Chicago Bears: NFC

Chicago Bears Preseason Live

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
9:00
AM ET
Welcome to Chicago Bears training camp! ESPN.com Bears reporters Michael C. Wright and Jeff Dickerson have live updates and the latest news from Bourbonnais, Illinois.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman spent nearly an hour Wednesday addressing the media for the start of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, and touched on a variety of topics.

Here are three things we think after listening to them as well as quarterback Jay Cutler, who met with the media shortly after reporting to camp:

Wilson
Michael C. Wright

If healthy, Adrian Wilson is a starter. Yes, he’s 34 and coming off an injury which forced him to miss the entire 2013 season. But some within the organization are downright giddy about what Wilson could potentially bring to the table in terms of adding a level of physicality at the safety position. In laying out a case for him, one member of the organization pointed out that many of today’s best defenses feature an intimidating presence on the back end; teams such as Seattle and San Francisco. The truth is the Bears don’t know whether Wilson has anything left in the tank. But if Wilson remains fully healthy throughout camp, I think he leaves Bourbonnais with a starting job.

“He sets a tone,” general manager Phil Emery said. “Talk about a guy that [will] come down in the box and whack you, and whack you in space. That’s what he’s done.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Offense isn’t quite as good as everyone thinks. Not yet. That’s not to take away from the group’s accomplishments last season, because it definitely improved. But there seems to be an assumption the Bears will automatically light up opponents this season based on what they did in 2013. Chicago’s offense hasn’t arrived by any means. There’s still plenty of room for growth. That’s part of why Bears coach Marc Trestman constantly laments yardage and points they “left on the field” in 2013, and why a major part of the coach’s message to the team at camp is to “ignore the noise”; the noise being the optimism surrounding the team from outsiders.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler and the Bears offense still has a lot of work to do if they want to become elite.
Cutler even cautioned against overconfidence.

“You’ve got to be careful with that. Everyone in the NFL is confident right now,” Cutler said. “Everyone likes what they have on paper. Everyone likes their roster. That includes us. But that doesn’t guarantee us anything. We’ve still got to go out there and perform.”

The Bears certainly won’t be sneaking up on opponents this season given what the offense did in 2013. Opposing defenses will be ready. The Bears need to be, too.

Jimmy Clausen will overtake Jordan Palmer for the No. 2 job. Emery raved about Clausen’s workouts, and it seems Cutler has taken to the former Notre Dame standout too. Emery said that upon Clausen’s arrival, he “got Jay on the phone right away. Jay reached him, and they reached out to each other,” and the quarterbacks “spent the whole weekend together learning the playbook so that [Clausen] had the best opportunity to stick with the team post the veteran minicamp. That determination, the literal picture is he squared his jaw and got to work. That is what I like about him. He’s got a certain mental toughness and intelligence, and he showed accuracy.”

To me, it seems the Bears want Clausen to win the job, and Palmer certainly didn’t help his cause by missing practice time during the offseason due to an injury only to return with a couple of shaky workouts.

The team likes how Clausen handled his lack of success and the drafting of Cam Newton in Carolina, and believes the quarterback has displayed plenty of mental toughness in recent years. It also helps that he’s got plenty of NFL experience, which will be a huge advantage in the competition with Palmer.

Jeff Dickerson

Competition not just lip service with Trestman. Genuine training camp competitions under Lovie Smith were few and far between. Most everything was predetermined on the depth chart under Smith, but legitimate battles are expected to take place this preseason at safety, linebacker, No. 3 wide receiver (although Marquess Wilson is the favorite), No. 2 quarterback, No. 2 running back, and for the reserve spots on the offensive and defensive lines. Too often NFL players fall into the trap of feeling comfortable and secure once they’ve established themselves. Emery has removed that security blanket. Read between the lines on Wednesday: notable veteran players are in jeopardy of being cut at the end of the summer if they fail to perform at an acceptable level at camp and in the preseason games. Emery also said on Wednesday the Bears will continue to monitor the waiver wire and free agent market to improve the club, if necessary. Unless a player has a lucrative contract, he is not safe from a roster standpoint.

Clausen
Clausen will overtake Palmer for the No. 2 job. Jordan Palmer might open practice on Friday as the No. 2 quarterback, but Jimmy Clausen has closed the gap in the QB race considerably. The Bears have done nothing but praise Clausen since he joined the club on June 5, lauding everything from Clausen’s arm, intelligence, commitment and desire to prove people wrong following a disappointing stint in Carolina. Emery called Clausen’s free agent workout “the best quarterback workout” he’s seen since arriving in Chicago in the winter of 2012. Clausen has also apparently clicked with Cutler over the last six weeks. Emery has final say over the roster, but Cutler’s opinion does matter when it comes to selecting his backup. Clausen has the most experience of the bunch (10 starts) and the most natural talent. We all see where this is headed.

