Yes, it's only May, but it's never too early to discuss the upcoming training-camp battles that are sure to be juicy. With the NFL Draft now finished, as well as Cedric Benson and Brian Urlacher making news, the image of the team is beginning to take shape. Here are the position battles, followed by my projected winner.
Rex Grossman vs. Kyle Orton
Why not start with the most controversial? As a Bears fan, I wouldn't expect the winner of this battle to really be much better than the loser. However, the Bears as an organization still love Rex, and are giving him one more chance to be the QB Chicago never had. Grossman signed a one year, incentive-laden contract that allows him to hit the jackpot if he plays well, or to hit the booze if he plays like most expect. Grossman's upside is way higher than Orton's because of Rex's arm, but who knows where the ball is going once it's launched?
Kyle Orton has remained under the radar since he was thrust into the starting role in 2005. Known for his bar hopping and neck beard, Orton has always been quiet on the field, and doesn't have the same upside that Rex has. What Orton excels at is game management. He understands how to get those extra yards and when it's right to just throw the ball out of bounds. Orton never locks onto receivers and uses the tight ends more effectively than Rex.
Another advantage about Orton that shouldn't go unnoticed is his winning percentage. The guy finds ways to win games (or at least not lose them), and the team doesn't become frustrated with his stupid turnovers (like they do with Grossman's). Orton signed a two-year contract extension, so he can fail and still be around next season.
Winner: As Lovie would puts it, "Rex is our quarterback."
Cedric Benson vs. Matt Forte
Sorry folks, Adrian Peterson doesn't qualify here. And those of you who favor Garrett Wolfe, remember, he weighs as much as a football helmet.
Cedric Benson is hard to write about because he gives off so many negative vibes. I won't discuss the details of his boating incident, because it won't play a role in his standing with the team. On May 26, Lovie Smith officially declared Benson his starter, saying, "Cedric was our starter last year, and he’s our starter right now. For someone else to be the starter, they’re going to have to beat him out."
Lovie can say all he wants before camp begins, but everyone knows Forte will put up a fight. Benson needs to show his power-running skills that made him the fifth leading rusher in NCAA history. After knee surgery during the offseason, Benson has to prove to the coaches he is fully healthy and able to carry the load (no, not a load of passengers on his boat).
Matt Forte, unlike Benson, has a lot of positives about him. He stayed in school for four years, he helped rebuild parts of Louisiana that were destroyed by hurricane Katrina, and he flashed a combination of speed and catching ability at the combine. Forte was also a second-round pick, and will have a significant opportunity to display the intangibles that helped him earn his second-round status.
"We like what Matt Forte brings. When you draft a player that high, you’re expecting him to eventually play and have a role with your team," Smith said. If Forte can stay out of trouble and do everything the team asks of him, there is no way he remains on the bench. Lovie knows the NFL has become a two-back league, and having a young guy like Forte spell Benson on third downs is mandatory.
The question is, should Benson be spelling Forte? According to Lovie, Forte needs to earn it first. "He’s like all other rookies, starting from the bottom and working his way up."
Winner: This is Benson's last chance. His leash is shorter than ever, yet I believe he keeps the job, and is motivated knowing Forte will take his spot the instant he begins to struggle.
Mark Bradley vs. Devin Hester vs. Marty Booker
None of these guys are No. 1 receivers. As of last season, Hester was just learning the position, Bradley was demoted to fifth on the depth chart, and Booker was in Miami. Who should be No. 1? It has to be Booker by default. He has played with Rex before, having caught passes from him in Rex's rookie season. Booker has the most experience of the three, yet also has the least upside.
Mark Bradley should have "What If" written on the back of his jersey. What if he had lived up to his second-round draft status? What if he could just stay healthy? What if, What if, what if? Bradley is still young, and has good size and speed. If he can show the coaches that he can stay on the field and not in the trainers room, he could emerge as the No 1 as early as Week One.
Who doesn't love Devin Hester? He is an icon in Chicago, and even columnists like Jay Mariotti, who write only negative articles, loves him. Hester can do it all and is the reason for any of the team's wins last year. By making Hester a receiver, the only issue is how limited he will be on special teams. If Lovie wants to make Hester the No. 1, his playing time as a returner will have to be reduced significantly for him to fully develop.
Winner: Booker will be considered the No. 1, but Bradley will end up with the most receptions.
Other training camp battles:
Greg Olson vs Desmond Clark
Winner: Jerry Angelo wants to prove he can draft offensive talent, and Olson deserves it anyway.
Adewale Ogunleye vs Alex Brown vs Mark Anderson
Winner: This will be more of a rotation of all three. Brown and Ogunleye will be the starters, but expect Anderson to be brought in during passing situations.
Daniel Manning vs Craig Steltz vs Brandon McGowan
Mike Brown will be given another shot as the starting free safety. Manning seems to have fallen out of favor with the organization for some reason. He struggled in coverage last season, but the Bears moved him around so much it was hard for him to establish himself at one set position. McGowan signed a one-year contract and plays mediocre at best. Steltz could be the dark-horse candidate, but will have to earn it first.
Winner: Steltz. Why not? He played in the SEC, and the coaches already seem to favor him over Manning.
Let me know what you guys think, and feel free to comment and write other articles refuting everything I wrote!