Chicago Bears: Early Rookie Progress Reports

Matt EurichAnalyst IJune 5, 2014

Chicago Bears: Early Rookie Progress Reports

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    The NFL draft was nearly a month ago, and all rookies have now gotten the chance to get acclimated to their new cities and new teams.

    The coaching staff will spend the early portion of OTAs trying to install basic elements into their offense and defense as well as adding new wrinkles along the way.

    According to Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the defense plans to install the majority of their packages before training camp begins later next month.

    All of this new information is a lot for rookies to take in, but some have developed quickly during their short time with the organization and are already making good impressions with the coaching staff.

    Not all players have made an impact yet on the practice fields at the team's practice facility in Lake Forest, but some already have their respective positional coaches and/or coordinators talking.

    Here are our early progress reports for some of the Chicago Bears rookies.

Kyle Fuller

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    Few rookies have created the type of buzz that first-round pick Kyle Fuller has in the early part of rookie minicamp and OTAs.

    While expected to push for time at the nickelback spot this season, Fuller has been getting some work outside at cornerback with Tim Jennings moved inside when the team goes to its nickel package:

    Tim Jennings says he'll move to nickel on passing downs with Kyle Fuller out wide. #Bears

    — Jeremy Stoltz (@BearReport) May 27, 2014

    Playing on the outside will allow Fuller to focus on learning what is expected to be his long-term position and should allow him a greater opportunity to succeed. Jennings will still line up outside in the team's base defense and should give the team an added toughness against the slot. 

    Before OTAs even opened up last week, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker hinted at how important the third cornerback is going to be in this defense.

    "Typically, at least half of the snaps that you'll play in the season will be with five defensive backs in the game," Tucker said, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "And sometimes you'll go into game weeks or games and almost every snap will be in sub personnel. A third corner is like a starter. A third corner plays as much if not more than your third linebacker in a 4-3."

    Tucker later went on to praise Fuller's game, saying:

    From Day 1, he's a very intelligent player. He's got good size. He's got good speed. He's a willing and aggressive tackler and a high-percentage tackler. He's got excellent ball skills and great awareness. And he's a football guy. He's a tough guy. That's what he brings, so that's what we're looking for.

    While it is still early, Fuller appears to be progressing quickly and has already impressed the coaching staff enough to utilize him on the outside in passing situations.

    There is still plenty of time before the regular season starts, but Fuller already appears to be on the fast track to being a big contributor in 2014.

Ego Ferguson

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    A bit of a surprise pick in the second round, defensive tackle Ego Ferguson is out to prove he was worth being taken that high.

    Ferguson has the ability to develop into a run-stopper at the nose tackle position or 2-technique, but he has acknowledged that there is still a lot for him to learn.

    "It's like when you're in that first year in high school. You're a little puppy, you're trying to learn," he said after rookie minicamp, via Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. "First year of college, it's the same thing. So I'm just trying to soak everything in."

    After his first day of rookie minicamp practice, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker touched on Ferguson's potential, telling the media:

    He's light on his feet. He has a strong punch and a good anchor, really good balance and body control. He has some juice. He can explode and close in a short area. There's tremendous upside. With good coaching, determination and grit and persistence on his part, he can reach his full potential here.

    Ferguson has a great opportunity to learn from veterans such as Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea, and he also has the opportunity to grow and develop alongside third-round pick Will Sutton.

    He had limited starting experience while at LSU, only becoming a starter in 2013, but he understands that if he continues to work, good things will happen.

    "The sky's the limit for me," he said. "If I keep working the way I've been working and keep staying humble, I can do anything."

    If he continues to work and stay humble, the Bears may have found a key piece in the middle of their defense for years to come.

Will Sutton

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Third-round pick Will Sutton has the athleticism and ability to become a solid contributor at the 3-technique tackle position, but he will have to continue to progress week in and week out.

    While reports on him thus far in rookie minicamp and OTAs have been limited, Arthur Arkush of ChicagoFootball.com did write that after the second day of rookie minicamp, "Sutton continues to find his way into the backfield, much to the delight of D-line coach Paul Pasqualoni."