Kyle Long's expected absence concerning. Training camp is where offensive linemen hone their technique. While Kyle Long made the Pro Bowl in 2013 as a rookie, he is still considered somewhat raw. The news that Long will be sidelined indefinitely due to a viral infection is concerning. A bad viral infection can keep a player out for an extended period of time. We don’t know the severity of Long’s illness, other than he’s scheduled to be re-evaluated next week. Hopefully, Long returns to the field in short order. He needs the reps. And the last thing the Bears need is to once again be forced to move bodies around on the offensive line. We all know how that usually ends up. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) and left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) receiving full medical clearance to practice on Friday is encouraging news, but forgive me for holding my breath until Long gets over the illness and is back on the field.
Jay Cutler can take the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl, according to future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who believes the enigmatic quarterback might now be hitting his prime.

Favre
Cutler
Asked on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko” show on Monday whether Chicago could advance to the Super Bowl with Cutler under center, Favre said “I think they can,” adding that it appears the Bears are finally starting to put enough talent around the quarterback after focusing for so many years on the defense.

“It goes without saying that Jay has all the tools it takes to be a great quarterback,” Favre said. “And I think the pieces are beginning to be in place. For years their defense had just been so dominating, and it’s time for their offense to really prove their worth. I think Jay can be that guy.”

Chicago’s brass does, too, considering the organization rewarded Cutler back in January with a contract extension worth $126 million. Cutler celebrated his 31st birthday back in April, and although players’ physical skills often start to diminish after the age of 30, Favre pointed to a pair of former MVPs in making a case for the Chicago quarterback.

Asked if Cutler could become a great quarterback after the age of 30, Favre didn’t hesitate.

“Rich Gannon did it. Steve Young did it. Sure,” Favre said. “I think you become a lot wiser as you kind of lose some of your physical abilities. I think at 30 for a quarterback, really, you’re just kind of hitting your prime.”

Perhaps one component of the growing wisdom Favre anticipates from Cutler will manifest itself in decision making. In part, because of supreme confidence in his arm strength, Cutler has gained a reputation for forcing throws into tight windows, which often leads to interceptions.

Favre had the same reputation during his 20-year NFL career, and called his arm strength “a blessing and a curse.” Favre holds the NFL record for career interceptions (336).

“What I mean by that, I had an arm that I felt was as good if not better than anyone,” Favre said. “I wasn’t as fast. I wasn’t as tall. I wasn’t as smart. But I knew I could make the throws no one else could make. I would attempt throws I knew I could get away with. Would it come back to haunt me sometimes? Sure it would. But I played 20 years and sometimes it bit me in the butt. Most of the time, I got away with it. I think had my arm not been as strong, I wouldn’t have attempted those. You get away with it more times than not, but occasionally it gets you. I think that’s just the way really any player plays throughout the league; knowing your imitations, and sometimes, it gets the better of you.”
Training camp is coming, and you've got questions. So we figured it would be absolutely worth it to try to knock out a Bears mailbag before the start of training camp Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University. Thanks everyone for participating. @mikecwright: I have. He's a very engaging fellow whom I think has a chance to contribute significantly as a rookie. Back in May during the rookie minicamp, we had the opportunity to speak with him and ask him about what it was like to finally put on a Bears uniform. Here's what he said: "A dream come true. It's like when you come from the first year in high school, you're a little puppy, you're trying to learn; first year of college, it's the same thing. So I'm just trying to soak everything in and learn from the vets. It's definitely unreal right now. I still wake up every morning thinking this is a dream. But at the end of the day, I'm here man. And I'm happy to be here." What I liked about Ferguson is the fact he wasn't quick to pat himself on the back in terms of his physical skill set. He prefers to prove his worth on the field, which is refreshing. "I can't tell you what I can bring until I get on the field," Ferguson said. @mikecwright: It would be easy for me to tell you right here, but I prefer you take a minute to look at my projected 53-man roster, which ran Friday. You can find the answer you seek here. @mikecwright: It's too early to say whether he'll make the team, but in my mind that player is linebacker Christian Jones, who was a big-time standout at Florida State but wasn't drafted. At FSU, Jones played all over the place and started games at every linebacker spot for the Seminoles, in addition to defensive end. He was expected to be picked as high as the second round, yet his name went uncalled during the draft. At rookie minicamp back in May, Jones admitted that a diluted drug test at the NFL combine in February likely resulted in teams shying away from him. Here's an interesting note about Jones: His father, Willie Jones Sr., played at Florida State with Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring, which is part of the reason the rookie chose to sign with Chicago. "I knew I'd get some good coaching from [Herring] and I know about the Bears history, winning nine championships," Jones said. "It's a great organization and I just wanted to be a part of it. It's a lot of motivation [to go undrafted]. It's the competitive side. You see guys getting drafted above you. Everybody thinks they're better than somebody. But that's how it is. It's going to help fuel me, and I believe things happen for a reason. I really feel like I belong here, and I'm just making the best of the opportunity." I'd say keep an eye out for Jones because he's a player. @mikecwright: Absolutely he does. Remember, when Jeremiah Ratliff joined the Bears he was coming off an injury, and the Bears more or less just let him take his time going through the healing process. That was a huge positive for Ratliff and the Bears because he's 100 percent ready to go. Your question reminds me of a text I received from a member of the Bears organization shortly after the club re-signed Ratliff. So I dug through my phone to find it. It said: "It helps that we signed Rat. He's a soldier if healthy!" Well, now Ratliff is fully healthy, and the Bears are expecting him to be a steady and disruptive force up front this season. Ratliff will be 33 once the season starts, but I don't see his age being a major concern. @mikecwright: I do, but not necessarily for the reasons you'd think. First off, what the Bears did in terms of reloading up front will be huge in helping the secondary. If the front four can consistently put pressure on the opposing quarterback, obviously the secondary doesn't have to stay in coverage as long, and that's huge. So that's the No. 1 reason the secondary will be improved. Here's No. 2. When the Bears revamped the coaching staff last season, it took away a ton of the continuity the club had established with the former coaching staff under Lovie Smith. Under Smith, Jon Hoke worked with the cornerbacks. Smith's son, Mikal, worked with the nickel corners, and Gill Byrd spent his time with Chicago's safeties. When the new staff came aboard last season the players weren't able to get as much individualized coaching because Byrd and Smith obviously left, leaving Hoke to try to work with both the cornerbacks and the safeties. Ultimately, defensive quality control assistant Chris Harris ended up working with the safeties, and although he's got tons of knowledge as a former player, you have to keep in mind that 2013 was his first season as a coach. I think this season there will be more continuity with the coaching staff, and Hoke will return to working with the cornerbacks, while defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will start spending more time working with the safeties. I didn't even get into the new additions, which obviously should help. But I think the moves with the front four and the coaching staff changing the way it does things will be the two biggest contributors to improved play in the secondary. 
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.”
Cutler
Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is a Chicago native, summed things up succinctly when asked about Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler's new contract, which pays $126.7 million over seven years.

