Chicago Bears: 5 Potential Sleepers to Watch For in Training Camp
The Chicago Bears are just a short time away from entering training camp. They will enter Bourbonnais this year healthy and without any contract issues. For the first time in a long time, this Bears team has no headaches as it prepares for a new season.
The lack of distractions allows for the focus to be all on the field.
We know about the impact players on offense like Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. We know Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs will bring an onslaught on defense like they are accustom to doing.
Where do we turn our attention this camp? The sleepers, of course.
There will be various sleepers in this year's camp. Not necessarily because you haven't heard their names before, but because they could step up and take on a bigger role or be more valuable than first thought.
Here are five sleepers you need to watch for in this year's training camp.
Safety Craig Steltz
Back in 2009, then-general manager Jerry Angelo drafted Craig Steltz with every intention of him being the team's starting free safety. Years later, Angelo might just get the last laugh.
Steltz struggled early in his career to play safety at the NFL level but excelled on special teams. Late last season, he was able to get another chance, and he took advantage.
While starting four games last year due to injuries to Major Wright and Chris Conte, he played well in their absence. Last season, Steltz finished with 38 tackles.
He proved that he made strong strides in the Bears defensive system and deserves a look at a starting role in training camp.
Many do not view Steltz as a viable starter, but he may change minds after a couple of preseason games.
Wide Receiver Chris Summers
The Bears have a large number of wide receivers competing for six roster spots. Twelve players will be in camp trying to catch the eye of head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
With a lot of veteran additions and five spots set in stone, you would think Chris Summers doesn't have a chance to make the team. It might be too early to jump to that conclusion.
Already, the 6'4", 210-pound receiver out of Liberty University has generated some buzz. He has very raw skills but has shown the ability to make big plays during OTAs and could force the Bears' hand when it comes to that sixth and final receiver spot.
Eric Weems looks to be slotted into the fifth spot, and Devin Thomas was brought in to fill the sixth spot, but that may not be a sure thing.
Thomas will have to prove he can be a quality special teams player as well as show some skills on offense in camp if he looks to hold off Summers.
Defensive End Corey Wootton
The clock is ticking on Corey Wootton, and his time is running out.
Since being drafted in 2010, his biggest claim to fame as a Bear is knocking Brett Favre out of his final game in the NFL. Throughout his career, he has battled injuries and inconsistency, making it hard for him to get on the field.
This could be Wootton's final camp with the Bears.
Shea McClellin was drafted high, because players like Wootton have been disappointments. He has only appeared in 13 games over two seasons, and his one sack was the Favre play.
He has to show he can stay healthy and produce if he wants to make this roster.
There is a lot of talent in Wootton. If he shows up to camp healthy, he can be a big sleeper when everybody else is watching Julius Peppers, McClellin and Israel Idonije.
There is room in that rotation for Wootton if he shows the ability to get to the quarterback. With the pressure on him to perform, this could just be the year he steps up and makes plays.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden
It's been no secret the Bears have had interest in Kelvin Hayden in the past.
Injuries might have caused them to go a different way, but finally he is on the team. Lovie Smith likes his ability to fit in well in the Bears system and his affinity for making plays.
The incumbent starters at the corner position are Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Tillman made it to his first Pro Bowl last season and is locked in to one side, but how secure is Jennings?
He is undersized and does not force enough turnovers in the system to be promised a starting role going forward.
Hayden appears to be healthy. He is a coaching staff favorite who knows the system. His size and playmaking ability are better than Jennings'.
He is a sleeper to be starting come Week 1, but that label may not be necessary with a strong opening to camp.
Tight End Evan Rodriguez
Many are still confused as to what Evan Rodriguez's role is on offense for the Bears.
Is he a tight end? Maybe. Will he play fullback? Sometimes. Where will he line up? All over the place.
Rodriguez is the kind of guy who doesn't need a label. It's also guys like that who seem to surprise you the most.
At 6'2", 244 pounds, we already know he is undersized at the tight end position. He will not be able to line up like a traditional tight end on the line of scrimmage and knock players off the ball. What he can do is line up in the backfield, slot or double-tight end set.
His options are endless.
Expect a different kind of package for Rodriguez. Similar to how New England uses Aaron Hernandez, Rodriguez will be a tough cover and needs to be accounted for every time he steps on the field.
Right now, not knowing his role plays to his benefit. People can't envision what he is going to do going into training camp. That makes him a big sleeper on offense.
As the playbook opens up and he gets comfortable, fans could see an offensive weapon they weren't even thinking about.