Chicago Bears' 5 Players Facing Make-or-Break Training Camps
After what seems like an eternity since the regular season ended in late December, the Chicago Bears will finally report to training camp late next week on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL.
Bears general manager Phil Emery has added over 30 new names to his roster in 2014, and many will be competing for roster spots throughout training camp.
With the influx of new talent on the roster, many stalwarts from the 2013 roster will be facing make or break training camps. For those near the bottom of the roster, this may be their final opportunity to prove why they deserve a roster spot, while some veterans may be fighting to keep their starting jobs.
Here are five Chicago Bears facing make-or-break training camps later this month.
After being drafted by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft, Georgia's Cornelius Washington was viewed as a steal after being projected to go as high as the second round by CBSSports.com.
Despite possessing a great frame (6'4", 265 lbs), athleticism and good speed, he ended up appearing in just two games in 2013 despite the fact that the defensive line was decimated by injuries.
After the team added veterans Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young this offseason it was already assumed that Washington was going to have a hard time making the roster and he didn't do himself any favors by getting arrested earlier this offseason.
Confirmed w/ Glascock County Sheriff's Office that Cornelius Washington was arrested Friday for speeding & driving with a suspended license.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) June 23, 2014
While he wasn't expected to push for any starting time with the likes of Allen, Houston and Young, he will still face stiff competition for a backup role from guys like Trevor Scott and Austen Lane.
If Washington wants to make this roster, he is going to need to make his presence felt on a consistent basis during training camp and throughout the preseason.
He likely finds himself near the bottom of the totem pole and will have to work himself back into good graces with head coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
One thing that may benefit Washington in 2014 is the team's desire to become more hybrid and multiple on defense, which should help allow Washington to better utilize his skill set.
"Pressure packages will fit our personnel and be dynamic enough where we can play to guys’ strengths and be unpredictable,” Tucker told the media, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, about what the team wants to do on defense this season.
If Tucker wants to best utilize Washington this season, he may be better suited standing up as an outside linebacker rushing the quarterback then a guy with his hand in the ground playing defensive end.
If given the opportunity, Washington has all of the ability and potential to become a solid NFL contributor, but at this point he will need to prove himself during training camp or he will be shown the door before the start of Week 1.
It may seem strange to see Roberto Garza's name on this list after being the team's anchor along the offensive line for years, but after the addition of Brian de la Puente this offseason, Garza's starting job may be in jeopardy.
It is very unlikely that Garza would get cut before the start of the season, but the 13-year veteran has already shown signs of wear and tear over the past few seasons and could find himself on the bench in Week 1 if de la Puente has a strong training camp.
De la Puente started 44 games over the past three seasons for the New Orleans Saints and has a lot of familiarity with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer in Chicago because of the time they spent together in New Orleans when Kromer was offensive line coach.
Heading into training camp de la Puente is viewed as the backup to Garza, but any slip ups could help de la Puente land the job.
According to Pro Football Focus' Pete Damilatis, de la Puente has graded out as the better center since 2011.
Garza did perform better in 2013, as evident from the picture above, but the Bears obviously saw value and a need in de la Puente when they signed him earlier this offseason.
Garza won't need to play like he is 25 again, but if he does struggle in training camp or during the preseason, the team has a suitable replacement waiting behind him in de la Puente.
After foregoing his senior season at LSU and entering the 2013 draft, Michael Ford's disappointment of going undrafted did not last long as he was quickly signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent.
Viewed as a long shot to make the team's final 53-man roster last season, Ford beat out Armando Allen and played in 12 games last season, finishing with three special teams tackles and returned five kickoffs for 37 yards.
Heading into the 2014 offseason, Ford was the only running back on the roster besides starter Matt Forte and looked to be the lead candidate to be the No. 2 in the regular season. General manager Phil Emery opted to bolster the position in free agency by signing veteran Shaun Draughn, as well as drafting Ka'Deem Carey in the fourth round and signing undrafted free agent Jordan Lynch this past May.
Carey seems like the likely No. 2 behind Forte, leaving Ford to battle with Draughn and Lynch for what will likely only be one final running back spot.
The best way for Ford to make the roster over Draughn and Lynch will be to prove his worth not only as a kick returner but on special teams as a whole.
Keep an eye on RB Michael Ford. For him to make roster, he'll need to factor in special teams and as a possible kickoff returner.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) June 3, 2014
Ford understands that it will be difficult to make this roster with the new influx of talent, telling Gavin Crowell of the Chicago Sun-Times, “Right now, my mindset is doing whatever it takes to stay with the team.”
