Rounding Up the Chicago Bears' Offseason Buzz, Post-Minicamps
OTAs and minicamps officially ended last week for the Chicago Bears. The team will now have a few weeks off until training camp begins later next month.
The team released their full training camp schedule on their official website last week, and the team will open up camp on July 25 on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL.
Since the draft in May, the team has had a rookie minicamp, voluntary OTAs and a mandatory minicamp to evaluate their roster and determine what the team is going to look like heading into training camp.
The team made some final adjustments to their roster last Thursday when minicamp officially ended.
#Bears have released DL Izzy Idonije, QB Jerrod Johnson, TE Fendi Onobun & S Sean Cattouse. Team signs DE Jamil Merrell & LB Conor O'Neill.— Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) June 19, 2014
While the release of Idonije, Johnson and Onobun may have been the big story at the conclusion of minicamp, there are still plenty of storylines heading into training camp.
Here is our roundup of the Chicago Bears' offseason buzz, post-minicamps.
Marc Trestman Wants the Team to Get Tougher
Looking back on the 2013 season, Marc Trestman believes that the biggest thing his team lacked was toughness.
Trestman: Making "toughness" a point of emphasis team wide. 2013 Bears not the tough team they wanted to be for a lot of different reasons— Jeff Joniak (@JeffJoniak) June 18, 2014
Last season the Bears were one of the worst defenses in the league, particularly against the run, allowing 161.4 rushing yards per game.
In order to make his team tougher, general manager Phil Emery added players like Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young via free agency, while also adding guys like Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the draft to toughen up the team's defensive line.
While he certainly wants his defense to be tougher this season, Trestman also believes that toughness can be translated to his offense as well, telling the media last week, via ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson:
We weren’t the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons. We want to accentuate it this year. Playing football and being a Chicago Bear, we brought a lot of former alumni in here, and the universal language hasn’t just come from me. It has come from those people. We’re a team that wants to play—even offensively—with a defensive mentality. And there’s a way to play football in Chicago and that’s to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football. We’ve got to practice that way every day to be that team we want to be.
In order to help inspire the team, Trestman has brought in a handful of former Bears this offseason to talk about what it means to be a Bear.
Trestman: Bears greats Ditka, Singletary, Sayers and Otis Wilson have recently spoken to team about what it means to be a Bear & toughness— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) June 18, 2014
While it is hard to quantify toughness, Trestman believes that his team will be better off understanding what being a part of the organization meant to a lot of former players, and if that can help inspire them on the field on Sundays, then the idea was worth it.
Jimmy Clausen Has Legitimate Chance to Back Up Jay Cutler
The Bears surprised a few fans earlier this month when they signed veteran quarterback Jimmy Clausen to a one-year deal, via ESPN.com.
Despite his struggles in Carolina and an injury last season, the Bears were impressed enough with Clausen during his limited time with the team to release backup Jerrod Johnson last week.
Jerrod Johnson officially odd-man out in #Bears backup QB derby. Cut along w/ TE Fendi Onobun.— Chris Boden (@CSNBoden) June 19, 2014
“We're going through the process today of trying to work a little bit with our roster,” Marc Trestman told the media after the team's final minicamp practice last week, via ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright. “I think that Jimmy has competed and done a good job for the time that he's been here.”
Clausen has been all business since signing with the team this month, and Trestman has taken note of that, saying, via Wright:
No. 1 is how he handled the room. That room is hugely important; the chemistry, the karma, whatever you want to call it. In that room, the communication’s got to be good. Jimmy’s done a very good job, very maturely fit in and taken the place of trying to learn and work to learn the offense. He’s grinded at it. He spent long hours here. He’s had help from the guys in the room to get him to the place he is today. So we’ll see. We’re going through the process of working with our roster. I think he’ll be one of the guys that we do bring back, and we’ll take it one day at a time when we get to training camp.
Clausen has had his fair share of struggles since being drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft, but Trestman has experience with getting the most out of his quarterbacks.
If Jay Cutler goes down with an injury, Clausen may get his chance to shine.
He will end up competing with Jordan Palmer for the team's No. 2 job, but according to the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell, in just six practices, Clausen has put the pressure on Palmer.
Jimmy Clausen in only 6 practices convinced the Bears he could possibly beat Jordan Palmer for the backup QB spot. All eyes on JC6's health.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) June 20, 2014
In an ideal world the Bears' No. 2 quarterback will never see the field, but if Cutler struggles with injuries again in 2014, Clausen may wind up being the guy who leads the team out on the field at some point this season.
D.J. Williams Is the "Lead Dog" to Start at Middle Linebacker
After missing the majority of training camp in 2013, veteran D.J. Williams was named the team's Week 1 starter against the Cincinnati Bengals last September.
