Chicago Bears: What Each Rookie Will Bring to the Table in 2012

Tony Giardina@@tonygiardinaCorrespondent IJuly 4, 2012

Chicago Bears: What Each Rookie Will Bring to the Table in 2012

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    The Chicago Bears begin training camp later this month as they try to trim the roster down to 53 men.

    A few rookies are already locks to make the team, but the roles they will play as the team fights for an NFC North crown have yet to be decided. 

    Several rookies are trying to impress in camp for a starting role, while others are just looking to make the team. Here are the positions that seven rookies are fighting for and what we can expect from them in 2012.

Shea McClellin

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    2012 Season Outlook:

    Shea McClellin provides yet another playmaker on the Bears defense. With an aging team that struggled to get to the quarterback in 2011, McClellin may be the key to the Bears defense

    Israel Idonije will likely begin the season as the starter opposite Julius Peppers, but McClellin may take his job by midseason. He will at least get plenty of reps in the defensive end rotation and provide depth at the position, something the Bears severely lacked in 2011.

    Though he has a much smaller frame than both Idonije and Peppers, his speed is impressive, and he has a high motor.

    He may struggle early with physical offensive linemen but should be able to use his quickness to get to the quarterback on a semi-regular basis.

    Prediction: 34 tackles, 7.5 sacks

Alshon Jeffery

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    2012 Season Outlook:

    Heading into the Bears' 2011 campaign, Roy Williams was the team's only big-target receiver. He was surrounded by a flurry of smaller, speedy wideouts in Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Dane Sanzenbacher.

    Now, the Bears are much more balanced after trading for star receiver Brandon Marshall and drafting Alshon Jeffery out of South Carolina.

    Jeffery has a big frame, standing at 6'4" and 229 lbs., and will provide a great red-zone target for Jay Cutler. Hester is expected to begin the season as the starter alongside Marshall, but Jeffery will likely start out as the No. 4 receiver with Earl Bennett in the slot.

    He has been hampered by a lower-leg injury that caused him to miss most of minicamp, but he is expected to be ready for training camp later this month.

    Jeffery will get some playing time early on and may eventually beat out Hester for a starting role. 

    Prediction: 46 receptions, 655 yards, 4 TDs

Brandon Hardin

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    2012 Season Outlook:

    Brandon Hardin, the Bears' third-round pick, missed the entire 2011 season at Oregon State due to a fractured shoulder. The oft-injured defensive back was a risky pick but could end up paying huge dividends this year. 

    The Bears' safety play in recent years has been lacking, and their depth at the position was dangerously thin. Chris Conte and Major Wright come into the 2012 season as the starters, with Hardin and Craig Steltz backing them up. 

    With a great training camp, Hardin could take Wright's strong safety role (per but should see significant playing time regardless.

    The added depth at safety will help the Bears stay fresh against the vaunted passing attacks of the Packers and Lions.

    Prediction: 30 tackles, 2 INTs

Evan Rodriguez

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    2012 Season Outlook:

    Evan Rodriguez, a fourth-round pick out of Temple, will be used in many different packages for the Bears offense this season. His versatility is one of his biggest strengths, and the team will find a way to best utilize his athleticism for 2012.

    Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth will start ahead of him at the tight end position, but neither has shown impressive receiving skills to this point.

    Davis is more of a red-zone target, catching just 18 passes last year, but five of them were for touchdowns. Tight ends will play a bigger role in Mike Tice's system this season, resulting in more two-tight end sets and more involvement in the offense. 

    Davis will benefit the most from the added relevance to tight ends in the passing game, but Rodriguez has the ability to stretch the field with his quickness.

    He will play a bigger role as a blocker than as a receiver when the season starts, but he has a shot to bypass Spaeth on the depth chart and get solid playing time as the year goes on. 

    Prediction: 24 catches, 269 yards, 2 TDs

Isaiah Frey

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    2012 Season Outlook:

    Isaiah Frey will be fighting to be the Bears' No. 5 cornerback come training camp.

    Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are near locks to be the starters in 2012. Newly acquired free agent Kelvin Hayden, who hasn't played a full season since 2007, is trying to stay healthy long enough to take Jennings' job. D.J. Moore will return to be the team's nickel back. 

    This leaves Frey, rookie Greg McCoy and the free-agent pickup Jonathan Wilhite fighting for what could be just one roster spot.

    Wilhite played in Denver last year after spending his first three seasons in New England. Frey is a very talented back out of Nevada, but he is still raw and may not be ready to contribute. 

    If Frey does make the team, part of his role will be on special teams to make up for the loss of Corey Graham. This could give him the early advantage over Wilhite going into training camp.

    Prediction: Makes team over Wilhite, 14 tackles

Greg McCoy

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    2012 Season Outlook:

    The final pick of the Bears draft, Greg McCoy is another cornerback that will have to fight for a shot to play, but he still has a good chance at making the team.

    A special teams standout at TCU, he averaged 30.6 yards per kick return with two touchdowns in 2011 on his way to being named Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year. 

    Now that the Bears have a true No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, the defense will put less pressure on Devin Hester, who could see an increase in offensive production this year.

    The increased offensive role may result in fewer return opportunities this year (per the Chicago Tribune). This could open the door for Eric Weems and McCoy with Knox out for the foreseeable future. 

    The return game will be McCoy's best chance of making the roster, and he could provide the Bears with an explosive return option with Hester playing a larger role in the passing game.

    Hester's career-high 57 catches and 757 yards receiving came in 2009 when he returned a career-low seven kickoffs. 

    Prediction: Will make team, share kickoff duties with Weems

James Brown

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    2012 Season Outlook:

    The Bears' biggest steal from this year's draft class may have actually come after the draft.

    Going seven rounds without selecting an offensive lineman was somewhat puzzling considering last year's protection problems. Instead, the Bears waited until after the draft to sign rookie free agent James Brown out of Troy. 

    He impressed Lovie Smith in the offseason minicamp, and the head coach had this to say about the offensive lineman, via the Chicago Tribune:

    "He has stood out in the drills," coach Lovie Smith said. "You notice him. He's slim, athletic, good size, smile on his face and he was a pretty good player in college. However (he went undrafted), we're just glad he's in our camp."

    Brown had third- or fourth-round talent, but off-field issues may have been what caused his stock to severely drop. The Bears need depth at offensive line, but Brown has a couple of players to jump before landing a spot on the team.

    Prediction: Won't make 53-man roster