised to make an impact in 2014. It’s no surprise that every one of the rookies to watch are defensive players:

He took repetitions with the starters during organized team activities and minicamp, but at this point it’s unknown whether Brock Vereen is capable of consistently performing at the level required of a first teamer.

That’s why Bears coach Marc Trestman cautioned against heaping too much praise on Vereen, a fourth-round pick out of Minnesota.

“The simple fact we’ve rotated him with the 1’s is a clear indication we think he can compete, but we’re not going to anoint him yet,” Trestman said. “There’s no reason to think he can’t put himself in position to compete for one of those jobs, but it’s way, way too early.”

Besides that, Vereen needs to beat out some veterans to hold onto the starting job. The Bears signed M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray in free agency among others, but it appears Vereen’s chief competition for the starting gig will be Chris Conte, who has missed most of the team’s on-field work this offseason after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

While likely it’s unknown whether Conte will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. If he does, Vereen needs to take full advantage of the veteran’s absence to secure the starting job.

“I told Chris I can’t wait to get him out there. He said he can’t wait to get out there, and that’s where we are,” said Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “Whenever he’s available, we’ll start working him in, get him up to speed and get him the reps.”

In the meantime, Vereen wants to pick up the concepts of Chicago’s defense as quickly as possible. The staff’s approach should help. The Bears plan to reinstall the defense at training camp, according to Tucker, while adding “some things as we go that we didn’t cover in OTAs and the coaching sessions.”

“One of the first things our coaches said is, ‘You’re gonna make a mistake, but make it fast,” Vereen said. “I’m just trying to show my speed, and hopefully, that I can pick up the concepts quick.”

If that happens, it should make for an interesting competition at the free-safety position.

“He’s smart, he plays fast,” Tucker said. “He does not make a lot of mistakes. We’ll see how it goes. We have competition there. There’s nothing set in stone. We’ll just continue to monitor him and the rest of the guys, and we’ll end up with a good group I think.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Third-round draft choice Will Sutton practiced on Thursday after being excused the previous two days for what he called "a family emergency".

Sutton never went into specific details about the matter but said "everything is good now" when asked if the situation had been resolved.

"I talked it over with the coaches and they let me go," Sutton said. "They said to take as time as I need but I'm here today."

Sutton felt he performed fine on Thursday despite missing the first two days of the club's mandatory minicamp, but the Arizona State product revealed that he plans to return home in the weeks leading up to training camp to ensure that he keeps himself in top physical shape. Sutton gained weight his final year with the Sun Devils that caused his production and draft stock to dip.

He is currently listed at 6-foot, 303 pounds on the Bears' official offseason roster.

"I'm just going to go back to Arizona and train," Sutton said. "It's going to be hot. It's going to be hot.

"My weight isn't a problem. I put on the weight [last year] because I was told to. It's not a problem. It's not that I'm lazy and don't work out."

Speaking of working out, the Bears don't necessarily view the five week gap between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp as a vacation. Bears head coach Marc Trestman delivered that message to his team at their final meeting before the players left the building Thursday afternoon. Apparently, Trestman's speech resonated within the locker room.

"There's no real time to rest," Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "You might take your weekends off, but for five days a week you need to get ready for training camp. It's not time to take off."

Kicker Robbie Gould added: "The time to take vacations is in January."

The Bears are set to report to training camp on July 24 on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

• Teams can learn a lot about themselves over the course of an eight-week NFL offseason program.

But can you actually tell if a team will be good in the regular season based on OTAs and minicamp?

"No, you really can't tell," Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings said. "All you can tell is where your team is at. You don't know where you are going to rank, but you know what you have at this moment."

• The Bears clearly like that they have seen from rookie safety Brock Vereen. He took all the first-team reps alongside Ryan Mundy throughout the entire minicamp, but the organization is not ready to anoint Vereen a starter.

• Trestman described undrafted rookie free agent Jordan Lynch as being in the mix for a reserve role in the Bears' offensive backfield.

"We have a logjam from two through five [on the running back depth chart]. Jordan is in that logjam. A lot of that will be balanced out with special teams. I'm looking forward to seeing him in pads with the rest of the younger guys.

"Jordan is doing well."

• Safety Chris Conte was excused for a third straight day due to an illness that the Bears were concerned could be contagious, according to Trestman. However, the bulk of the roster was present on the final day of minicamp, although right tackle Jordan Mills, right guard Kyle Long, cornerback Sherrick McManis and Matt Slauson did not participate.

• Safety Craig Steltz went through individual drills for the third straight day while wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had full participation after he rested on Wednesday.

W2W4: Chicago Bears minicamp

June, 16, 2014
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The Chicago Bears convene one last time before taking a break as they await the start of training camp in July with Tuesday's beginning of a three-day minicamp at Halas Hall.

Here are some storylines to keep an eye on at minicamp:

Palmer
Palmer's injury situation: Jordan Palmer strained a pectoral muscle on his throwing side during organized team activities, calling it "a nothing injury," while saying it's "more frustrating than anything." Still, the injury resulted in the team taking a cautious approach with Palmer during OTAs. The quarterback should be out on the field Tuesday taking repetitions at minicamp, which is important considering Palmer is in the beginning stages of what should turn out to be an interesting competition for the primary backup gig behind Jay Cutler.

