By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) After watching OTAs and mini-camp over the last four weeks, we’re starting to get a better look at what the Bears’ depth chart might look when training camp opens in late July.
At this point, the Bears are simply installing their playbook and taking it to the next level in mini-camp by simulating game situations. But with the new CBA rules, the players haven’t been able to wear pads, which means you aren’t going to see any starters lose their jobs this time of year because of how they perform on the field. The last four weeks has been more about weeding out the guys you know won’t be able to help you in September and setting the stage for position battles that will rage on throughout training camp.
Here’s a position-by-position look at some of those battles:
Jay Cutler is your starter and Jason Campbell is the clear backup, but it will be interesting to see what the Bears do with Josh McCown and Nathan Enderle. Do the Bears still consider Enderle a project? He was drafted for Mike Martz’s system and doesn’t really fit well anymore. Anyway, there’s not much to see here.
It’s looking more and more like the Bears will go to Bourbonnais without Matt Forte, but he will still be the starter Week 1 against the Colts. Michael Bush seems to have a hold on the No. 2 spot despite the potential Kahlil Bell showed late last season. Armando Allen looks very quick, but it’s tough to tell without the pads on and at this point, it would be surprising if he beats out Bell.
Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are your starters right now. Alshon Jeffrey will have to have a big camp to change that, especially because he’s been banged up in mini-camp. Every time I look at Eric Weems, I doubt him because he’s only 5-9, but he has won me over the last four weeks. Basically, he does everything well but be tall. He runs good routes, catches everything and Dave Toub loves him not only as a kick returner, but also as a gunner on special teams. The last wide receiver spot will be interesting. Dane Sanzenbacher, Devin Thomas and Joe Anderson are battling for that spot right now, but my dark horse is undrafted rookie Chris Summers from Liberty. He’s 6-5 and has looked good so far.
This is one of the most interesting positions to me. Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth are your No. 1s right now, but the Bears are looking to use the tight ends more up the middle with vertical passing routes and rookie Evan Rodriguez and second-year tight end Kyle Adams look much more comfortable as pass catchers. The Bears keep raving about Davis’ potential in the passing game, but to me, he doesn’t run routes well and even though he has great size and athleticism, he doesn’t attack the ball in the air like Rodriguez and Adams do. This should be a fun battle in camp.
There’s not much to evaluate here because the linemen haven’t been able to wear pads. J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams received equal reps in OTAs and mini-camp and will battle it out in the preseason. All eyes will be on this position battle.
The rest of the offensive line appears set. Gabe Carimi is healthy and your starting right tackle, Lance Louis is the right guard, Roberto Garza is the center and Chris Spencer is the left guard. The No. 2s in mini-camp included Chilo Rachel at left guard, Edwin Williams at center, Ricky Henry at right guard and James Brown and Tyler Henrickson at right tackle (both of whom are undrafted rookies). Henrickson seemed to take over the No. 2 spot Tuesday and Wednesday so he might be a guy who makes a push for a roster spot in August.
The first team defensive line includes Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije at the ends and Matt Toeaina and Henry Melton at tackle. The second team has Shea McClellin, Corey Wootton and Cheta Ozougwu getting the bulk of work at the ends and Stephen Paea, DeMario Pressley and Jordan Miller getting the most reps at tackle. Eyes will be on McClellin and Paea to see if they can push for starting jobs in camp and the other four No. 2s will be battling for roster spots.
Your starters are obviously Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach. Roach has moved to the middle with Urlacher out of OTAs and mini-camp, but he’ll move back to the outside when No. 54 is healthy. Geno Hayes has gotten the limited work with he No. 1s with Urlacher out, but the Bears have mostly been working with their nickel package. That might be an indication that they aren’t in love with Hayes. Otherwise, Dom DiCicco, Blake Costanzo, Jeremy Jones and Patrick Trahan will battle for roster spots. Jones, an undrafted rookie from Wayne State is lifted as a safety but has worked with the linebackers. Dave Toub loves Costanzo on special teams so it would be a surprise if he didn’t make the team.
This will be one of the fiercest battles in camp. The Bears have added four cornerbacks to the mix with free agents Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite and drafted rookies Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy. The competition has pushed Tim Jennings to have a great offseason, which means he’s your likely starter next to Charles Tillman. D.J. Moore is still the nickel back and Lovie Smith said Wednesday you might even see him outside. Wilhite might have a leg up on Hayden because he received No. 1 reps when Tillman missed an OTA practice, but Wilhite has missed time in mini-camp with an injury. Frey looks more comfortable at corner than McCoy, but McCoy is currently being used as the No. 2 punt returner behind Hester. The roster spots at corner could be up for grabs.
Chris Conte looks noticeably better and might be the best safety on the team. Major Wright is the other starter right now, but he continues to be up and down. Rookie Brandon Hardin looks like a legit player and it will be interesting to see if he pushes for a starting job this season. Craig Steltz is the other No. 2 right now. If you are looking for a dark horse to make the team, undrafted rookie Trevor Coston from Maine has looked impressive.
If there was any doubt, Dave Toub said Devin Hester is still his No. 1 kick returner. Eric Weems will be back there with him. Otherwise, Devin Thomas and Dane Sanzenbacher have also received looks and that might impact the battle between them to make the team. D.J. Moore and Greg McCoy have also had some reps at kick returner, but McCoy appears to be much more involved in the punt return game, where he is backing up Hester. The cornerback from TCU has looked weak in coverage, but his return abilities might keep him on the roster. Coston has also been involved in the punt return game, another reason why he is a sleeper to make the team.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.