"Are you serious?" McNabb asked on 87.7 The Game's "Jarrett, Harry and Spike" show.

"Jay might be the luckiest dude in Chicago, to be honest with you, with the contract he received for what we haven't seen thus far. I think the sky's the limit for him. But for what we've seen in Chicago, when you didn't finish the NFC Championship [Game], which was due to injury. Even with that, you haven't been able to get past that hump. One game to get into the playoffs, you couldn't get it done. Caleb Hanie comes in to play. Josh McCown comes in to play, and then the contract comes up and you get paid like a top-three, top-four quarterback. Are you serious? For what we've seen? If he doesn't do it this year, it's going to end up being a mistake."

That's precisely why Cutler's performance and continued development remain the most important key to success over the next three seasons for this team. Essentially, the Bears are handcuffed to Cutler at least until 2016, which more or less makes his new contract a three-year, $54 million deal. The contract contains rolling options from now until then, with no cap repercussions if the team releases Cutler after 2016 because he didn't receive a signing bonus, meaning there's no proration to account for.

Cutler showed tremendous growth in 2013 during coach Marc Trestman's first year in Chicago. In four seasons with the Bears prior to 2013, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2 in 2013, his best since 2006.

Such positive trends need to continue with Cutler for the Bears to sustain any level of success over the next few seasons.
video
Hopefully you all enjoyed the holiday weekend. With all that out of the way and training camp on the horizon, NFL news is difficult to come by.

Well, we’ve got some. ESPN The Magazine’s Comeback Issue dropped Monday, and Bears receiver Brandon Marshall spent time with us at his home discussing a variety of topics, with most focused on some of the things he’s doing to promote mental health awareness. Our entire interview didn’t make it into the video clip above or the magazine story. So I decided to pull together all of it to post here on our blog.

Here’s Part I of the interview. We'll post more Tuesday:

Michael Wright: This is all about comebacks, and you’ve made quite the comeback in terms of your growth on and off the football field as a player and as a man. Where are you now compared to when you first came into the NFL?