Palmer came into the offseason as the favorite to win the job because, while not impossible, it's not likely that rookie David Fales would unseat the veteran for the No. 2 job. Chicago's signing of veteran Jimmy Clausen, however, adds intrigue and increased competition to the situation. So Palmer needs to heal in order to be 100 percent ready for perhaps the most important competition of his NFL career. He's got to be cautious, however, and not rush back into action. After minicamp concludes, Palmer will have plenty of time to heal up. So if Palmer feels any discomfort in that strained pectoral muscle, he shouldn't hesitate to shut it down.

Clausen
Clausen's repetitions/performance: If Clausen gains a level of command with Chicago's playbook, he'll be a formidable competitor to Palmer, Fales, and Jerrod Johnson for the primary backup job. Clausen basically took a crash course in the team's system during organized team activities. But Clausen should be well-versed enough in the offense by now to really be able to show what he can do. It's likely the staff gives Clausen plenty of reps throughout this three-day minicamp, and he needs to make the most of them.

The Bears signed Clausen because they liked his experience, football smarts, and mental toughness. During Clausen's workout for the team, he threw an accurate ball with plenty of spin on it. Now, he'll need to show those attributes consistently enough to give the staff confidence that he can be a legitimate contender for the No. 2 job.

With five quarterbacks already on the roster, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Bears let one go after minicamp.

Cutler
Cutler's command of the offense: Cutler is expected to speak to the media after Tuesday's session, and we should be able to get a feel for how comfortable he's become operating Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer's offense. Cutler performed well last season, which marked his first year playing in that system. So in Year 2, Cutler should be pretty much an expert at executing the scheme. In addition to the experience gained in 2013, Cutler worked diligently throughout the offseason with his teammates on offense to sharpen execution. Cutler has also worked hand in hand with Trestman and Kromer to further develop the playbook based on what he's comfortable doing, and what the offense as a whole does well. That should translate into more efficient execution.

So how Cutler operates during minicamp will be watched closely; especially competitive the periods of practice, which pit the starters on offense and defense against one another.

Brock Vereen: A fourth-round pick from Minnesota, Vereen made the most of his reps during OTAs as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz were sidelined with injuries. Vereen took all the first-team reps at free safety opposite free-agent acquisition Ryan Mundy during the club's last OTA open to the media, with M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray taking the second-team reps.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [about taking reps with the starters], but I know nothing is set," he said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it. It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now, I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."

That bodes well for him. Vereen played almost every position in the secondary at Minnesota, but the Bears believe he's best suited to play free safety in the NFL. The club likes Vereen's versatility, and believes he's got the acumen, desire and football intelligence to quickly become a viable contributor.

Revamped front seven: The additions of Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, and Willie Young in free agency, the selections of Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, and Shea McClellin's switch from defensive end to linebacker means there's quite a few moving parts in Chicago's revamped front seven. How it all meshes will be a major factor in the success of the entire defense.

Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea figure to be the team's starters at defensive tackle in minicamp with Houston and Allen manning the end spots. The starters at linebacker will likely be D.J. Williams in the middle with Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic playing the outside spots. More than likely, the Bears will go into the 2014 season with aforementioned as the starters in the front seven.

But players such as Ferguson, Sutton, Young and McClellin will take on key roles as rotational and situational contributors. McClellin is currently competing with Bostic for the starting job at Sam linebacker, but has also taken reps in the middle. If he's unable to win a starting job at linebacker, he'll still likely be used quite a bit as a pass-rusher in sub packages, as will Young. Ferguson and Sutton probably won't start, but they'll be counted on to take almost as many reps as Ratliff and Paea.

It will be interesting at minicamp to watch how the chemistry develops with all the new players in the front seven, as well as how the staff deploys them.

Observations: Vereen challenging at FS

June, 11, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Based on the organized team activities (OTA) portion of the Chicago Bears' offseason program, rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen looks to be a serious contender to earn a permanent place in the starting lineup.

[+] EnlargeBrock Vereen
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoBears safety Brock Vereen, who participated in the team's rookie minicamp in May, is adjusting to playing in the NFL.
Vereen took all the first-team reps at safety alongside free-agent signee Ryan Mundy on Wednesday, as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz continue to be sidelined due to injuries. M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray handled the reps on the second team.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [by the starters reps], but I know nothing is set," Vereen said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it.

"It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."

Vereen played multiple defensive back positions in college for Minnesota, but appears best suited to line up at free safety in the NFL. Mundy is built like a strong safety at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but the safety spots are generally viewed as interchangeable.

Here are other observations from Wednesday's OTA, the final session open to the media:

• With Matt Slauson still recovering from shoulder surgery, Brian de la Puente worked with the starters at left guard. Many consider de la Puente to be the heir apparent to Roberto Garza at center, although the former New Orleans Saints starter signed only a one-year contract with the Bears in the offseason.

• Cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were present this week after being absent from last week's open OTA to the media.

