Predicting the Chicago Bears' Depth Chart, Post OTAs
Last Friday the Chicago Bears had the last of their voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) and are set to begin their first mandatory minicamp June 11-13.
Because of a new coaching staff, this year's OTAs were more important than most, as they gave the team the opportunity to begin to learn the ins and outs of the new playbook.
The OTAs help give the coaching staff a tentative view of what the team's depth chart will look like heading into training camp later next month.
Starter: Jay Cutler
One of the most secure positions on the Bears' depth chart heading into the 2013 season is Jay Cutler being the starting quarterback.
Heading into a contract year with a new head coach and a new offense, expectations will be high for Cutler in 2013. The addition of Brandon Marshall last season helped improve the offense, but with the addition of Marc Trestman's West Coast Offense as well as the addition of a pass catching tight end (Martellus Bennett), Cutler is poised for a career year this season.
Backup: Josh McCown
Josh McCown has bounced around the NFL throughout his 11-year career and started the final game of the 2011 season and helped lead the Bears to a victory over the Minnesota Vikings. He again returned to the Bears late in the 2012 season following an injury to Cutler and was signed to a one-year contract for the 2013 season in late March.
McCown has shown that in a bind he has the ability to make smart decisions, but if the team needs him to go win them a game, it is still up in the air.
Practice Squad: Matt Blanchard
Matt Blanchard impressed the Bears' coaching staff during last year's rookie minicamps, and the team signed the undrafted rookie free agent and placed him on the practice squad to begin the 2012 season.
He was released in early December, but was re-signed in January and expected to be the team's third-string quarterback heading into the 2013 season.
Starter: Matt Forte
Forte's production has slipped in the previous two seasons due to injuries and a poor offensive game plan, but with a new offense scheme in place, he could be poised to have a big season not only as a runner but as a receiver. He has shown the ability to not only catch the ball out of the backfield, but he has also shown the ability to line up on the line of scrimmage as a receiver. Expect him to become a bigger focal point of the offense in 2013.
Backup: Michael Bush
Michael Bush spent the first five years of his career with the Oakland Raiders, finishing the 2011 season with a career-high 977 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
He rushed for just 411 yards in 13 games but did score five touchdowns. He has shown in the past that he has the ability to catch the football, something that is important in Trestman's new offense, and he could provide a solid 1-2 punch with Forte in the running game.
Third String: Armando Allen
A former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, Allen spent the past two seasons with the Bears organization and registered his first career touchdown last year against the Tennessee Titans with a 46-yard run. He is expected to compete with undrafted free agent Michael Ford for the team's third running back spot, but given Ford's inexperience, Allen will likely force him to a spot on the practice squad.
Starter: Tony Fiammetta
After two arrests in 2013, the Bears parted ways with former fourth-round draft pick Evan Rodriguez and signed veteran fullback Tony Fiammetta, according to CBS Sports.
Fiammetta is a bit of a change from Rodriguez, as he is viewed more as a true fullback while Rodriguez was more of an h-back that could block and catch the ball out of the backfield.
Starter: Martellus Bennett
The Bears wasted no time in free agency trying to find Jay Cutler a pass-catching tight end, having signed Martellus Bennett to a 4-year deal on the first day of NFL free agency.
Bennett is an underrated and willing blocker with soft hands and impressive speed and quickness for a player of his size (6'6" 265 pounds). He uses that size and speed to find open space, particularly in the middle of the field, and is able to create ample separation from both linebackers and defensive backs.
Backups: Steve Maneri, Fendi Onobun
Signed to a two-year deal in March, Steve Maneri entered the league as an offensive tackle but was moved to the tight end position during the 2012 offseason while with the Kansas City Chiefs. Viewed more as a blocking tight end, he will likely be used in max protection and goal-line sets.
A relative unknown, Fendi Onobun has impressed through the team's OTAs and minicamps this offseason, according to the Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei. Onobun is a former basketball player and has failed to stick with stops in St. Louis, Buffalo, Seattle, Jacksonville and Washington. His athleticism is a huge plus for a team with no real receiving options at the tight end position behind Martellus Bennett.
Kyle Adams and Brody Eldridge both spent at least part of least season with the team and could push in training camp to remain for the 2013 season.