Marshall: When you look at where I’m at today, there’s no comparison. It’s night and day. It’s a 180-degree turn. But I truly believe I went through the things I went through to be able to understand the people that we’re working with now; to empathize. When you go into a community or you go into a place and you can’t relate, people won’t listen. So for me, the field that we’re working in -- trying to bridge that gap in the mental health community -- people understand that I went through it. Just last night, I was texting a young lady who is suicidal right now. That wasn’t a part of my case, but I could understand how one could get there. There’s a lot of people who may look down on someone who may be dealing with something mentally because they don’t understand it. They’ve never been around it. So the comeback for me is significant because I really believe we’re in position to save lives. I really believe that we’re in position to change our world. So I’m excited for this new opportunity and I just want to be responsible with it.

You were just talking about all you went through. You’ve talked about going from a patient to a provider. Can you enlighten us about that a little more?

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
David Banks/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall put his problems behind him and caught 100 passes, 12 for touchdowns, in the 2013 season.
Marshall: That was a pretty cool experience because we’re still in it, and I think we will always be in it. But I was a patient. I needed help. I needed a treatment facility. I needed a program. I needed doctors. I needed group members, and I got the help that I needed. And now I’m sitting here on the other side just extending a hand saying, "Hey, have faith, have hope, persevere, work hard. You can make it, too." It’s interesting because now whether it’s people in my profession, athletes, general managers, player personnel guys or other executives calling asking us for help, whether it's in their families, in their own household or if it's a situation pertaining to a player. So that's why I say we went from patient to provider because now we have a caseload. We have people that we're trying to help and there are people that are reaching out trying to get our help.

You have a past. You've had quite a few things happen to you in the past and you've done a ton try to distances yourself from that past. But take me back to those times. How were you feeling in your heart, mentally and emotionally, when you were going through some of those things?

Marshall: You know what? I've got to be honest: A lot of people they'll read my rap sheet and be they'll be like, "Ah man, he's been through a lot. He must've been really sick." Well, a lot of it was just me being immature and just going through the growing pains of a teenager to a young man, from a young man to a man. Getting a DUI, that's just something that's just dumb. That's something that is like, I don't understand it. You just have to go through it and learn from it. I could've killed somebody. I could've been killed or hurt somebody really badly. But a lot of times we focus so much on the behavior, of what we see on ESPN, what we see at the bottom of the ticker. But the thing that's most scary is the things that you don't see, the suffering in silence, those times where I had to put a hoodie on to leave my house because I didn't want to connect with anybody. I didn't want anybody to recognize me. Sitting in my theater room day in, day out. It's the darkest room in my house. I can't hear anything, "I’m just gonna sit here. I'm comfortable." But it wasn't like there was something wrong. It was my norm. It felt like that was my reality. I was so deep in it that it didn't feel weird. It didn't feel like it was a problem. People used to look at me, family and friends and like, "Dude, what's going on?" I'm like, "What's going on? I have this amazing house, why do I have to leave? I have this amazing theater room. Why do I have to leave?" But I was so isolated and so hurt that I needed help.

When did you reach that "eureka" moment where you said, "You know what? I need help. I need to get it together?"

Marshall: If it wasn't for football, I wouldn't be sitting here. A lot of us professional athletes are defined by the sport we play. We grow up being put on this pedestal by the world, by our coaches and peers, our family members. We grow up thinking that's what we're here to do. That's our purpose. So for me, I was the same. I grew up being put on that pedestal. I grew up being the best on the field, and I've always been able to control football. That was my sanctuary. That was my place where I could go. That was my safe haven. But it wasn't until I couldn't control what was going on in football is what woke me up. All the relationships and all the drama, all that stuff, that was normal. I grew up in that environment. It was like, "Yo, that's the way of life. But I can control football." But when I wasn't able to do that is when I said, "Man, I need help."

Pre-camp check: Safety

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
9:00
AM ET
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on June 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:

[+] EnlargeChris Conte
AP Photo/Scott BoehmSafety Chris Conte, who has missed all of the Bears' 2014 offseason work so far, hopes to return healthy and in time for training camp in late July.
Overview: Inconsistency brought on by injuries along the front seven played a role in shoddy play in 2013 by safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte.

Wright bolted for Tampa Bay in free agency, but Conte remains on the roster; sidelined by an offseason shoulder surgery that could land him on the physically unable to perform list for the start of training camp. Either way, the brass deemed it necessary to upgrade the talent at the position.

Did they do it? That’s unclear right now because offseason workouts don’t provide enough evidence about how the new additions might perform in game situations.

In addition to drafting Brock Vereen, the Bears signed M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy and 14-year veteran Adrian Wilson. So between all the new faces combined with players such as Conte and Craig Steltz, the Bears should be able to find a couple of safeties in 2014 capable of getting the job done.

Battle to watch: Every spot on the safety depth chart registers as a battle to watch because right now every position -- including the starting jobs -- is up for grabs. Provided Conte regains his confidence in 2014, he certainly possesses the skill set to finish training camp as one of the starters. But how long will he be on the shelf? Conte was unable to practice throughout organized team activities and minicamps, which puts him somewhat behind in the competition for one of the starting spots.