He was a solid contributor on a struggling Bears defense before he tore his pectoral muscle in Week 6 against the New York Giants and was lost for the remainder of the season.
Despite missing the rest of the 2013 season, the Bears decided to bring him back on a one-year deal this offseason to compete with second-year man Jon Bostic for the starting role.
While Bostic may have the upper hand in terms of athleticism and youth, Marc Trestman believes that as long as Williams is healthy, he is the "lead dog" to claim the middle linebacker job, telling the media, via Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com:
I’m just hoping he can be 100 percent. He’s had an offseason to work. He’s been out there competing hard, and when he’s playing well, it’s visibly noticeable in terms of what we can do with the middle linebacker position. But we have competition there. He’s certainly the lead dog there, but we do have competition.
While Williams is aware that he still has competition and has to fight against for the job, he understands that his experience can help guys like Bostic, Khaseem Greene and Shea McClellin develop at the position.
“From being in the league—this is my 11th year—I’ve probably seen a lot more than them,” Williams said to the media, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Whenever I see something, a little tidbit they might not know, or a little key here, I voice my opinion.”
While the Bears are still high on Bostic and might believe that he is still the future at the middle linebacker position, Williams is a savvy veteran who showed in his limited time on the field last season that he has the ability to be a solid contributor at middle linebacker.
Fan Favorite Jordan Lynch Will Have Hard Time Making Roster
It is difficult to find an undrafted free agent who has created as much buzz this offseason as Jordan Lynch.
A Heisman trophy finalist in 2014, Lynch dominated the Mid-American Conference in his senior season, rushing for 1,920 yards and 23 TDs and throwing for 2,892 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
While he played all four years at Northern Illinois as a quarterback, the Bears felt it was in his best interest to move to running back.
Despite being a guy that is going to have a hard time making this roster, he is the one player that special teams coach Joe DeCamillis says he is constantly asked about.
“I had about three people come up to me and say ‘How’s Jordan Lynch doing? How’s Jordan Lynch doing?’” DeCamillis said to the media after practice last week, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Chicago native has already thrown out the first pitch at a Chicago White Sox game, but he knows he has a lot of work to do if he wants to stick with the team this season.
Jordan Lynch: "Hard work pays off so I'm going to come out here every day and bust my tail off and just hope to move up the depth chart."— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) June 19, 2014
While his hard work will certainly help him in his attempts to ascend the team's depth chart, Marc Trestman has made it clear that Lynch will have to prove his worth on special teams.
#Bears HC Trestman compliments Jordan Lynch but spec teams will decide his fate— John Mullin (@CSNMoonMullin) June 19, 2014
There is no way of knowing right now how many running backs the team will carry in 2014, but it is safe to assume that both Matt Forte and Ka'Deem Carey are no-brainers with Lynch competing against Michael Ford, Shaun Draughn and Senorise Perry for possibly one or two final spots.
Lynch may have the will and desire to win the spot, but his lack of experience at the position may make it an uphill battle for the team's newest fan favorite.
A More Mature Jay Cutler Is Ready to Lead This Offense
Known for being aloof and distant at times as member of the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler finally seems comfortable with where he is—not only in life, but on the football field.
Despite struggling through injuries in 2013, Cutler appeared to be both a different player on the field, as well as different guy off of it.
While his demeanor and attitude can still be off putting to some, Cutler appears to be somewhat of a changed man.
"Looking back at my younger days in Denver and even when I first got here, you do some things that are foolish and you regret, and I think anyone does that," a retrospective Cutler told the media after a minicamp practice last week, via David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
While he sounds like a changed guy off of the field, he is fully aware that—despite the success the team had on offense last year—there is still room for them to improve, telling the media, via Hub Arkush of ChicagoFootball.com:
We did OK last year, for the first year. We have the same guys we had last year, which is always good. Talent-wise, it’s hard to top our O-line and some of the guys we have on the outside and Matt Forte, who is hugely underrated. Talent-wise and being in the system two years and the way the guys work, all that adds up.
In order for the offense to succeed, Cutler will have to prove he can stay healthy this season.
Cutler started all 16 games in 2009, his first with the team, but he hasn't been able to replicate that feat since. He missed just a start each in 2012 and 2010 but missed five starts last season and six in 2011.
In order to try and prevent himself from having another injury-riddled season, Cutler has worked on getting more flexible and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh has taken notice, telling Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:
[Cutler] spent a lot more time with flexibility, a lot more time in the weight room. He looks stronger. One of the things we talked about was getting real strong from the waist down. To play this position, you've got to have a good base, and that has definitely changed. He's built up his upper body some, too, to be able to stand out there strong and be able to deliver a ball and take a hit.
As long as Cutler can stay healthy, his new-found maturity off of the field may lead to him being a better quarterback on it in 2014.