Starters: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery
In 2012, Brandon Marshall had one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in Bears team history. He set new records for catches (118) and receiving yards (1,508) and set a personal career high with 11 touchdowns.
The connection between Marshall and Jay Cutler (former teammates in Denver) was evident from Week 1 as the two became, at times, the only highlight of the Bears' often bleak offense. His combination of size and speed makes him one of the NFL's elite wide receivers and despite constant double-teams, he was extremely productive in 2012.
Alshon Jeffery's injuries limited him to 10 games last season, and he hauled in 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
He has above-average speed, but will need to work on the use of his hands to keep from getting offensive pass interference calls against him. He presents another tall wide receiver that can stretch the field for Jay Cutler opposite of Marshall.
Backups: Earl Bennett, Joe Anderson, Eric Weems, Marquess Wilson
Earl Bennett was once viewed as Jay Cutler's go-to guy, but inconsistent play and injuries has caused him to regress in recent years. He is the front-runner for the slot receiver position and has shown the ability to make the tough catches in the past. A healthy Jeffery paired up with Marshall on the outside should help Bennett have a more productive season in 2013.
Undrafted in 2012, Anderson spent the majority of the 2012 season on the Bears' practice squad before being elevated to the active roster for the final three games of the season, where he saw the majority of his playing time on special teams. Given that the team has done little to add to the wide receiver core this offseason, they likely think highly of what Anderson can bring in 2013.
Eric Weems played the majority of the 2012 season as a special teamer and will likely resume that role again in 2013. He has shown that he can fill-in in a bind, but is not much more than a special teams contributor.
Marquess Wilson was selected in the seventh round back in April and although he had his share of issues while at Washington State (that eventually led to him quitting the team), he has a lot of untapped potential. His reps at first are likely going to be limited, but he possesses the size and ability to eventually become a deep vertical threat.
Starter: Jermon Bushrod
General manager Phil Emery addressed one of the Bears biggest weaknesses with the signing of former Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod on the first day of free agency this past March.
Bushrod was one of the prized pupils of new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer while he was the offensive line coach in New Orleans, and he has allowed just 7.5 sacks over the past two seasons. And while he sometimes struggles against bull-rushing defensive ends, he is athletic enough to match up with speedy pass-rushers and was an extremely durable left tackle during his time in New Orleans.
Backup: J'Marcus Webb
Likely the team's starter at right tackle in 2013, J'Marcus Webb, who started all 16 games at left tackle in 2012, will serve as the primary backup to Bushrod.
Starter: Matt Slauson
To go along with the addition of Jermon Bushrod on the left side, the Bears added veteran guard Matt Slauson, who started all 48 games for the New York Jets in the past three seasons.
He has experience at both the right and left guard positions and went the entire 2012 season without giving up a sack. He is a physical guard that has underrated athleticism and a good jump off of the football. His strength lies as a pass protector and he needs to improve on his run-blocking, but he should help anchor the left side of the line along with Bushrod.
Backup: James Brown
James Brown went from an undrafted free agent in 2012 to being active for five games, including three starts at the end of the season. He is raw but has shown the athletic ability to be a pulling guard.
His footwork needs some improvement, but he will benefit from working behind a veteran like Slauson.
Starter: Roberto Garza
Since his move to the center position prior to the 2011 season, Roberto Garza has failed to live up to the player he was while playing right guard from 2005 to 2010.
He should benefit from a revamped offensive line around him and new head coach Marc Trestman's zone-blocking scheme in 2013. Jay Cutler's familiarity with him, as well as a lack of depth at the position behind, him will keep him as the starter heading into the season.
Starter: Kyle Long
The selection of Kyle Long with the Bears' first-round pick was a surprise to some, but he has incredible athleticism for his size (6'6", 313 lbs), and despite his limited starts, he showed the ability to be a pulling guard and to get himself into the second level of defense. He needs to work on his technique, particularly in how he engages a defender, as he tends to lunge instead of "manning up" with them.
Long spent the majority of rookie minicamps at right guard and due to an NFL graduation rule, he will not be eligible to participate in this week's mandatory minicamp (h/t Chicago Tribune).
Backup: Eben Britton
With the news of Gabe Carimi being traded earlier this week, veteran Eben Britton will likely have the best shot of holding onto the backup spot at right guard.