“We’ll see,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I’ll wait until camp rolls around and I’ll get a report, and they’ll let us know who’s available and how much they can do. Whenever he’s available, we’ll start working him in and get him up to speed, get him the reps. He’s been in the meetings. So he knows what we’re doing. We’re going to start over pretty much in training camp with our installation. So a lot of it will be review, and then we’ll add some things as we go that we didn’t cover in OTAs and the coaches’ sessions. He’s gotten the mental work in, in the class room. So it’ll just be getting the physical reps. When he’s ready, he’s ready. We’ll work him in.”

Mundy has taken reps with the starters, as have Vereen and Jennings. The Bears added a wrinkle to the competition at safety in late June with the signing of Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, who missed all of 2013 due to a torn Achilles.

Dark horse: Despite his decorated past and Pro Bowl pedigree, Wilson comes into the derby for one of the safety spots without the benefit of learning the system by participating in the team’s offseason program. Wilson is one of 13 players in NFL history to pick off at least 20 passes in addition to posting 20 sacks. But the truth is the coaching staff really doesn’t know what Wilson, who will be 35 this season, has left in the tank. Wilson is also still trying to work back from undergoing surgery last fall on his Achilles.

If Wilson manages to stick, he could be a valuable asset for the team’s young safeties in teaching them the intricacies of the game.

Who makes the cut: The Bears will have some tough decisions to make here because it appears the current group is talented, but the roster spots are limited. Conte (if he regains health), Mundy, Vereen and Steltz will likely make the roster, and if the Bears decide to go with five safeties, Jennings would likely make the cut over McCray. If Wilson shows he’s back to form during camp, Steltz could become a victim of the numbers game at the position.
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on June 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Chicago Bears will lean on cornerback Kyle Fuller, their 2014 first-round pick, to contribute during his rookie season.
Overview: From top to bottom cornerback remains one of the team’s strongest positions groups, and that was bolstered by the re-signings of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, in addition to the club acquiring Kyle Fuller out of Virginia Tech with a first-round draft pick.

All three of those players should see time on the field together, but the Bears still feel they need capable reinforcements.

“You need to have multiple corners,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “A lot of the defenses we have to play, that we’re required to play nowadays in the National Football League, are sub packages with three corners or corner types in the game. Typically, at least half of the snaps you’ll play in the season will be with five defensive backs in the game. And sometimes, you’ll go into game weeks or games and almost every single snap will be in sub personnel. So there are ample opportunities for guys to show what they can do and become a contributor to a productive rotation. A third corner is like a starter. A third corner plays as much if not more than your third linebacker in a 4-3."

That means Fuller and Jennings will spend plenty of time shuffling on and off the field, depending on the situation. During organized team activities and minicamps, Jennings played opposite Tillman in the starting lineup. But when the team went into sub packages on passing downs, Fuller moved out opposite Tillman and Jennings kicked inside to the nickel spot. More than likely, that look isn’t yet set in stone as OTAs and minicamps are the time to experiment. What is clear, though, is the Bears expect Fuller to contribute immediately as a rookie.

Battle to watch: The Bears finished last season with five corners, and it appears right now the top four spots could be locked up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, and Kelvin Hayden with the fifth spot up for grabs. Isaiah Frey would seem to be the most likely candidate to win that fifth spot considering he spent the entire 2013 season as the nickel, with six starts, and played out the year with a broken hand. Frey contributed 47 tackles and broke up a pair of passes. But the Bears wanted turnovers from the nickel spot, and Frey was unable to deliver.

Frey will have to hold off players such as Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean, Derricus Purdy, C.J. Wilson and Sherrick McManis, a star on special teams, who shows plenty of potential at corner. Although Hayden appears to be a frontrunner for that fourth corner spot, it’s worth nothing he missed all of last season due to a severe hamstring injury. Hayden's health is a concern.

Dark horse: An undrafted rookie, Louis-Jean declared for the NFL draft after his sophomore season at Boston College. Louis-Jean played 10 games as a freshman in 2011 and started two of them, contributing 15 tackles, three pass breakups a forced fumble and an interception. But Louis-Jean lost the entire 2012 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot. He came back last season to post 21 tackles, break up a pass and force a fumble in 11 games, but was suspended for the season opener against Villanova and the AdvoCare V100 Bowl for violating team rules.

Louis-Jean attended Chicago’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and caught the staff’s eye enough for the team to take him to training camp.

If the former four-star recruit pans out, the Bears will have come away with somewhat of a steal. At the same time, Louis-Jean could find difficulty flashing his ability in such a crowded race at a well-stocked position.

