Chicago Bears' 5 Biggest Training Camp Battles
Summer roster battles will define the 2017 Chicago Bears.
Though technically a transitional year for the franchise, based on the structure of free-agent contracts doled out during an active trip to market, the summer battles will heavily influence where the Bears go this time next year.
These contests will, in theory, let the best players emerge with starting jobs at critical spots. If younger players the coaching staff plans to build around don't win out, the list of needs the front office must address in a year grows. If surprising developments unfold and massage problem areas, said list falls back in the other direction.
It's not fun to think the Bears won't compete for a playoff berth in 2017. There's always an off chance they do (it's an optimism-filled offseason once again, right?), but this is still an entertaining time to be a fan because glimpses of the future begin to shine through.
Those glimpses start during training camp, where the following battles will command the spotlight.
A boost on one edge of the defensive line would work wonders for the Bears in 2017.
Eddie Goldman is capable in the middle if he can stay healthy, and Akiem Hicks just had his best year as a pro over the course of his first season in town. On the opposite edge, though, the Bears didn't get much from their ends.
The problem was twofold. One was a simple lack of options, with veteran Mitch Unrein more of a depth player than starter. Yet he started because rookie third-round pick Jonathan Bullard wasn't ready to handle every-down responsibilities.
The vibe seems to be changing this offseason, based on hype from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
"Well Jon didn't play a whole lot last year," Fangio said, according to Pro Football Weekly's Kevin Fishbain. "And hopefully he's ready—you always look for a lot of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. I think he's better prepared now to play in the trenches of the NFL than he was last year. He's gotten a little bit bigger. I think his mentality—he understands more of what's expected of him playing in the NFL, in the trenches."
Other than finding the best player for the job and creating a positive ripple effect on the rest of the unit, this is one of the summer's most important battles for the Bears because if Bullard doesn't step up and play well, defensive end remains one of the biggest needs to be addressed after the season.
Based on the rumblings and a second-year leap, look for Bullard to win the job.
One of the big wins for the Bears in free agency this year was landing veteran safety Quintin Demps, who won't face any competition for one of the starting slots in the defensive backfield.
The spot next to him is quite the different conversation.
There, Adrian Amos and rookie Eddie Jackson figure to fight for the starting role.
While the reality is the two might end up sharing the reps or even taking the field together in certain packages, it'll be interesting to see by the end of the year who took more overall snaps.
Amos, 24, still has interesting upside after joining the Bears via the fifth round in the 2015 draft. He was one of the bright spots a few times last year on a miserable overall unit, though given the state of the unit, that isn't saying too much or guaranteeing him a job in 2017.
Jackson has a legitimate case to start as a rookie. Injuries, including a broken leg last year, knocked him down to the fourth round. But he's one of the safety prospects with the best range from the class, meaning he can move from sideline to sideline deep in response to what unfolds in front of him while Demps patrols closer to the line of scrimmage.
Though this likely breaks down into a rotation, one has to think Jackson takes more snaps by the end of the year, not to mention helps on special teams. Look for the Alabama product to flash in camp for its duration, health provided.
Who wins out across from Cameron Meredith at wideout promises to be one of the summer's more interesting developments.
The Bears have plenty of candidates after an active offseason at wide receiver in large part thanks to the loss of Alshon Jeffery. New faces include Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz, though guys like Kevin White, Josh Bellamy and Rueben Randle shouldn't go forgotten.
While Wright is more of a slot player, it'll be interesting to see whether he can push Wheaton for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart and put him in a position to land second in snaps by season's end.
The uncertainty makes the battle interesting, to say the least.
“That's exactly what it is,” Wheaton said, according to Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Everybody's new, so we don't know what it's going to be. [With the] Pittsburgh Steelers, you kind of have a clue because they've done it for so long. But everybody's new [here]. Everybody's trying to find their niche. We'll see how it goes."
Wheaton has the skill set to play on the outside or inside, though he first has to stay healthy after only playing in three games last year. Wright shone under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains during their together a few years back, meaning a return to such form would win him the job.
Then there's White. On paper, he should be the lock for the second slot after coming off the board in the top 10 back in 2015. Injuries have derailed his career trajectory, though, so he'll need to iron out some of the basics before winning the job—though he'll undoubtedly flash and create a stir throughout camp because of his sheer athleticism.
This feels like the flip of a coin, with the toss producing Wheaton as the winner. He's been the most consistent over his career of the players here and has the versatility to help him win out.
Tight end continues to fly under the radar as a spot with serious competition this offseason.
Zach Miller hasn't gone anywhere, yet the 32-year-old veteran is a big reason the Bears addressed the position twice this offseason. He's missed seven games over his two seasons in Chicago and 19 over the past three if we feel like stretching it out beyond his Bears tenure, which takes us back to 2011, by the way.
The Bears added Dion Sims in free agency, swiping him from the Miami Dolphins at a time when the coaching staff there was turning one of the league's better blocking tight ends into a viable weapon through the air.
Not content, the Bears added Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, a guy who flew under the radar because he played at Ashland. College prestige doesn't much matter when he showed sure hands on film and happens to stand at 6'6" in an NFL-ready frame.
Don't be surprised if the battle for starting tight end comes down to Sims and Shaheen. This doesn't mean Miller won't be on the roster, but if the Bears want the future on the field, it's those two, with Sims mostly pitching in as a blocker and Shaheen acting as the big-bodied target.
The best player emerging here is critical for the Bears in light of the competition under center and how the winner there will rely on his tight end to succeed. Provided he adjusts to the speed well, Shaheen has all the physical tools to steal this one and make an early impact.
All other roster battles pale in comparison to the one under center between veteran Mike Glennon and rookie Mitchell Trubisky.
The Bears likely have it planned the entire way that Trubisky cannot win the job as a rookie. We can argue the merits of such an approach until blue in the face, but if the front office is set on seeing what Glennon has during a transitional year while putting its rookie quarterback in a pressure-free environment, nobody can convince the hierarchy otherwise.
Anyway, this seems like a critical battle on paper in large part because of the investment. The Bears threw $45 million at Glennon. Most of the deal is front-loaded, but it's still a ton of cash for a quarterback who hasn't attempted many passes over the past couple of years. The Bears then traded up in the draft to get Trubisky with the second pick.
The two certainly don't give off a vibe that this is much of a competition.
"Yeah, he's been great," Glennon said of Trubisky in June, according to ESPN.com' Jeff Dickerson. "He works really hard at it. He asks questions. He's done a really good job of learning the offense, understanding what we're trying to accomplish, and I think he does a great job picking that up for being a rookie."
The conversation changes if the rookie flashes in camp and comes along faster than expected.
Glennon's contract is structured like it is for a few different reasons. The most likely is the simple fact the Bears wanted to get him on what amounted to a one-year deal as insurance and to see what he could do before handing things over to a second-year player. But the other option here is Glennon is a dud, loses the job and the Bears move on from him in the same manner next year with little financial harm done.
Still, it's hard to shake the feeling Trubisky will ride the bench for most of the year regardless of what unfolds during camp. He'll see playing time with games decided and perhaps late in the season, but looking better than a veteran who has battled through several camps already isn't easy.
Glennon isn't the long-term answer, but keep in mind he might give the revamped offense around him the best chance at forming a cohesive attack, especially helping solidify the aforementioned wideout and tight end groups so they're ready to help along Trubisky this time next year.