Chicago Bears: 5 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs
OTAs have officially begun for the Chicago Bears, and players now get the opportunity to begin pushing for significant roles in 2014.
While a player's performance in OTAs will not automatically lock down a significant role for this upcoming season, it will give players the opportunity to start building their case for an expanded role come training camp.
Some players have already shown they have the ability to push for an open starting job, while others have proven they at least have a chance to add solid depth in an area of need.
The team opened their OTAs on May 27, and they will conclude on June 10.
Here are five players whose stock is on the rise after OTAs.
Easily the biggest storyline to come out of OTAs early last week was the move of Tim Jennings to nickelback and first-round pick Kyle Fuller to cornerback in passing situations.
Tim Jennings says he was moved to nickel in passing downs during practice, with Kyle Fuller moving to his corner spot.— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) May 27, 2014
It was initially believed that Fuller would play at nickelback this season, but the Bears appear confident in Fuller playing outside on passing situations moving forward.
Jennings did not seem to mind the change, telling the media after practice, via the Chicago Sun-Times, “Hopefully, it’ll be a full-time thing. It’s a little different for me. I’ve got to get back to acclimated to playing nickel and playing two positions on defense."
I just have a lot of confidence in Kyle Fuller. He's his own man. He's a very smart, confident young man. And he wants to learn. So he'll go around and he'll take the things he needs to take to get better and he'll focus on doing his job.
The fact that the team was willing to play him outside from the start of OTAs shows that this coaching staff believes Fuller can be a major contributor this season.
While Jennings will still line up on the outside in the team's base defense, Fuller appears to have a real shot at pushing for starting time on the outside if he can continue to impress during OTAs and training camp.
Last season, Josh McCown proved just how important it is to have a competent backup quarterback who can come in and help lead a team to victory.
McCown's performance last season helped him get a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bears could have looked to the free-agent market for a more experienced backup, but they opted to re-sign veteran Jordan Palmer.
Palmer was with the team late in training camp last season but was released before the season began. He was eventually re-signed following Jay Cutler's injury against the Washington Redskins in late October.
Despite limited work on the field during the regular season, Phil Emery has stated this offseason that the team is comfortable with him as their backup.
Emery reiterated his confidence in Jordan Palmer's ability to be the No. 2 QB.— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) May 1, 2014
Palmer knows he is being compared to McCown and understands just how important OTAs are.
“I watched all of last offseason,” Palmer told the media, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I watched every rep from [organized team activities] and minicamps. The biggest thing I saw that Josh did last year was he had great OTAs.”
While it was likely safe to assume Palmer already had the backup quarterback position locked up for 2014, his willingness to work hard and study film will only bolster the team's confidence in him moving forward.
Instead of spending money on a top-tier free-agent safety, the Chicago Bears went a more frugal route and signed veteran Ryan Mundy this offseason.
Mundy has the flexibility to play either free or strong safety, but it appears that his best fit in 2014 will likely be at strong safety.
As OTAs opened last Tuesday, Mundy saw himself getting plenty of reps with the first team.
Jennings and Mundy were the #bears safeties who got the most work today. Conte was on sideline & is recovering from surgery— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) May 27, 2014
After observing Mundy in practice last week, Matt Bowen wrote for the Chicago Tribune:
When you watch veteran safeties on the practice field, they demonstrate patience in their footwork and show the ability to identify concepts in the passing game. That was Ryan Mundy on Tuesday versus quarterback Jay Cutler and the No.1 offense.
The Bears struggled mightily at the safety position last season, and Mundy has the ability to bring stability to a position that desperately needs it.
Bowen went on to write that Mundy looked the part of a veteran who understands angles, leverage and technique, all areas that last year's safeties struggled with.
While the defensive line did little to help 2013's starting safety duo of Major Wright and Chris Conte, both struggled with their angles to receivers and running backs, often allowing the opponent to pick up four or five more yards because they struggled to tackle them correctly.
It is no surprise that Mundy received starting reps from Day 1, but if Bowen's assessment of his play is any indication of what the team will see from him on Sundays, they may have found a safety who can give the team consistency this season.
The fourth and fifth wide receiver positions both became much more wide open last week when veteran Domenik Hixon tore his ACL on the first day of OTAs, according to ESPNChicago.com.
Not only vying for a spot on the depth chart at wide receiver, Hixon was also likely going to be competing for an opportunity to return kickoffs in 2014.
Now that Hixon is out of the picture, Chris Williams may stand the best chance of grabbing one of the final wide receiver spots.
Emery, asked about the return man depth chart, mentions Chris Williams first: "We see him as a potential punt and kick returner."— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) May 11, 2014
After spending time with the Cleveland Browns, Williams moved on to the Canadian Football League, and in 2012, he set a CFL record with six return touchdowns to go along with 1,117 punt return yards.
ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright wrote that after watching Williams in practice, "he's easily the quickest among the team's receiving corps," and, "at training camp, he's definitely a player folks should keep an eye on."
If Williams can continue to impress in OTAs and training camp, not only does he stand a good shot of being the team's return man in 2014, but the team may also want to get his speed on the field any way they can.
After being taken in the first round in 2012, Shea McClellin had his fair share of struggles at the defensive end position.
In an attempt to revitalize his career and to put him in the right position to succeed, the team decided to move him to linebacker this offseason, a position he is more comfortable playing.
Strongest quote from #Bears' Shea McClellin on move to linebacker: "I think it’s what I should be doing."— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) May 27, 2014
In order to become an effective linebacker, McClellin worked to get leaner this offseason. That was evident in this tweet from his trainer, Scot Prohaska:
McClellin told the media after practice, via John Mullin of CSN Chicago, that he assumed he was going to make the switch to linebacker earlier this season, saying:
I was excited for sure, anticipated that they would, too. My first two years weren’t the greatest but I think linebacker is a natural fit for me. I think it’s what I should be doing and I’m very excited about it.
In his piece for ESPNChicago.com, Michael C. Wright wrote that both he and the coaches were impressed by what they saw:
We finally caught a glimpse of Shea McClellin playing linebacker, and he didn't look bad at all. In fact he looked pretty natural scraping against the run and dropping back into coverage on passes. McClellin drew plenty of compliments from the coaching staff during Tuesday's practice.
The majority of McClellin's production at Boise State came when he was playing linebacker, and he should benefit from having a chance to play a position he is more comfortable with.
According to Jeff Arnold of ChicagoFootball.com, McClellin has seen time at both the strong-side and middle linebacker positions early on in OTAs.
His best chance at starting will likely be at the strong-side linebacker position, but if he is able to show off the athleticism that led to him being a first-round pick, he may give veteran D.J. Williams a run at the middle linebacker spot.