Following a day off on Sunday, the Chicago Bears got back to work Monday morning at Olivet Nazarene University in preparation for their first preseason game this Friday.
Camp opened nearly two weeks ago and battles continue to rage on as it gets closer and closer to the season opener on September 7. While many players are already expecting to see their names on the final 53-man roster, there are plenty more fighting for their chance to remain on the roster this season.
Despite being less than two weeks into camp, many players have seen their stock rise with this new coaching staff while others have watched it drop. With just a few more weeks left of camp, it will be interesting to see which players can continue to drive their stock up and which may continue to fall.
Here are four Chicago Bears whose stock is rising and four whose stock is falling:
Despite leaving practice last Thursday with a hip injury, defensive end Corey Wootton took to Twitter Sunday saying, "Thank you all for the support everything's fine nothing serious getting back at !"
Bears fans can take a collective sigh of relief knowing that Wootton's injury is not anything serious because prior to last Thursday, Wootton was the talk of camp with his excellent play through the team's first few practices.
When speaking of Wootton last week, head coach Marc Trestman told Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago:
Really like what I’ve seen (from Wootton). (He’s got a) great demeanor, loves football, is extremely athletic and highly competitive. He’s a fun guy to be around, always got a smile on his face if you’ve ever had a chance to speak with him
The Bears were confident enough in what Wootton could bring to this team that they decided not to re-sign veteran defensive end/tackle Israel Idonije this offseason.
Heading into last season, Wootton had only made 13 career starts since being drafted in the fourth round in 2010 and had been best known for essentially ending Brett Favre's career with his first career sack. He had a career year in 2012, registering seven sacks to go along with 27 tackles.
As long as his hip injury does not linger, expect Wootton's stock to continue to rise throughout training camp.
Lost amongst the signing of tight end Martellus Bennett, the Bears signed veteran Steve Maneri during the offseason to be the blocking tight end complement to Bennett's playmaking potential.
A former offensive lineman, Maneri was expected to be the backup tight end and provide a blocking option in certain packages, but with the team's recent signing of Leonard Pope, his future may be up in the air.
The signing of Pope does not guarantee that Maneri will eventually be left off the final 53-man roster but considering that, according to CBSChicago.com's Adam Hoge, Maneri has struggled with blocking assignments during parts of camp, Pope will likely be giving him a run for his money.
I have been speculating for weeks whether Joe Anderson could make an impact for the Bears in the 2013 season and after observing him in practice last week, I am even more convinced he can.
While discussing Anderson with former NFL safety Matt Bowen at practice last Thursday, he pointed out to me how well he runs routes but also noted that even though he looks good in practice, the real test will be the preseason games.
Anderson went undrafted in 2012 after hauling in just 47 passes at FCS school Texas Southern. He was brought in as a tryout player during rookie minicamps. His performance in the three-day camp led to him signing a deal and participating in training camp.
He spent the majority of last season on the practice squad but was activated for the team's final three games of the season, participating mostly on special teams.
He has benefited this offseason from injuries to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery during OTAs and minicamps and has turned those additional reps he received into an even bigger opportunity in training camp.
While he continues to get more and more reps with the first team during camp, he will have to continue to impress in the preseason games if he wants a shot at being a steady contributor throughout the season.
Drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft, safety Brandon Hardin was placed on injured reserve before the start of the season, forcing him to miss all of last season.
Some viewed Hardin as a reach pick in the 2012 draft considering he missed all of his senior season at Oregon State, but Phil Emery was intrigued by his athleticism.
He played some cornerback at Oregon State and showed great speed and explosiveness for a player of his size. But considering he has not played a meaningful snap of football in over two years, there will be a concern about him being rusty.
Despite being a third-round pick, the team is set with its starters at safety with Chris Conte and Major Wright. Hardin will be faced with the difficult challenge of trying to beat out returning safeties Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters as well as newly signed veterans Tom Zbikowski and Tom Nelson.
Hardin has not been shy about the fact that this is a make-or-break training camp for him, telling the Chicago Tribune, "I have to prove my worth to the coaching staff, to our GM and even to the fans. I need to prove that I belong here."