He was signed as a free agent this offseason after failing to live up to the expectations of being a second-round pick in Jacksonville. He has a lot of experience (30 career starts), but he struggled to lock down either the right tackle or left guard position while with the Jaguars.
Starter: J'Marcus Webb
J'Marcus Webb's offseason did not start off the way he or the Bears would of liked when he was arrested in February on drug charges. The charges were ultimately dropped, but the 2013 season will be a big year for a guy that has taken most of the heat for the offensive line's poor play in recent years.
Webb moves back to the right side of the offensive line after starting at left tackle for the past two seasons. He started 12 games in 2010 as a rookie at right tackle. Despite his poor play at times at left tackle, he was able to show improvement from 2011 to 2012. He will need to rely more upon his strength than athleticism at right tackle if he wants to be the team's starter for the entire 2013 season.
Backups: Jonathan Scott, Jordan Mills
Following an injury and the poor play of Gabe Carimi, Jonathan Scott jumped in at the right tackle position and played well enough in seven starts to get re-signed for the 2013 season. The seven-year veteran has started 35 games in his career while appearing in 70 games, including a start at right tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Jordan Mills was a fifth-round selection in this past April's draft and could eventually be the team's long-term answer at right tackle. He is expected to sit behind Webb and Scott on the depth chart, but also has the ability to slide over to the right guard position in an emergency.
Starter: Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton
Julius Peppers has totaled 30.5 sacks during his Bears career, including 11.5 in the 2012 season while struggling with a foot injury. He has been a force on the field, even though, at times, his numbers did not reflect it.
He is constantly double-teamed and because of that, it has helped players like Henry Melton and Corey Wootton improve their games. Despite the constant double-teams, he has been able to produce double-digit sack totals the past two seasons and will be expected to do the same again this season in Chicago.
2012 proved to be a coming-out party for Corey Wootton, who finished the year with seven sacks and two forced fumbles. His improved play likely has made Israel Idonije expendable this offseason, and he eventually took starting reps away from Idonije in the middle of last season.
He has been solid against the run and has shown a real knack at using his bull rush to get to the quarterback. Lining up on the opposite side of Peppers should once again improve his numbers with the amount of double-teams that Peppers receives.
Backups: Shea McClellin, Turk McBride, Cornelius Washington
Shea McClellin suffered through some injuries last season and only registered 2.5 sacks and seven solo tackles through 13 games as a situational pass-rusher. His versatility will allow the Bears to not only use him as a speed edge rusher, but also as a guy that can drop back into coverage and use enough speed to match up with tight ends in the passing game.
A former second-round pick in 2007 by the Kansas City Chiefs, McBride made stops in Detroit and New Orleans before landing in Chicago this offseason. Viewed mostly as a role player, he can be solid against the run and has had a knack for knocking the ball loose, as he has caused six fumbles in his career. Considering the lack of depth at the defensive tackle position, he could be moved inside, particularly during passing situations.
Projected by some to be a third-round pick in April's draft, Cornelius Washington could be considered a steal for the Bears in the sixth round. He will likely serve as a special teams contributor early on, but his speed and athleticism could help put him in the defensive end rotation as a third-down/pass-rushing specialist.
Starters: Henry Melton, Stephen Paea
A first time Pro Bowler, Henry Melton finished the 2012 season with 43 tackles, six sacks, and two forced fumbles. He was hit with the franchise tag earlier this offseason and while the team will likely try and sign him to a long-term deal, he will continue to be the Bears' starting three technique in 2013.
He was disruptive in the running game and found consistency with his pass rush, something he had lacked in the past. Lining him up next to Julius Peppers allows him to not get double-teamed very often, and he works best when given the chance to go after the quarterback.
Stephen Paea's numbers don't exactly jump off the page (13 tackles, 2.5 sacks), but his strength and quickness off of the line of scrimmage at the nose tackle spot makes him the perfect complement to Melton at the three technique. His strength and ability to move offensive linemen clogs up holes and often forces runners to alter their running route and funnels them toward the Bears' linebackers.