• The Bears' trio of linebackers in their base defense during the majority of team drills consisted of D.J. Williams (MLB), Lance Briggs (WLB) and Shea McClellin (SLB). However, both Williams and McClellin came off the field in the nickel package in favor of Jon Bostic.

• Rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller continued to run with the No. 1's in nickel as Tim Jennings mainly bumped inside to cover the slot with Tillman at the opposite cornerback spot.

Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson in the end zone on back-to-back passes during a red zone drill. Marshall did have a couple drops over the course of the afternoon.

• Marshall did return a punt at one point on Wednesday.

• Reserve quarterback Jerrod Johnson saw action on special teams when he lined up as one of the two cornerbacks tasked with slowing down the gunner on punt return. Hard to remember a quarterback wearing the orange "off-limits" jersey ever participating on special teams before. But Johnson held up just fine during the drill and flashed some impressive speed trailing the gunner down the field.

• New quarterback Jimmy Clausen received fewer reps than Johnson and rookie David Fales, but the former Carolina Panther had some zip on the ball and seemed to have a decent understanding of the offense whenever he went under center.

• The Bears have one final OTA scheduled for Thursday in advance of the club's three-day veteran minicamp next week. Cutler is expected to meet the media next Tuesday for the first time since the start of the offseason in April.

Observations: Scuffle breaks out

June, 3, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A brief skirmish broke out at Tuesday's organized team activity during a team drill between members of the Chicago Bears' starting offense and defense. Involved in the short-lived fracas was defensive end Lamarr Houston, right tackle Jordan Mills, tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Jared Allen.

Teammates quickly intervened to end the fight, but not before Bennett slammed his own helmet to the ground in frustration.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoChicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had some outstanding catches during Tuesday's organized team activities in Lake Forest, Illinois.
"We are just competing,” Houston said afterward. "This is a competitive sport. That's the atmosphere Coach Trestman wants. We are competing every day to get better. Sometimes people get heated, but all we are doing is competing out there. It's exciting out there. It's a competitive atmosphere. We're having fun in practice.

"That's football. We just go back to the next play and keep working. It's nothing personal. Marty is a good guy. He's a good friend of mine. I'm going to go in there with him after this. Everything is all good.”

Bennett later tweeted: "I go hard every [expletive] day. No doubt about that. Not a single ounce of [expletive] in me.”

Here are several other observations from Tuesday's voluntary session:

• Former New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente split reps with Eben Britton at left guard with starter Matt Slauson sidelined due to a shoulder injury.

• Middle linebacker D.J. Williams worked out in front of the media for the first time in the offseason. Williams was absent from last Tuesday's open OTA, but did participate in practices later in the week that were closed to the media.

Charles Tillman's absence on Tuesday opened the door for veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden to receive a look on the first team at cornerback in the base defense and in the nickel package. Hayden missed the entire 2013 regular season after tearing his hamstring in training camp. Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller still worked with the starters in nickel when Tim Jennings bumped inside to cover the slot.

• Hall of Famer Mike Ditka watched Tuesday's workout from the sidelines in Lake Forest. Ditka addressed the team last year following a practice at Halas Hall, and had his number retired by the Bears during halftime of the team's Monday night Dec. 9 game versus the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field.

• Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery flashed his strong hands when he went up and snagged a red-zone pass over Jennings.

• Safeties Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen had blanket coverage on Brandon Marshall on a deep Jay Cutler ball down the middle of the field. The pass fell incomplete.

• Rookie David Fales and second-year quarterback Jerrod Johnson received extra reps in team drills as No. 2 QB Jordan Palmer took a backseat to allow the young quarterbacks to get extended looks.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chris Conte is unsure of the exact date he'll receive medical clearance to return to the field, but the Chicago Bears free safety said on Tuesday he's experienced no setbacks with his surgically repaired shoulder.

Conrath
Conte
Conte underwent a procedure on March 26 to correct a lingering shoulder issue. The team originally announced Conte would be sidelined four-to-five months.

"As soon as I can get back out there, I'll get back," Conte said following the team's organized team activity.

"But I can do a lot of stuff with the shoulder. The Bears have a whole protocol of things that I need to be doing [to strengthen the shoulder], and I go by what the doctor says. I'm just following orders. I haven't had any setbacks or anything. Everything is going well."

Conte and fellow veteran Craig Steltz were spectators at Tuesday's open OTA while free-agent addition Ryan Mundy and 2014 fourth-round draft choice Brock Vereen spent much of the workout lining up at safety with the first-team defense. Newcomers M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray worked on the second-team.

"There are a lot of different faces, but it's definitely an opportunity for me to focus and work on the mental aspects of things," Conte said.

"Rehab is going well. I'm just taking it every day as it comes and I think it's going as good as it can go. The most important thing is I feel good."

Starting left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) was also present at Halas Hall on Tuesday, but failed to participate. Weak side linebacker Lance Briggs took part in individual drills but left the field at the beginning of team drills and did not return. Briggs left the field under his own power without the assistance of any member of the club's medical staff. Briggs did not appear to be physically injured.

Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff missed Tuesday's voluntary session.

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