As of now, Steltz likely has a lock as one of the backups, leaving Hardin to battle it out with Walters, Zbikowski and Nelson for one final backup position. All three have more experience than Hardin and because so many guys are aiming for two backup positions, reps are becoming hard to come by. In order to get more reps throughout practice and the preseason, he is going to have to put some good things on film this week in the preseason opener.
One of the most sought-after sound bytes so far this training camp has been that of the always eccentric Martellus Bennett. Despite being caught up in the middle of a few scuffles at practice this past Friday, Bennett is having himself a solid training camp.
I am [looking forward to having more weapons]. It was tough sledding last year. I think that's why I had to have the surgery. I had two or three guys on me every single play, but bringing in big boy Martellus, I don't think the league really knows how good he is. I didn't know, and that was one of my great friends in the league. So I'm excited to see him; he's going to be awesome this year for us.
Despite the scuffles last week, Marc Trestman said of Bennett (h/t Chicago Tribune), "(he) handled himself with great dignity and showed his teammates a lot of respect. They see how much he loves this game and what he can do for our team."
As long as he can continue to bring that intensity and competitiveness to the field, his stock will continue to rise.
After deciding not to bring back middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the Bears signed veteran linebacker D.J. Williams to a one-year deal for 2013.
Throughout OTAs, minicamps and the beginning of training camp, Williams has lined up as the team's starting middle linebacker until suffering a calf strain last week.
According to NFL.com, Williams' injury is listed as week-to-week with no timetable set for his return. In the wake of his injury, rookie Jon Bostic has been getting reps with the first team.
I speculated last week on whether Bostic had a shot at starting at linebacker and given Williams' injury, he might now have a shot.
While attending practice last Thursday, Marc Trestman told myself and the rest of the media that, "when the ball is snapped, he (Bostic) runs to the ball. He’s got to step up. He’s got an opportunity here, and not only does he have to do it there. He’s got to do it on special teams because he’s going as a top-line special teams player as well. It’s encouraging."
Trestman was rather glowing of Bostic following practice and although Williams is likely still viewed as the team's best option at middle linebacker, if he cannot get himself healthy soon, he might find himself stuck behind Bostic on the depth chart.
It has been no secret that the 2013 season is a big year for quarterback Jay Cutler. He is in the final year of his deal and now has an offensive mind running the football team.
The organization went out and got Cutler another receiving weapon in Martellus Bennett and added to their offensive line with the additions of Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, and first-round draft pick Kyle Long.
While learning a new offense can be a bit of a struggle, head coach Marc Trestman has been impressed by Cutler so far in camp, telling the Associated Press:
I think he's practicing very efficiently, he's throwing the ball away (when receivers are covered). There's nothing wrong with that with the defense that we have. ... We're working hard every day to just try to continue to become more efficient at our mechanics and fundamentals, and to develop and distribute the ball the way he has is good at this time.
While it really won't be known how good Cutler can be in this offense until the regular season starts, he is looking like a guy that has bought in to what Trestman and his staff are teaching him. His mechanics and fundamentals still need work, but he is taking steps in the right direction
This past Saturday night, the Chicago Bears held their annual family night practice at Soldier Field. While the action on the field was a treat for fans, a few players walked away hurt, including veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden.
Hayden was brought in last season and eventually replaced D.J. Moore as the team's nickelback and was expected to remain in that role again this season. He left Saturday's practice with a left hamstring strain and the timetable for his return to the field is still up in the air.
Throughout parts of OTAs and minicamps, second-year cornerback Isaiah Frey was getting opportunities to run with the first-team defense and he will likely see his opportunities increase during Hayden's absence.
The Chicago Tribune's Matt Bowen noted Frey has turned some heads at camp with his ability to get his hands on the football and that anyone who has watched practice can see the improvements Frey has made from a physical standpoint, and his technique is noticeably better.
With Hayden losing valuable snaps because of injury and with Frey's emergence, his injury could not have come at a worse time and he could see himself being nothing more than a special team's contributor in 2013.