Who makes the cut: If the Bears stick with five corners, they’ll likely wind up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, Hayden and Frey at the conclusion of camp. But they’ll probably wind up keeping McManis as a contributor on special teams.
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on Jun. 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

During the team's time of inactivity, we'll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
AP Photo/David DrapkinLance Briggs may be the only Bears linebacker who is guaranteed starting job.
Linebacker overview: The coaching staff says two of the three starting spots are up for grabs with Will linebacker Lance Briggs as the only player assured of a gig with the No. 1 defense in 2014. Despite those openings, it appears that D.J. Williams will win the starting job at middle linebacker with Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin competing for the start at Sam; a battle that is expected to be won by Bostic.

Bears coach Marc Trestman considers Williams the frontrunner to win the starting middle linebacker position. But McClellin and Bostic have also taken reps there.

"I'm just hoping he can be 100 percent. He's had an offseason to work, he's been out there competing hard, and when he's playing well, it's visibly noticeable in terms of what we can do with the middle linebacker position," Trestman said. "But we have competition there. He's certainly the lead dog there. But we do have competition."

Battle to watch: The most compelling of the competitions at this position is certainly the one between Bostic and McClellin at Sam linebacker. Bostic probably projects more as a Will linebacker, but with Briggs already at that spot, the team could benefit greatly by having both players on the field at the same time. McClellin appears to have transitioned well from defensive end to linebacker, but it's unknown whether he possesses that run-and-hit skillset that is coveted by this team at the position. During organized team activities and minicamps, contact wasn't allowed. So it was difficult to get an idea of where McClellin might ultimately fit in the team's plans.

"He's going to be a typical 4-3 linebacker for us," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "I see him as probably more of a blitzer than maybe a four-down rusher. But he will have some edge rush opportunities."

So while it's likely Bostic will earn the start (he's clearly the most athletic linebacker on the roster), McClellin could find himself in some of the team's sub packages as an extra pass-rusher.

Dark horse: Christian Jones receives this designation only because he went undrafted out of Florida State. During minicamps and organized team activities, Jones was impressive and could actually fight for time on the field if given a legitimate opportunity by the staff.

A three-year starter at FSU, Jones started games at all three linebacker positions and defensive end, posting 151 tackles as a sophomore and junior. Jones moved to defensive end as a senior.

"Where we're at is this: We've got a long of players that are committed to this franchise that are really working hard," Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. "It's become competitive at every position. Every day they come and it's a fight, a battle. We've got a young Jones player from Florida State, who is doing an incredible job and flashes and shows he has a chance to be a good player. We are building depth here through competition and it's a process. How we end up here, we're developing a picture in our mind, but we're not ready to say because it is still a competitive situation when we get back to training camp. If you want me to prematurely tell you who I am dating and who I am marrying, I don't have the answer. We're still dating."

Who makes the cut: If the Bears decide to keep six, count on Briggs, Bostic, Williams and McClellin to make the roster along with Jones and Khaseem Greene, who has shown improvement since last season. If the Bears go with seven linebackers, it's likely Jordan Senn makes the team because of his ability to contribute heavily on special teams.
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on Jun. 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team.

Defensive end overview: Similar to the face-lift conducted along the offensive line in 2013, the Chicago Bears go into 2014 with plenty of new parts on the defensive line, most notably new defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen.

[+] EnlargeLamarr Houston
AP Photo/ Bill NicholsLamarr Houston had 16 sacks and never missed a game in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
In Houston, the Bears acquired a physical, hard-nosed run defender. In Allen, the Bears brought aboard a proven contributor with plenty of experience.

“We all know that in order to have a great defense, it starts with the defensive line,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “[Allen] has done a fantastic job so far. He’s a real pro. You add Willie Young, [Stephen] Paea, Lamarr to that mix and the other young guys that we have… it’s a salty group. The focus with the D-line this season has been hand use, pad level, setting a vertical edge in the run game and being able to play your gap and a half of another gap. That’s a violent-shed situation. I like the group so far. It’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of guys in there we think can make this team.”

It’s likely that Allen, Houston and Young have pretty much sewn up their respective spots in the defensive end rotation. So most of the competition at the position will be for backup roles, and it appears veterans such as Austen Lane, who has experience with Tucker, and Trevor Scott, a six-year veteran, could have the inside track on jobs. But don’t count out talented youngsters such as David Bass.

Battle to watch: With the top three spots seemingly locked up, look for players such as Scott, Lane, Bass and Washington to fight it out for that fourth defensive end spot. Lane could have an advantage having worked with Tucker the first three years of his NFL career in Jacksonville. But Scott is an experienced player, too, having started 18 career NFL games in which he’s posted 94 tackles and 16.5 sacks. Scott was a sixth-round selection of the Oakland Raiders in 2008.

Washington figures into the mix in part because of his immense physical skill set. Washington played in two games last season as a rookie, and contributed a tackle.

