5 Under-the-Radar Stories for Chicago Bears Minicamp
The offseason continues to roll along as the Chicago Bears kick off their three-day veteran minicamp today up at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill.
While most of the buzz will surround Matt Forte's absence, Gabe Carimi's return and the addition of Brandon Marshall, I wanted to take a look at some things that will fly under the radar for the Bears during minicamp.
Second-Year Middle Linebacker Dom DeCicco
Brian Urlacher is coming back from a serious knee injury from the season-ending game against the Vikings. His participation in OTAs has been limited up to this point, and second-year linebacker Dom DeCicco has been filling his place with the starting unit.
DeCicco has added on some significant muscle mass during the offseason on top of his 6'4'' frame. DeCicco doesn't possess the same level of talent as Urlacher, but the similarities are eerie.
Both played safety in college, stand 6'4'', are good athletes, ran in the 4.5 40-yard dash range and offer some ability to drop deep in the Cover 2 defense.
That's where the similarities end, however, between a future Hall of Famer and second-year undrafted free agent, whose biggest accomplishment was making the 53-man roster.
With Urlacher likely limited, DeCicco has the biggest and best chance of his career to show that he belongs in the NFL and can potentially develop into a future starter.
His performance with the starting unit during veteran minicamp may be the first step in a long journey for the young linebacker.
Is Corey Wootton Back and Healthy? Can He Make an Impact?
Bears defensive end Corey Wootton is famous for two things in Chicago: ending Brett Favre's career with a sack that caused a concussion, and essentially being injured from that point on.
Wootton has shown flashes of brilliant talent, but he has battled nagging knee injuries and a hand injury that kept him off the field a lot in 2012.
The Bears drafted a defensive end in Shea McClellin to rush the passer opposite Julius Peppers, but rookies can't participate in veteran minicamp, so now is Wootton's time to shine.
Combined with his strong training camp last year—prior to his injury—Wootton could push for the fourth and final defensive end spot on the roster.
He'll be competing with veteran defensive end Chauncey Davis, who is also likely fighting for his NFL life during the lead-up to the 53-man roster cut down.
Wootton's time is now. There is no better time to get started than making a big impression a month prior to training camp.
Who Is the Backup Three-Technique Defensive Tackle?
When the Bears lost defensive tackle Amobi Okoye to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during free agency, he left a pretty big hole.
Okoye was a solid pass-rusher as the backup to Henry Melton in 2011, combining with Melton for the most sacks by a defensive tackle combination in the NFL last year with 11 sacks between the two of them.
Okoye's four sacks and over 30 quarterback pressures will have to somehow be replaced.
The Bears don't have a true backup three-technique on the roster—they have a mishmash of veterans and young, undrafted free-agent-type players who don't offer a lot of promise.
Right now it's seventh-year veteran John McCargo who is running as the backup defensive tackle, but he's being pushed by third-year man Nate Collins, and Jordan Miller, just to name a couple.
Israel Idonije may end up sliding inside on passing downs to generate solid pressure from the defensive tackle spot like he has in the past. Until we see Idonije sliding inside, we don't know anything for certain.
Starting Cornerback Opposite Charles Tillman
Veteran cornerback Tim Jennings may be the most under-appreciated player on Bears roster.
Jennings has made a lot of impact plays and has been dynamic in run support. His play, however, tends to be overlooked by both fans and the coaching staff.
Through it all, Jennings has been the starting cornerback in the past. Once again, Jennings is faced with the prospect of having to win a starting job.
Jennings will now compete with veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite to start opposite of returning Pro Bowler Charles Tillman.
Hayden beat out Jennings before when they played together for the Colts, and Wilhite was a solid player for Denver. Hayden, however, is battling injuries and Wilhite is not as comfortable in the defense as Jennings is.
Jennings has been a strong open-field tackler for the Bears and will again set the pace in this training-camp battle starting with veteran minicamp.
Who Replaces Pro Bowl Special-Teamer Corey Graham?
Former NFL safety and now full-time media juggernaut Matt Bowen called former Bears cornerback Corey Graham the best special-teams gunner in the NFL for two consecutive years.
Based on the stats, it's hard to argue, as Graham has been at or near the top of the NFL lead in special-teams tackles the last two seasons.
Graham is gone now having signed on with the Ravens to try and win a starting job. In his absence is a gaping hole that someone must step up and fill.
Special teams may not matter to a lot of teams around the NFL, but in Chicago, it's a huge point of emphasis. So much so that the Bears went out and signed a few guys specifically based on their special-teams ability.
Receivers Eric Weems and Devin Thomas have been taking snaps at gunner during OTAs and now will get to strut their stuff in minicamp where things will be a little more lively.
Also in the mix to have an impact is linebacker Blake Costanzo, whom the Bears signed to bolster the third phase of the game.
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Brett Solesky is editor and publisher of MidwayIllustrated.com a Chicago Bears blog. For more articles about the Bears, including a weekly podcast featuring weekly player interviews and other in-depth information visit my blog.