Backups: Nate Collins, Corvey Irvin
Nate Collins found a spot in the defensive tackle rotation after a strong showing in training camp and the preseason in 2012. He showed flashes at times last season and has the ability to not only stop the run, but showed the ability to get off the ball quickly and get pressure on the quarterback. Expect him to continue to push for more playing time in the rotation, and he could possibly push Paea in training camp for the chance to start at the nose tackle position.
A former third-round selection of the Carolina Panthers in 2009, Corvey Irvin has also spent time with the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing with Bears in May after a tryout during the team's rookie minicamp. He appeared in 12 games last season for the Bucs and considering the lack of depth at the position after Melton, Paea and Collins, he has a strong shot at making the team out of training camp.
Practice Squad: Zach Minter
Zach Minter might be the most intriguing of the undrafted rookies, as he was an under-the-radar player coming into the draft but was a two-time All-Big Sky first-team selection while at Montana State. He has good footwork and shows explosiveness off the ball. He could find himself working toward playing the three-technique position, the same as Melton.
Starter: James Anderson
James Anderson started 43 of the last 44 games he has played, but missed the last four games last season due to injury. He has been a solid contributor for the Panthers during the past three seasons, including a 2010 season in which he recorded 130 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one interception.
He has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends in the passing game and has proven to be a solid tackler.
Backup: J.T. Thomas
A sixth-round pick in 2011, Thomas saw the majority of his playing time last season on special teams, most notably a forced fumble on a kick return in the first game of the season. Expect him to reclaim his role as a special teams contributor and to add depth to the strongside linebacker position.
Starter: D.J. Williams
Williams is a former first-round selection of the Denver Broncos in 2004 and has experience playing all three linebacker positions in a 4-3 defense.
Injuries, a failed drug test and legal issues have kept him off the field in recent years, but given just the one-year deal that Williams signed, he is worth the risk heading into the 2013 season.
He was a tackling machine in Denver and has shown the ability to get to the quarterback, having racked up 20.5 sacks in his career, including a career-high 5.5 in 2010.
His experience as a starter at all three positions—39 starts at weakside linebacker, 47 at middle/inside linebacker, and 29 on the strongside—will allow the team to move him around if Anderson struggles and/or rookie Jon Bostic shows he can be a starter in his rookie season.
Backups: Jon Bostic, Blake Costanzo
A second-round selection this past April, Jon Bostic is a prototypical middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He is a downhill runner who attacks gaps and is a terror in run defense. He has the ability to lay a hard hit on a ball-carrier, but also has enough speed to run a guy down.
His coverage skills need improvement, but he shows good flexibility in his hips and has great field awareness. He will benefit from playing behind Williams and could eventually work himself onto the field in certain situations in 2013.
Blake Costanzo was signed by the Bears prior to the 2012 season, and he quickly found his niche as a solid special teams contributor. He started one game last season for the Bears and finished the season with nine tackles. He is expected to add depth to the position and will continue to be a stalwart on special teams.
Starter: Lance Briggs
Often overshadowed by Brian Urlacher, Briggs has continued to become one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in football. He finished the season with 101 tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions that he returned for touchdowns.
He has a nose for the football and is one of the best tacklers in the league. As of late he has been one of the best players on this defense and with Urlacher retiring, he will be making the calls on defense and is in the best position to become the new face of the defense in Chicago.
Backup: Khaseem Greene
After selecting a linebacker in the second round, it came as a bit of shock that the Bears selected Khaseem Greene with their fourth-round pick. He has the speed and quickness to become a solid strongside linebacker in the league and will benefit from playing behind Briggs. He will be expected to be a contributor on special teams in 2013.
Starters: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings
A year after claiming his first Pro Bowl nod, Tillman received the honor yet again after the 2012 season. He had arguably the best season of his career: 85 tackles, 10 forced fumbles and three interceptions, all returned for touchdowns.
Tillman has quietly become one of the league's best cornerbacks and although former head coach Lovie Smith is no longer there, the defense will still rely heavily on their ability to get takeaways.
Tim Jennings had an impressive 2012, hauling in nine interceptions (two more than his career total of seven heading into 2012) en route to his first career Pro Bowl selection.
He showed the ability to match up well with all types of wide receivers from the big and strong receivers to small quicker receivers. He played with good instincts and greatly improved his hands from 2011 to 2012.
