Projecting the Chicago Bears' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
NFL rookies and veterans are now in the process of getting to know each other. As they get to know each other, however, they will also be competing for jobs.
There are some hot position battles to keep an eye on going into training camp. The Bears still have a question mark at free safety, and there are some key spots on offense that are still up for grabs.
Here are the five battles we project to be very competitive this offseason in Chicago.
5. Backup Quarterback
Jordan Palmer will have the upper hand going into the competition to back up Jay Cutler, but don't count rookie David Fales out.
Palmer doesn't necessarily have a ton of experience despite being in the league for four seasons now. He's only thrown 15 passes in four games over his NFL career.
Fales comes in with a clean slate and a desire to show that he was worthy of a draft pick. The young man from San Jose State has the talent to compete in this league, but he needs work on his mechanics. A few sessions with Marc Trestman and some experience should help in that area.
This one is going to come down to the preseason. If Fales comes out hot while Palmer struggles, not only could it be Fales' job to lose, but Palmer could find himself off the final roster altogether.
4. Kick/Punt Return
There are big shoes to fill in the return game after the departure of Devin Hester. For the first time since 2006, the Bears have no clue who their primary return man will be.
A host of players will vie for the right to return kicks, but none of them seem to have the upper hand right now. Eric Weems, Josh Morgan and Dominek Hixon are all similar players; they are average receivers, at best, who are equally average return men.
Battling with them in the competition could be backup running back Michael Ford, first-round pick Kyle Fuller and former CFL standout Chris Williams. This could turn into a return-by-committee situation throughout the season.
3. Slot Receiver
Can Marquess Wilson make an Alshon Jeffery-esque leap this season, or will he succumb to one of the veterans fighting for a roster spot behind him?
Wilson is the early favorite to win the slot-receiver role due to his age and potential, but those are also two things that could hold him back. He doesn't have much experience, and potential only means something if it comes to fruition.
Josh Morgan and Dominek Hixon are both veterans who know how to go through a training camp and get themselves prepared for a season. Wilson may have worked out this summer with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but will that matter once training camp hits?
At the end of the day, it will be the person who develops the best on-field relationship with Cutler who will win the job.
2. Outside Linebacker
One of the most intriguing roster battles this summer will be at the strong-side linebacker spot. Nobody knows what to expect from either Shea McClellin or Jon Bostic, which makes the entire situation very murky.
On the surface, many would expect Bostic to get most of the downs at the position, while McClellin would come in during obvious passing situations. But what if McClellin really begins to shine?
One could honestly predict a situation in which both players have an outstanding camp because they both find their natural fit. In that case, what should the Bears do? It would be a good problem to have, but it would still be a dilemma, nonetheless.
Don't count McClellin out for a three-down starting role. He has the athleticism and ball skills to play this position. He's also dropped weight and is ready for a showdown with Bostic. It should make for an exciting battle.
1. Free Safety
The Bears have three free safeties, and as the old adage goes: "If you have three, then you don't have one."
Chris Conte, M.D. Jennings and Brock Vereen are all fairly competent players, but none of them will wow or excite anyone.
Conte is still recovering from a shoulder injury, but he has the upper hand in this battle. That is because Jennings was an even worse starter than Conte last year. And even though Vereen has a lot of promise, he's still a mid-round pick who needs time to develop.
The Bears coaching staff will likely make the safe decision to start the season. Vereen has all the upside here, but there actually was a point in time when Conte made plays in a Bears uniform.
Barring an unreal performance from Vereen or Jennings this summer, Conte looks to be the guy who will be starting come the fall.