    Pasqualoni will be the key to Sutton's development in Chicago. With more than 30 years of experience coaching at the collegiate and NFL levels, Pasqualoni has all of the ability to help Sutton develop, but it will be up to Sutton to put forth the effort.

    This past Tuesday's OTA practice was open to the media for just the second time this season. Many reported that Sutton was getting time at the 3-technique with the first-team defense:

    Rookies safety Brock Vereen (free) and def. tackle Will Sutton (in Ratliff’s spot) both got work with the #Bears No. 1 defense today.

    — Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) June 3, 2014

    As Adam Jahns points out in the tweet above, Sutton was taking Jeremiah Ratliff's reps in practice. Ratliff was not at practice on Tuesday.

    While Sutton likely sits behind Ratliff and Nate Collins on the depth chart, he will need to take advantage of every rep he can get, and he may be able to push for a more significant role in 2014.

Ka'Deem Carey

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    Despite having one of the league's best running backs in Matt Forte, the Bears knew they needed to look the NFL draft to find a running back to back him up in 2014 and beyond.

    The team drafted Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey in the fourth round, and he has been impressive during his limited time with the team.

    Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer gushed about Carey's ability as a north-and-south runner, saying after rookie minicamp, via Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com:

    That's what Ka'Deem Carey can do. He's a north-and-south runner, meaning when he decides to put his foot in the ground he doesn't dance, he just goes. He's gaining yards, and that's what we like about Ka'Deem—he makes a cut, he gains yards. That's what we're looking for."

    There were concerns over the 4.7 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL combine, via NFL.com, earlier this offseason, but Kromer does not sound concerned over his speed:

    Kromer on Carey: "I didn't see a 4.7 on tape...He can get from point A to point B in a hurry."

    — Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) May 17, 2014

    Carey already expects to play a role in the team's offense this season, telling Marc Sessler of NFL.com, "They expect me to go out there and play as my first time behind Matt Forte, and go out there and do what I do best." 

    The Bears have struggled to find a solid running back who can back up Forte in the past, and if Carey can continue to live up to the praise he has gotten from Kromer, he has a chance to play a significant role on offense in 2014.

Brock Vereen

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    Fourth-round pick Brock Vereen is one of the few late-round picks who has a real opportunity of being a starter in 2014.

    The safety position for the Bears is wide open, and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has already acknowledged that this offseason:

    LM: #Bears DC Mel Tucker on battle for jobs: "Safety will be wide open. You can put that all in caps."

    — Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) May 16, 2014

    While reports of Vereen's performance in the team's minicamp and OTAs has been limited, ChicagoFootball.com's Hub Arkush wrote:

    "Brock Vereen closes very aggressively from his safety spot, a trait that haunted Chris Conte and Major Wright more often than it helped."

    Vereen did see action with the first-team defense this past Tuesday, lining up at the free safety spot next to veteran Ryan Mundy:

    Rookies safety Brock Vereen (free) and def. tackle Will Sutton (in Ratliff’s spot) both got work with the #Bears No. 1 defense today.

    — Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) June 3, 2014

    Because of Tucker declaring the position to be wide open, Vereen appears to have as good of a shot as any to nab one of the team's starting safety spots. Mundy will likely be the team's strong safety, but with only an ailing Chris Conte and M.D. Jennings, who struggled as a starter in Green Bay in 2013, to compete with, Vereen may be able to take claim of the open spot before the team heads to training camp later next month.

David Fales

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    While the Bears are set atop their depth chart at quarterback with Jay Cutler, fifth-round pick David Fales has the opportunity to push backup Jordan Palmer for the second quarterback position but will likely square off with Jerrod Johnson to be the team's third quarterback.

    The team knows how important the backup quarterback is in the NFL, and while it feels comfortable with Palmer moving forward, Fales gives it a quarterback to develop.

    Reports on his progress have been few and far between this offseason, but ChicagoFootball.com's Hub Arkush asked this question after this past Tuesday's OTAs:

    "Was it my imagination or did David Fales throw a few more knuckleballs than you'd like today?"