Backups: Kelvin Hayden, Sherrick McManis, Zack Bowman
Kelvin Hayden solidified his role as the team's nickelback with 40 tackles and a career-high four fumble recoveries. He was re-signed this past March on a one-year deal. The nickelback spot is all but assured to him heading into the 2013 season, but he will need to look over his shoulder for Sherrick McManis and second-year man Isiah Frey.
McManis was traded to the Bears from the Houston Texans prior to the start of the 2012 season for fullback Tyler Clutts. He made his mark on special teams in 2012, blocking a punt against the Titans in Week 9, which led to him being named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He will likely reprise his role on special teams and serve as a backup to Tillman and Jennings.
Zack Bowman started 16 games for the Bears from 2008 to 2011 before signing with the Minnesota Vikings. He was eventually released and re-signed by the Bears in the middle of the season. He provides experience and has been a solid special teams contributor throughout his career.
Starter: Chris Conte
In Chris Conte's rookie season in 2011, he was given one stipulation, to always keep the play in front of him. He often lined up 20 yards off of the ball in hopes of not getting beat deep. In 2012, he was able to have more free range and was able to show the athleticism and speed that allows him to show blitz and be able to drop back into coverage, yet not be out of position.
The combination of Conte and strong safety Major Wright has been successful over the past two seasons and both are expected to remain the starters in 2013.
Backup: Anthony Walters
Anthony Walters has spent the majority of the past two seasons with the Bears splitting time between the 53-man roster and the practice squad. Due to an injury to Conte, he started the final game of the season against the Detroit Lions. He could be pushed by Craig Steltz, Brandon Hardin and Tom Nelson for a spot on the depth chart, but given his solid play in his start last season, it is his spot to lose.
Starter: Major Wright
Major Wright started all 16 games in 2012 and has the versatility to play both the strong safety and free safety position. While Conte is viewed as the better blitzer, Wright has been strong in the box at stopping the run and has shown to play well as a single deep safety. He finished the 2012 season with a career-high four interceptions, including one in which he returned for a touchdown.
Backups: Craig Steltz, Tom Zbikowski
An All-American while at LSU, Craig Steltz's game has failed to translate at the NFL level. He has played well at times, particularly when asked to stop the run, but he has been a liability at times in the pass game. His strong special teams play, as well as his familiarity with the defense, should keep him on the roster.
Chicago area native and Notre Dame product, Tom Zbikowski signed a one-year deal this offseason. He is a hard-hitting safety and much like Steltz, plays best when he is up in the box providing run support. He does have a leg up on Steltz in pass coverage and will likely battle with him for the No. 2 spot behind Wright.
Kick/Punt Returner: Devin Hester
Devin Hester holds the NFL record for most kick/punt returns in NFL history with 18, but has been a shell of himself over the course of the last few seasons, as he has turned most of his attention to being an every-down wide receiver.
The Bears' new coaching staff has made it clear that Hester will be just a return man this season, and given less responsibility should help him return to his All Pro form as a return man in 2013.
Kicker: Robbie Gould
After missing the final three games of the 2012 season, Robbie Gould eventually had to have surgery on his injured calf this offseason and has yet to kick during the team's minicamps and OTAs.
The team signed Austin Signor to a deal this offseason, but as long as Gould is healthy, he is expected to return as the team's kicker in 2013.
He has connected on over 85.5% of field goals throughout his career, and he has improved his distance and kickoffs greatly in the last few seasons.
Punter: Adam Podlesh
Despite the belief that Adam Podlesh had a down year in 2012, he finished with a career-best 34 punts inside of the 20, as well as a net average of 39.4 yards per punt, second-best of his career. Given the belief that the Bears' new offense will have more sustainability than in years past, he may be seeing less time on the field.
Long Snapper: Patrick Mannelly
One of the most unheralded players in the league, Patrick Mannelly continues to go about his job in exceptional fashion week-in and week-out for the past 15 seasons.
Long snappers rarely get any publicity unless they do something wrong, so the fact that Mannelly has remained relatively nameless for 15 years is a good thing.
He broke Steve McMichael's record for most games played with the Chicago Bears (192) back in 2010 and entering the 2013 season, he has played in 231 games for one of the NFL's most storied franchises.