Bass, meanwhile, played in 12 games with one start last season after injuries along the defensive line took a toll. Bass contributed 23 tackles and a sack and also returned an interception for a touchdown.

Dark horse: The Bears obviously committed the bulk of their money at the position to Allen, Houston and Young. So they’ll stick. If the Bears decide to keep six defensive ends, there will be essentially six players fighting for three roster positions.

Undrafted rookie Jamil Merrell could make some noise in training camp. A starter at Rutgers as a junior, Merell missed time during his senior season with a foot injury that kept him out of action the first three games. He racked up 23 tackles, three tackles for lost yardage and a pair of sacks. During his junior season, Merrell posted 40 tackles.

Tracy Robertson is another dark horse. Robertson signed to Chicago’s practice squad last October, but was promoted to the active roster the next month. The club released Robertson on Nov. 29, but brought him back the following month to the practice squad.

Who makes the cut: Chicago’s roster going into the final game of 2013 featured six defensive ends. So if that’s the number the Bears decide to go with this season, count on the obvious three in Allen, Houston and Young, along with Lane, Scott and 2013 sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington making the roster.
Overview: Keeping the interior of the pocket clean allows the quarterback to step up and follow through on throws, and in 2013 the trio of starters Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Matt Slauson certainly allowed the Chicago Bears' signal callers to do that with relative ease.

"We want the protection system to start from the inside out," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said.

It's probably safe to say the interior of Chicago's offensive line is its strength, and should only improve with the team bringing back all the starters while ramping up the competition at some of the backup spots.

"It's exciting," Slauson said. "This is the first time in my career where all five guys have stayed the same. Hopefully we can build off all the progress we made last year."

Battle to watch: This isn't expected to materialize into a full-blown battle, but surely all eyes will be on the play of Garza and Brian De La Puente at the center position. Garza has started every game the last three seasons at center, and in 2013 put together arguably his best campaign since taking over for Olin Kreutz at the position. Although Garza hasn't shown any signs of a drop off, his age (35), and the fact the Bears brought on De La Puente -- who also has familiarity with Kromer -- as the potential heir apparent at the position will lead to speculation the team might be looking to replace the team captain. The potential speculation should lead to intense competition at training camp between Garza and De La Puente, who has also spent time during the offseason at guard. Garza's spot likely isn't in jeopardy, and the truth is some of the battles for the backup roles might wind up being more compelling.

Dark horse: The Bears put together such strong depth at the interior positions there probably won't be a dark horse to make the team at center or guard, and certainly no player on the roster will push either Slauson or Long for their starting jobs.

Who makes the cut: The Bears entered the 2013 regular-season finale with 10 total offensive linemen on the active roster and six of those players including Taylor Boggs, Eben Britton, James Brown, Garza, Long and Slauson can play interior positions. Well, every one of those players is back for 2014, in addition to De La Puente. De La Puente will make the team, which means one of the other players won't make the cut. There's a good chance that player winds up being Brown.

Pre-camp check: Receivers

June, 25, 2014
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Overview: Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery combined for 189 catches, 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns. The yardage ranked as No. 2 in the NFL of all duos behind only Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (2,718).

So it’s not like Marshall and Jeffery will be sneaking up on any opponents in 2014, and there’s now the added pressure of raising the high bar already set.

Marshall
Jeffery
“I think we have a special group,” Marshall said of the offense. “Their approach to practice to their approach to the film room, it’s amazing, and I think if we continue to do that, we’ll continue to grow. We have a tremendous upside. But again, we have to prove it. If we continue to work, we’ll be OK. What we did last year was really tough. You bring in a new coach with a really sophisticated offense, you’ve got [quarterback] Jay [Cutler], he’s been in different offenses almost every other year. So for us to make that leap last year says a lot about our coaching staff and our players. This year, that’s something to build off and we can possibly be better.”

Battle to watch: The Bears want Marquess Wilson to win the No. 3 spot, and that will be an important position for the team moving forward as defenses start to devote more attention to Marshall and Jeffery on the outside. A dynamic player that can threaten the seam -- similar to the way Martellus Bennett does from the tight end spot -- could open up things for everybody else on offense. So unless Wilson falters significantly in camp and in the preseason, the job appears to be his to lose.

That means most of the competition will be for those final spots on the roster at receiver, and will involve veterans such as Josh Morgan, Eric Weems, Micheal Spurlock, Armanti Edwards, Chris Williams and Josh Bellamy. So we’re talking about six players competing for two, possibly three roster spots, and the ability to contribute on special teams will likely wind up being a major determining factor.

Of the group, Morgan is probably the most polished as a receiver while Weems and Spurlock possess a combination of skills as receivers and return men.

