5 Chicago Bears Training Camp Battles You Can't Miss
Now that we've gone over the Bears' draft, it's time to look ahead to the summer and training Camp—where veterans will try to hold onto their jobs and rookies (and younger players in general) will struggle to take them over.
There are no guarantees—after all, NFL stands for "Not For Long." Few players are untouchable.
It's early and much may shift between now and July camps.
Let's take a look at which positions might be up for grabs and who will be looking to score a knockout punch on the opposition.
Matt Forte vs. Michael Bush
Forte was already unhappy with his franchise tag and lack of a long-term contract when Bush was brought in as insurance.
Well, they say insurance—Forte saw it as a shot across the bow.
It's hard to say how Forte will play this—on the one hand, a tag is worth a ton of money. On the other, every year he plays under it, he risks injury before he can get a big payday—and that payday gets further away as teams are hesitant to pay a back—and moreso the older he gets.
Let's assume though, that Forte shows up. This could be the camp battle to watch for the whole league. Both backs are purported to be getting carries in the coming season. However, I'd imagine that the split might not be all that even if they just paid Bush with the money Forte wants.
This won't get ugly between the backs on a personal level, but it will be ugly on the field and possibly in the front office.
Winner: Matt Forte
After his rookie season, many people said that despite his numbers, Forte wasn't an elite back.
He proceeded to run with an immense chip on his shoulder and prove us all wrong. You think that chip was big? I think the one he'll have in camp will be as big as the whole state of Illinois—which could be good for the offense.
As much as I like Bush—and I do—he's not quite as good as Forte.
Of course, this changes if Forte holds out, but as of now, I think he'll come in for July. If the Bears are smart, they'll find a way to make it worth his while.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Earl Bennett
It's been three years, and every offseason, we hear how this year—THIS YEAR—is the one that Bennett and Cutler reignite the Vandy connection. It never really happens though, and this season may bring that to a close.
Adding Brandon Marshall was a start, but the Bears weren't finished overhauling the passing attack. When Alshon Jeffery slipped to them in the second, they wasted no time in scooping him up and even less in signing him.
Bennett has the experience, and he does have some nice moves. However, Jeffery has more upside, better hands and while his speed isn't elite, he's plenty quick getting deep.
Jeffery has some doubts about his weight (which I believe I put to rest here), but if that's really a concern then a) they didn't read my article! and b) they have avoided it being a big problem by signing him and getting him with the team immediately.
Winner: Alshon Jeffery
To nobody's surprise, about halfway through this write-up, huh?
Jeffery just has far more upside, and if he can stay in shape and get up to speed on the offense, it shouldn't be hard for him to supplant everyone else short of Marshall. Getting him into the fold early gives him a leg up there too, as he can have the playbook and be learning right away.
Israel Idonije vs. Shea McClellin
McClellin got grabbed early by the Bears, and it was obvious they knew what they wanted and got it. He's immediately slated to vie for a defensive end spot, but he's going to have to get past a productive player in Israel Idonije to do it.
McClellin has a ton of positives to sell the Bears on the idea early, though he does struggle a bit in coverage. That's not his main focus though and shouldn't hurt his chances all that much.
Idonije has played well and deserves a shot at keeping his spot—you can't just hand it to the rookie from Boise. He's proven himself over time, and he's familiar with the speed of the game at this level and the defense the Bears play—as well as the offenses they face most frequently.
Still, I've already written about the upside McClellin represents, and the Bears didn't draft him to watch.
It might seem like an obvious slam dunk, but it isn't. If McClellin stumbles out of the gate in practice or has issues with the transition to the pro game, Idonije has done more than enough to hold his job.
Winner: Shea McClellin
In the end, I'm pretty confident that McClellin will win this battle and the job. Perhaps, they end up splitting or rotating, but he'll be the starter, barring an implosion on his part.
The fact is I would have been more uncertain had the assumed transition to outside linebacker taken place. Keeping him home on the defensive line makes this a much more likely possibility.
Kellen Davis vs. Evan Rodriguez
With Mike Martz in town, the Bears seemed to forget they had a tight end. Greg Olson, who I always thought would end up being a very good tight end, was sent away, and Kellen Davis stepped into a minimal role in the offense.
With Martz gone, the tight end will probably be a much bigger part of this offense, and the Bears have talked about Davis being a much bigger part of the offense. He's got a good skill set, but we've no real idea what he can do as nobody has asked him to do much.
Enter rookie Evan Rodriguez—a versatile player who can be anything from fullback to H-back to tight end full time. He brings a versatility to the table Davis doesn't have but doesn't possess the polish the veteran does.
He does remind one of an Aaron Hernandez type guy, though nowhere near as good or athletic.
It's possible they start looking at two tight end sets (all the rage with the cool kids in the NFL) and utilize both, but I expect baby steps, especially with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Tice and new weapons in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Winner: Kellen Davis
I like Rodriguez a lot, but he'll take a bit for the Bears to find his spot. He may overtake Davis in the next few years, but he just needs more refinement as it stands.
I do expect the Bears to use the tight end more, though how much is anyone's guess until the season or at least camp.
Davis seems the guy to make that transition smooth for Jay Cutler.
Chris Conte vs. Brandon Hardin
While Hardin comes in a bit in need of refinement and transitioning from cornerback, Conte finished 2011 on the injured reserve, and the safety position hasn't exactly been a model of health the last few years.
Hardin is a big, physical player who hits hard and would bring a tough attitude to a secondary that can use more of it. As mentioned though, he's changing from corner to safety, and that can take time for even the best trying to do it.
The Bears may want the rookie in there sooner than later, but they won't let themselves get burned if he can't play the spot in camp.
Winner: Brandon Hardin
While it may take a little time, ultimately, Hardin is the way to go. He should get up to speed by the end of camp—at the very worst, perhaps, the first preseason game. Conte has played well, but between he and Wright, there has been a bunch of missed time, and the Bears need someone who they can trust to stay healthy in the secondary.
If Conte were a better player, they might let it go, but right now, they'll jump at the chance to put in a more physical presence.