Posted by Matt Clapp | 8/06/2013 06:27:00 PM | Marc Trestman, Phil Emery, Preseason, Training Camp
The Chicago Bears have finished nearly two weeks of training camp practice (including Family Fest in front of 29,000 fans at Soldier Field), and have their first preseason game of 2013 on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, NC.
On Monday after practice, the team released their first depth chart of the preseason, and the first depth chart of the Marc Trestman era. While the depth chart doesn't mean a ton at this point, it's still nice to see what the staff thinks of the roster right now, and it gives a better idea of what positional battles to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.
Let's look at each position and what to make out of the initial depth chart:
Unless another quarterback is brought in (which I still think is very possible), it's going to go as the current depth chart says:
1. Jay Cutler (Duh)
2. Josh McCown
3. Matt Blanchard
I'm still quite nervous about the idea of McCown being the quarterback if Cutler were to go down (and keep in mind Cutler's concussion history which will cause the Bears to be extra cautious with any hits to his head); the 34-year-old McCown has thrown 37 touchdowns compared to 44 interceptions, with just a 71.2 QB rating in his career. But Blanchard is a second-year guy with no NFL regular season experience, after being undrafted out of Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. I'm not saying he isn't capable or hasn't impressed the Bears, but he's a developmental project that should be nowhere near the No. 2 role unless he greatly impresses in preseason. So, McCown has a big edge for the No. 2 spot given where we stand now.
Running Backs & Fullbacks
As is the case with quarterback, the top three running backs on the team will almost certainly be exactly as the current depth chart says:
1. Matt Forte
2. Michael Bush
3. Armando Allen
Listed fourth on the depth chart is Michael Ford, an undrafted rookie back out of LSU. Ford is listed at 5'10", 216 pounds, and ran for 392 yards on 71 carries (5.5 yards per carry), with three touchdowns. However, he only had two catches for 29 yards, and that's where Ford's main roster competition in Allen, is very good. Allen has lined up in the slot for some plays in camp, with Forte in the backfield, and has the abilities you look for in a third-down, change-of-pace back. So, barring injury, the three running backs come week one will be in the order the depth chart says now. And that's as good of a running back group as you'll find in the NFL (hopefully this year we'll get a much better look at what Bush's talents).
At fullback, Evan Rodriguez is of course no longer on the roster after his incredibly poor judgment off the field led general manager Phil Emery to cut the former Temple product before he entered his second NFL season (Rodriguez has since signed with the Miami Dolphins). Replacing Rodriguez as the current No. 1 fullback is veteran Tony Fiammetta, who played with the Panthers in 2009 and Dallas Cowboys in 2010-2011. Harvey Unga, who is in Bears camp for what feels like the 17th time, sits behind Fiammetta, but as always, is a long shot to make the roster.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are of course the starters on the outside, and Earl Bennett is listed as second-string, but his essentially a starter as the slot receiver (although Martellus Bennett is going to end up lining up there in place of Earl a lot). That is of course if Earl can stay healthy, something that has been quite an issue for him in his Bears career. And already, he's dealing with health issues, as he left Family Fest with concussion-like symptoms. Keep in mind he also suffered a concussion last season, so this is a very worrisome situation.
Behind Marshall and Bennett are 2013 seventh-round Bears selection Marquess Wilson at third-string, and Terrence Tolliver and Jerrell Jackson as co-fourth-stringers. Wilson is an exciting talent that fell to the seventh round after being suspended at Washington State, and subsequently quitting the team. He's definitely a guy to keep an eye on in the preseason games, and he'll challenge for a roster spot. If he doesn't make the team, the Bears will surely hope they can get him on the practice squad.
Joe Anderson emerged as a very intriguing wide receiver prospect last preseason, and he then went on to be an impact player on special teams late in the regular season. He's reportedly been very impressive in camp (and reeled in a 50-yard TD pass from Cutler on Tuesday), and currently is listed behind Jeffery as a co-second-stringer with undrafted rookie Marcus Rucker. At this point, I'd honestly be surprised if Anderson didn't make the roster, and even if his primary role is as a special teamer, I think he'll make some contributions at receiver. Right now, he appears to be the fourth-best wide receiver on the roster.
Behind Anderson/Rucker on the depth chart are Devin Aromashodu (yep, he's back) and Brittan Golden as co-third-stringers, and Eric Weems and Josh Lenz as co-fourth-stringers. Aromashodu's size and experience (especially with Cutler) will give him a chance to move up a spot on the depth chart. Weems as a fourth-stringer at the moment is certainly an eye-opener. The 5'9" veteran had only two catches for the Bears last season, and with Devin Hester becoming a full-time returner, Weems' value in that department takes a hit as well. A lot can change over this next month, but right now, I don't think Weems would make the roster.
Hey, the Bears have a legitimate tight end that can block AND actually catch the football!
That tight end would of course be the 6'6", 270-pound Martellus Bennett, whom the Bears signed to a four-year, $20 million deal in the offseason. Bennett had 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns in 2012 for the New York Giants, and the Bears are loving his versatility so far. We'll likely see a lot of him lining up as a wide receiver, with a blocking specialist at tight end.
That blocking specialist could be Steve Maneri, currently No. 2 on the depth chart. Maneri is followed on the initial depth chart by co-third-stringers Kyle Adams and Fendi Onobun, and co-fourth-stringers Gabe Miller and Leonard Pope. The most intriguing guys of that group in my opinion are Onobun and Pope.
Onobun, 26, is a 6'6", 249-pound freak athlete (former basketball player) that has always impressed for teams in practice, but has never been able to get it done with pads on. Otherwise he of course would've stuck somewhere by now. Reports are that he's shown off his exciting tools in camp, but has been inconsistent overall. He'll likely have to make some plays when the lights on in these four preseason games to have a chance to win a roster spot.
