Highlighting Chicago Bears' Deepest, Thinnest Positions Ahead of 2014 Season
Last season, it was the offense that led the Chicago Bears, while the defense was just trying to play catch-up. After some moves in free agency and the draft, the Bears look a little more balanced coming into 2014.
The defense still has more holes than the offense, though. As we highlight the deepest and thinnest positions on the team, you will see some glaringly thin areas on defense and an obviously deep position on offense.
Here are the two deepest and the two thinnest positions on the Bears roster heading into this year.
Think about the great mixture of talent the Bears will feature at cornerback this year. Veterans like Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden will be mixed in with young players like Kyle Fuller and Isaiah Frey.
Tillman and Jennings have four Pro Bowl visits and 56 career interceptions between them. Hayden is a solid and experienced corner with 49 starts under his belt, Fuller is an amazing first-round talent and Frey was a starting nickel last year.
Those five players allow the Bears to line up in a variety of different ways. Jennings has already seen some time at nickel in OTAs, and Hayden has spent time on the outside with the first team.
This position has the most depth on the team, which is a plus. All five guys can start at any moment. Given that Tillman missed eight games last year and Hayden missed the entire season due to injuries, the Bears might have to rely on that depth at some point.
The top group of five aren't the only options, though. Sherrick McManis is a very good special teams player who never gets enough credit for the work he does.
The NFC North features some of the best wide receiver corps in the league. The Bears get a leg up knowing they can line up wide with any of these teams without a problem.
As of right now, the Bears don't have two viable starting safeties on the roster. M.D. Jennings, Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen are all new options, but they still come with question marks.
Chris Conte and Craig Steltz round out the below-average group. The fact that Conte could still be the starter in 2014, despite last season's poor effort and a current shoulder injury, tells you how thin the position is.
Look for Mundy and Conte to be the starters come opening day. They have the most experience and stability among the group. Mundy will be a season-long lock at strong safety, but Conte could be overtaken at some point.
Rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen has the talent and upside to force Conte out. He's a smart football player who should take to the pro game quickly and get the starting nod over a very shaky Conte.
There isn't much on the free-agent market, but the Bears could bring in more competition if they wanted to. Former Baltimore Ravens safety Michael Huff and former New England Patriots safety Steve Gregory are modest options.
Deepest: Wide Receiver
When you feature two No. 1 options like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver is without question one of the deepest positions on the roster.
Marshall has a new contract and is focused on getting to the playoffs for the first time in his career. Jeffery is looking to prove last season wasn't a fluke and that he's the league's best young receiver.
Meanwhile, Marquess Wilson is a very talented young player looking to take control of the slot receiver spot. He may be taller than most guys who line up inside, but he has the quickness, athleticism and hands to get the job done. Additionally, veterans Josh Morgan and Eric Weems provide a ton of experience and options on special teams.
Watch out for Josh Bellamy as an outside option to make the roster, and former CFL standout Chris Williams is an early favorite for the return man position.
Imagine, just a few short years ago, the Bears didn't have a No. 1 receiver. Now they have two, along with some emerging young players and solid veterans. Quarterback Jay Cutler certainly has to be happy with his group of weapons to throw to.
Thinnest: Defensive Tackle
Defensive tackle is a thin position right now because of the uncertainty. The Bears have to rely on an oft-injured former star, an inconsistent former second-round pick, two rookies and a veteran backup coming off a torn ACL.
Jeremiah Ratliff heads a group looked to to help reinvigorate a defense that was dead last in stopping the run last year. Ratliff is a four-time Pro Bowler who has only played in 11 games over the past two seasons.
Stephen Paea is coming into a free-agent year, and the Bears still don't know who he is. At times, he looks like a solid nose tackle and then other moments he completely disappears.
Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson were talented guys in college, but do they have the makeup and work ethic to make it in the NFL?
Nate Collins should be fine coming off his knee injury, but, at best, he's still no better than a rotational player.
In order for this unit to perform well, the Bears need Ratliff to stay healthy, Paea to be motivated by a potential new deal and two rookies to be ready to contribute right away. That's asking for a lot to happen all in one season.