LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Now that Chicago Bears rookie minicamp is over, here is a recap of five things we learned during the three-day period at Halas Hall.
1. Jay Cutler comfort level: Either Adam Gase has a terrific poker face or the offensive coordinator is genuinely excited about working with Cutler, who’s developed the reputation as a coach-killer here in Chicago. “I’ve known him for a long time,” Gase said. “We actually spent a lot of time together when he was coming out of college. He always brings up how I picked him up in his visit to Detroit. We had a lot of conversations there, and we thought about taking him. We ended up drafting, I think, Ernie Sims that year instead of him. And he goes to Denver and then I end up in Denver and he’s still there. He would always stop me. I was a familiar face for him. I almost came here in 2010, I mean, so there was a lot ... we’ve almost crossed paths quite a bit. And now that I’m here and we’re together, we’ll see how far we can take this thing. I feel comfortable with him. I mean, we have a good relationship so far and we’re just going to keep working to get better.” Gase is certainly qualified for the job. He coached Peyton Manning the last three years in Denver, and most people agree Gase is destined to be a future NFL head coach. Maybe the fifth time is the charm for Cutler.
2. Faith in Jared Allen, Shea McClellin: Respected defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thinks Allen can revitalize his career at outside linebacker after the five-time Pro Bowler had just 5.5 sacks in 2014. “He did well in the minicamp we had here, and I think he was excited about it,” Fangio said. “Like I told him, I think he can have a rebirth to his career here playing a little bit of a new position. But in the NFL today, you play more nickel than you actually play base. For some teams it’s 65-75 percent of the time. He’ll be playing his normal position then. So it’s not as drastic of a change as you might think.” Fangio also believes McClellin may have a future at inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Only time will tell if Fangio’s evaluations hold true, but it is encouraging to hear such a veteran coordinator express optimism that Allen and McClellin can turn it around.
3. Running back by committee: Fox and Gase have grown accustomed to rotating tailbacks during games. Fox is known to prefer that 1-2 punch at running back, going all the way back to when he coached the Carolina Panthers. But Matt Forte is a workhorse. Will Fox have to alter his philosophy? “It’s a positive that Forte’s had a number of carries and the production he’s had, both catching the ball and running the ball,” Fox said. “We’ve always been believers in kind of a 1-2 punch and rolling guys through there, whether it’s the D-line; a wave of those guys to stay fresh. I’ve always had the approach the same thing with running backs. But as I tell guys, they pick the team -- how they perform -- and it will be no different at running back, who that guy is and how dependable he is and if he earns that number of reps to get in. We’re early in the process, and hopefully somebody kind of sets themselves out.” How the Bears handle reps in the backfield is something to keep an eye on.
4. Status quo on Marty B.: Fox gave no indication he expected Martellus Bennett back in the building Monday when the rookies with contracts join the veteran players in phase two of the voluntary offseason program. Now, it’s entirely possible Bennett ends his mini-boycott and shows up at Halas Hall without the new contract he reportedly wants. However, the true litmus test for Bennett is the mandatory minicamp in June. If Bennett skips that three-day session -- the Bears can fine him for doing so -- then we know a training camp holdout is a real possibility if Bennett is still on the Bears’ roster in late July.
5. Opening on special teams: Marc Mariani did a professional job on kickoff and punt return duties. With Mariani still under contract, he is expected to get an opportunity to win the job outright in the preseason. But Mariani will face competition. That was clear after listening to new special-teams coach Jeff Rodgers on Sunday. “I’ve coached bigger guys, smaller guys, faster guys -- the ball security thing is always going to be a common trait,” Rodgers said. “But we’re going to scheme our return stuff based on whatever the player does well. That’s still yet to be determined. Whoever that guy is going to win that job in training camp and into the season, they realize they are competing with everyone else on the roster. They realize they’re competing with the guys league-wide who are on rosters. And someone will emerge in that role.”