While he proved his worth as a special teams contributor, he may have some difficulty trying to win the kick return job.
The team signed wide receiver Chris Williams late last season and the former CFL standout appears to be the front runner for the returner job.
as suspected, phil emery confirms chris williams will get the first crack at the KR/PR role. likes his speed and up-side. #bears— dan durkin (@djdurkin) May 19, 2014
Along with battling Williams for a role as a return man, Ford will also be in competition with the likes of Eric Weems, Armanti Edwards and Micheal Spurlock.
One big reason that Ford struggled to get on the field as a running back last season was his need to improve in pass protection.
He likely won't be the team's first option as a kick returner, leaving him to compete as a legitimate third option at running back. Draughn has more NFL experience, albeit very limited, but did show the ability to be effective in pass production during his time with the Kansas City Chiefs.
If Ford can have as productive of a preseason as he did last year and improves in pass protection he could wind up being the team's No. 3 running back, but given the experience of Draughn, as well as having more proven kick returners on the roster, Ford will have to have an impressive training camp to make the roster this season.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, cornerback Isaiah Frey did not play a snap in his rookie season but was thrust into the nickelback role in 2013 after an injury to Kelvin Hayden in training camp.
Frey held his own last season, finishing the year with 47 tackles, one pass deflection and was on the field for nearly 50 percent of all defensive snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).
Before the draft in May, it was assumed that Frey would be competing with Hayden in training camp for the nickelback job, but the Bears drafted cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round, putting Frey's status up in the air.
First presumed to be the primary option at nickelback, Fuller has seen most of his time playing outside at cornerback in the team's nickel package with veteran Tim Jennings moving inside to nickelback.
Interesting development today was Tim Jennings playing nickel when Kyle Fuller came in. Jennings was still No. 2 CB in base D. #Bears— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) May 27, 2014
Frey and Hayden both seem like logical choices to make the team again this season, but if the Bears want to go with a more proven special teams contributor they may stick with veteran Sherrick McManis.
McManis has played in 27 games for the team since being traded to Chicago prior to the start of the 2012 season, mostly on special teams.
If the team feels that Frey has hit his ceiling, they may look to keep either Demontre Hurst or C.J. Wilson, both former undrafted free agents who spent training camp and part of the 2013 season on the team's practice squad.
While not a hindrance when on the field, Frey was never really spectacular and appears to have already hit his ceiling in terms of his performance.
If he proves he has the willingness to play special teams and can prove to be a playmaker on the field, he may be able to save his roster spot in training camp.
Few players within the Bears organization are more polarizing than safety Chris Conte.
After a solid 2012 season, Conte was expected to take the next step and help hold down the free safety position for years to come.
After injuries decimated the defensive line and linebackers early last season, Conte and strong safety Major Wright struggled mightily against both the pass and the run.
Often times Conte was relied upon to make open field tackles against talented running backs but he would over run the ball carrier or simply whiff on a tackle.
Despite his struggles, Conte still has one year left on his rookie contract and will look to prove his worth in 2014. Unfortunately for him, he is recovering from offseason should surgery and his return is still up in the air.
Emery says safety Chris Conte is targeting first preseason game for return from recent shoulder surgery. #Bears— Jeff Joniak (@JeffJoniak) May 1, 2014
If Conte can return in time for the first preseason game, he still has a legitimate chance of not only making the roster in 2014, but he could reclaim his starting job.
Unfortunately for him, he will have to battle with rookie Brock Vereen for the job.
Vereen, a fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, has impressed the coaching staff so far this offseason, leading to him getting reps with the first-team defense in minicamp.
#Bears HC Trestman - clearly pleased with what they're seeing from a rookie FS in Brock Vereen - long way to go but getting steadily better— John Mullin (@CSNMoonMullin) June 18, 2014
Head coach Marc Trestman isn't the only one who has been impressed by Vereen, as defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has been impressed by him as well, telling Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com:
Brock has done a nice job. He has great attention to detail. He’s very sound from a technique standpoint. He’s smart, he plays fast. He does not make a lot of mistakes. That’s good to see. So I think it’s ‘arrow up’ with him. He’s doing an outstanding job so far. We’ll see how it goes. We have competition there. There’s nothing set in stone. So we’ll just continue to monitor him and the rest of the guys and we’ll end up with a good group.
All of this praise for Vereen is likely not sitting well with Conte this offseason and it may be the push that he needs to come back and play at a high level.
While he may be the incumbent heading into training camp, Conte may be on the outside looking in once the regular season begins if he cannot get himself healthy and back out on the field.