Dark horse: Terrence Toliver, believe it or not, is actually in his second stint with the Bears. The club first signed him in January 2013, before cutting him at the end of camp. The Bears then brought back Toliver last October. Toliver hasn’t caught a single pass in an NFL regular-season game, yet he’s spent time with five different teams. Toliver possesses some upside, and is similar to Marshall and Jeffery in terms of size (6-foot-5, 204 pounds). He’s shown gradual improvement throughout his tenure with the Bears, but the question is whether he’ll receive enough of an opportunity to show the club what he can do in training camp and the preseason.

Who makes the cut: If the Bears keep five receivers, they’ll likely go into the season with Marshall, Jeffery, Wilson, Morgan and Weems. If they keep six, Williams would likely make the cut over the other competitors.
Overview: Matt Forte racked up a career-high 1,933 yards from scrimmage last season, which ranked as the fifth most in franchise history, and he did it in a new offense. In Year 2 in Marc Trestman’s offense, Forte figures to put up similar numbers as the staff refines the scheme to focus on the club’s strengths.

Forte
Forte
“Last year, we had to figure out what we were gonna be good at,” Forte said, “and I think that’s just being balanced between the run and the pass. We kind of started out heavy pass early last season, and kind of sprinkling in runs. Then we found out what kinds of runs the O-line likes to block and were good at with the tight ends. Then we started doing different types [of runs]. [Offensive coordinator Aaron] Kromer is good at mixing them up between runs. Being balanced this year and already knowing with the offensive line likes to block is gonna give us a little head start.”

Battle to watch: Forte’s got the top spot locked up, obviously. So the most intriguing competition at this position at training camp will involve rising second-year man Michael Ford and rookie fourth-round pick Ka’Deem Carey. Team officials and coaches typically mention that money doesn’t play into personnel decisions, but that’s not always the case. The Bears paid Carey $443,380 in a signing bonus, while Ford, last season received $3,500. So it’s likely Carey will be given more opportunities than Ford to win the backup job behind Forte. But Carey’s got to win the position as the team simply won’t just hand it to him.

“I don’t feel any pressure. I like to have fun, and when I have fun, I play my best,” Carey said. “If I get worked up about trying to compete and trying to show what I’ve got, then I will just show out bad. I want to perform how I know how to perform. I walk around with a smile, and I have fun, and I perform.”

Ford, listed at 5-foot-10, 216 pounds is bigger than Carey. But the latter is considered more a grinder between the tackles as Ford seems to be more of a scat back type with impressive quickness. Carey was a contributor on special teams last season, which should help his cause.

Dark horse: Undrafted rookie Jordan Lynch probably won’t receive a real opportunity to see any playing time next season, and it’s going to be difficult for him to make the team. But the coaching staff likes Lynch, a former quarterback at Northern Illinois, and he could impress in the preseason if given the opportunity. Trestman has mentioned on multiple occasions that the former quarterback doesn’t look out of place playing running back, and he doesn’t. At NIU, Lynch rushed for 1,815 and 1,920 yards in back-to-back seasons. So there’s no question he can tote the pill. Lynch’s background as a quarterback likely means he’ll absorb Chicago’s playbook quickly enough to really open eyes in the preseason, provided he’s given a legit shot to play.

“I spent a lot of time in the film room in past years [as a quarterback], and I feel that work ethic is going to carry over to running back, and always watching film and trying to pick up on little things,” Lynch said. “I’m a football player. I love football, and I’ll do whatever it takes to stay in the NFL.”

Who makes the cut: The Bears finished the season with three running backs (Michael Bush, Ford and Forte) and a fullback in Tony Fiammetta. It’s likely the Bears head into 2014 with Forte, Carey and Ford along with Fiammetta. The best-case scenario for Lynch appears to be a spot on the practice squad.
The Chicago Bears released their 2014 training camp schedule with the first practice set for Jul. 25 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

For fans wishing to attend, parking is free and the gates at training camp open at 9 a.m. for morning practices and 2:30 p.m. for afternoon workouts. The team portions of the sessions will start at approximately 10 a.m., the team announced.

During the first week of camp, the Bears practice Jul. 25-28 before taking Jul. 29 off and resuming workouts on Jul. 30 and Jul. 31. This year marks the 13th consecutive season the Bears have held training camp at ONU.

Here’s a quick look at the first week of the schedule. The entire schedule can be found here:

Thursday, Jul. 24: Players report, no practice.

Friday, Jul. 25: 9 a.m. practice (no pads).

Sat. Jul. 26: 9 a.m. practice (no pads).

Sun. Jul. 27: 9 a.m. practice.

Mon. Jul. 28: 9 a.m. practice.

Tues. Jul. 29: no practice.

Wednesday, Jul. 30: 9 a.m. practice.

Thursday, Jul. 31: 9 a.m. practice.

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