By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — Considering only one preseason game and zero regular season games have been played, it’s premature to get too excited about any team’s draft class from this year.
But when’s the last time every single member of a Bears draft class left training camp either further up on the depth chart or in the same place as when they arrived?
That question is hard to get a definite answer to mainly because official depth charts aren’t released at the start of training camp, but after taking a look at previous Bears draft classes, the only recent one that would come close would maybe be the 2006 class that included Danieal Manning, Dusty Dvoracek, Devin Hester and Mark Anderson. But even that class included Jamar Williams, J.D. Runnels and Tyler Reed.
The point is, even though it’s only been three weeks, Bears general manager Phil Emery has a promising group of rookies on his hands and that doesn’t just include his 2013 draft picks. There are a few undrafted free agents who are moving up too.
Here’s a look at the rookies who are leaving Bourbonnais in a better place than when they arrived three weeks ago:
RG Kyle Long – The first-round pick was in a competition for the starting right guard job the day training camp opened, but he leaves Bourbonnais after getting the No. 1 reps this week. Part of that was a part of the plan, but if he performs well Thursday night against the Chargers, Long should have the upper-hand on James Brown when it comes to winning the competition.
MLB Jon Bostic – The second-round pick benefitted from the calf injury suffered by D.J. Williams the first weekend of training camp, but he is taking advantage of the opportunity and showing a lot of promise. Bostic needs to continue to build on his performance so far in the preseason and if Williams continues to miss time, the rookie is going to force the coaching staff into making a tough decision.
WLB Khaseem Greene – The fourth-round pick hasn’t technically moved up on the depth chart, but that’s because he’s No. 2 to Lance Briggs right now. The rookie did impress in the first preseason game, however, and the coaching staff is expecting him to be an impact player on special teams this season.
RT Jordan Mills – The fifth-round pick did enough during the first two weeks of training camp to warrant a promotion to the starting unit when J’Marcus Webb faltered. Now he gets an opportunity to show the coaching staff that he belongs as the No. 1 right tackle. To be fair, that might be asking too much, but Mills is in good shape to make the 53-man roster and the Bears really like his potential.
DE Cornelius Washington – The sixth-round pick has probably had the quietest training camp of all the draft picks and yet he’s moved up the depth chart too. Part of that is due to injuries, but Washington is seeing a lot of time with the second-team right now and showed some positive flashes in his first preseason game.
WR Marquess Wilson – You saw what the seventh-round pick did in his preseason debut (four catches, 82 yards) with the third-team. Now the Bears want him to do it again, but this time with the second-team. There’s little doubt Wilson has enough talent to be on a 53-man roster somewhere, the question is, can he do enough on special teams to make him worth a roster spot in Chicago? Wilson probably won’t clear waivers to return to the Bears’ practice squad, so they’d really like him to make the decision easier on them.
DT Zach Minter – The undrafted free agent from Montana State has caught defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s eye and has looked good throughout training camp. He fits the ideal nose tackle mold and is definitely in the mix for a roster spot.
RB Michael Ford – The undrafted free agent from LSU will likely be the Bears’ No. 3 running back in Thursday’s preseason game because Armando Allen is out with a hamstring injury. Ford was already making a push for the job before Allen’s injury and could also contribute as a kick returner.
CB Demontre Hurst – The undrafted free agent from Oklahoma has emerged as a possible nickelback candidate and is currently the No. 6 corner on the roster. He may be the kind of guy who ends up on the practice squad and contributes later after more development.
The nine rookies mentioned above are making a serious push for the 53-man roster. Even if we only estimate that six will end up making it, the Bears will be getting a huge influx of young talent when you also consider that second-year players Joe Anderson and Isaiah Frey, who spent most or all (respectively) of last year on the practice squad, will also likely be joining the roster. And you can’t rule out second-year safety Brandon Hardin, who missed last year with a neck injury, making the team.
Add in Shea McClellin and Alshon Jeffery and that means that Bears could have somewhere between nine and 14 first- or second-year players on the 53-man roster. Some will worry about that kind of inexperience, but don’t forget that Phil Emery was brought here to improve the Bears’ performance in the draft.
A lot of evidence over the last three weeks indicates he has done just that.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.