    It is very likely that Fales was just having an off-day, but if he cannot prove that he can consistently throw a tight spiral, he will not stand much of a chance of making this team out of training camp.

    While Arkush seemed fixated on Fales' inability to throw a spiral in OTAs on Tuesday, his colleague Jeff Arnold wrote that Fales simply "continued his development" at practice.

    ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson did point out that Fales, along with Johnson, got extended reps during Tuesday's practice with Palmer watching from the sidelines. 

    It appears that the team is committed to Palmer as its No. 2 moving forward, leaving the competition between Fales and Johnson to be one to watch this offseason.

Pat O'Donnell

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    After drafting Miami's Pat O'Donnell in the sixth round in May's draft, the Bears wasted little time in releasing one of his competitors.

    The team released Drew Butler last month, leaving O'Donnell to battle with second-year man Tress Way for punting duties this season.

    More well-known for his impressive display of athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, O'Donnell showed off his leg at rookie minicamp last month:

    Most impressive showing at rookie minicamp today was booming leg of punter Pat O’Donnell. Kept drilling the roof at Payton Center. #Bears

    — Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) May 16, 2014

    O'Donnell is likely the clear-cut favorite, but he understands that there is plenty he still needs to learn, and he is lucky to have someone such as veteran kicker Robbie Gould around.

    "Just learning from him would be a great opportunity for the future for me," he said during rookie minicamp, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "And I know it's a big challenge playing here in Chicago at times. But I'm looking forward to it." 

    Unless O'Donnell struggles throughout the remainder of OTAs and training camp next month, he appears to be the front-runner to hold down the position in 2014.

Jordan Lynch

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    When the Bears signed former Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch as an undrafted free agent, they were very clear that he would be switching from quarterback to running back:

    The #Bears list Jordan Lynch as a running back in official release sent out by the team.

    — Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) May 11, 2014

    Lynch appeared to make a smooth transition from quarterback to running back during the team's rookie minicamp last month, and he drew praise from head coach Marc Trestman:

    Trestman said Jordan Lynch "certainly didn't look out of place" today. Said he didn't "seem awkward in n-e way running & catching the ball."

    — Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) May 16, 2014

    Lynch has looked the part early this offseason, but he still faces an uphill battle.

    The team already has Matt Forte in place and drafted Ka'Deem Carey to be the backup, leaving Lynch to battle with Michael Ford and Shaun Draughn.

    Despite spending much of his time as a spectator during OTAs, ChicagoFootball.com's Arthur Arkush wrote: "Jordan Lynch had a couple of nice runs near the end of 11-on-11's, showing the vision and instincts general manager Phil Emery praised him for last month while finding creases in between the tackles."

    If Lynch wants to beat the odds and make this roster, he will need to continue to take advantage of every opportunity he gets. While there may not be room for him as a contributor running the football in his rookie season, he has the ability to prove he can make an impact on special teams, and that may be the key to him making this roster.

Christian Jones

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    After falling off teams' draft boards because of reportedly failing a drug test at the NFL combine in February, per Fox Sports' Jay Glazer (h/t Orlando Sentinel's Brendan Sonnone), the Bears quickly nabbed Florida State linebacker Christian Jones after the draft concluded.

    Jones has the ability to play all three linebacker spots and just may be able to push for a starting role in 2014.

    ChicagoFootball.com's Hub Arkush wrote

    "Christian Jones has a lot to learn but he's a good early camp favorite to watch as an UDFA with a great shot to make the club. He saw significant time at the 'Will' as well."

    The weak-side or "Will" linebacker position is the best fit for a player who is a strong tackler and who typically has the ball funneled to his side of the field.

    Jones proved at Florida State that he can be a reliable tackler as well as an effective blitzer.

    The Bears are set at weak-side linebacker with Lance Briggs, but the other two spots are still wide open.

    Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic will likely compete for the strong-side linebacker position, but if either ends up competing with veteran D.J. Williams for the middle linebacker job, Jones may be able to push for playing time on the strong side.

    While there is still plenty of time before the team will need to make a decision on Jones' future in Chicago, all indications point to him at least being on the team's roster in 2014 with a possible opportunity to push for a starting role.