Pope is a veteran tight end you're possibly familiar with that turns 30 in September, and was signed by the Bears over the last few days. He's a big, big dude at 6'8", 264, and is a blocking specialist, although he's caught touchdown passes in each of the last four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs (2009-2011) and Pittsburgh Steelers (2012). Although currently on the fourth-string, he could quickly shoot up the depth chart.
Phil Emery's premier focus in the offseason was addressing an offensive line which has had very, very well-documented struggles in recent seasons. The two most noteworthy moves made by Emery were the signing of free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod to a deal worth approximately $36 million over five years, the drafting of University of Oregon product Kyle Long in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Bushrod served as Drew Brees' blindside protector in New Orleans, and now he'll try to protect Jay Cutler, something J'Marcus Webb struggled mightily at doing over the last few years at the position. Webb is still atop the depth chart as an offensive tackle, but on the right side, this time. Coming into camp, I expected veteran swing tackle Jonathan Scott (currently listed as second-string left tackle) to compete with Webb for the starting job at right tackle, but it now seems like it would take Webb performing poorly in preseason for that to be a possibility.
Behind Webb on the current depth chart at right tackle is veteran Eben Britton at second-string, 2013 Bears fifth-round pick Jordan Mills on the third-string, and Cory Brandon on the fourth-string. As for the left side, undrafted rookie A.J. Lindeman is listed as the third-stringer. Of these guys, Mills is definitely the one to keep a close eye on in the preseason games. He's very talented and could push Webb at right tackle before long.
Long's camp has had mixed results thus far, and that's what should be expected about a guy with limited college experience. His talent (particularly his overall athleticism and strength) has greatly impressed teammates and onlookers, though. At the moment, he's listed as the co-starter at right guard with James Brown, another very talented young player (he's in his second year). Both have gigantic ceilings, but plenty of refinement needed to reach those ceilings. Brown may be a bit more advanced than Long at the moment, but it would be a surprise to see Emery's first-round pick on the bench come week one. Regardless, this is probably the top positional battle we'll see over the next month, and it's worth noting that no other player is listed on the depth chart at right guard. It's clear they're letting these two players duel it out.
At No. 1 on the depth chart at left guard is 27-year-old veteran guard Matt Slauson, whom the Bears signed to a team-friendly one-year, $815,000 deal in the offseason after he started every game for the New York Jets at left guard over the last three seasons. You can pencil him into the left guard position (barring injury, of course) for week one. Rounding out the depth chart at left guard are Taylor Boggs and Derek Dennis, with each needing very impressive preseason campaigns to have realistic roster shots.
Atop the center depth chart is the 34-year-old Roberto Garza, a player on the heavy decline over the last few years, and a player I don't think should be guaranteed of anything, but it would be a surprise to see him beaten out by current second-stringer Edwin Williams for the starting job. Williams is likely to make the roster though, and is probably ahead of Boggs and Dennis in reality on the guards depth chart. Boggs is also listed as third on the center depth chart, and P.J. Lonergan, an undrafted rookie out of LSU, is currently fourth at the position.
Julius Peppers will of course be manning the right side, and behind him on the depth chart right now are Cheta Ozoguwu (second-string) and Kyle Moore (third-string). With free-agent signing Turk McBride done for the year already after suffering a torn achilles, depth at the defensive end position is a concern. At least one of Ozoguwu and Moore figure to make the team, so pay attention to their performances in the upcoming preseason games.
Then there's the left side at defensive end, where we have the headliner of the depth chart in terms of the defense, as Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin are listed as co-starters.
Wootton impressed in 2012, getting seven sacks and forcing two fumbles, while McClellin showed flashes of his pass-rushing ability that led the Bears to take him in the first round of the 2012 draft, but looked overmatched at times as well. McClellin's made some eye-opening plays in camp, but will he be able to be more than a situational pass rusher in 2013? You know the Bears will give him every shot over the next month to prove he can be an every-down guy, but for right now, Wootton is the most likely starter at the position in week one. Either way, McClellin will get a ton of playing time this season, with Wootton potentially moving inside on passing downs like Israel Idonije (now a Detroit Lion) did in the past.
Behind those two are the depth chart are Cornelius Washington and Josh Williams. Washington is a highly talented rookie (taken by the Bears in the sixth round) that is definitely worth monitoring in the preseason games.
At defensive tackle, we of course have Henry Melton (who of course is playing under the Franchise Tag) leading the charge, with Stephen Paea at the nose. This is a position where depth's been in question, especially after veteran Sedrick Ellis retired in recent weeks before ever playing a game for the Bears. 25-year-old Nate Collins is listed behind Paea on the depth chart, and definitely has a big lead on the overall No. 3 defensive tackle spot. But after Collins, there will be plenty of competition for defensive tackle roster spots, with Corvey Irvin (listed as second-string behind Melton), Zach Minter, Aston Whiteside, Jamaal Anderson (a recently signed veteran), Christian Tupou, and Brent Russell fighting to make the team. And as I said earlier, Wootton will likely move inside frequently on passing downs, so that could be one less spot for those players to compete for.
Certainly the most talked about position on the defensive side of the ball with the national media is linebacker, with Brian Urlacher retiring. Nick Roach, the starting strongside linebacker for the Bears over the last few years, is also gone, as he signed a deal with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason.
In come four new linebackers that are all likely to make the roster, in D.J. Williams, James Anderson, Jon Bostic, and Khaseem Greene.
Williams, a veteran with up and down (particularly off the field in terms of the "down" part), is currently listed as the No. 1 middle linebacker on the depth chart, but he's also "week-to-week" right now with a calf injury. With Williams out, Bostic, a hard-hitting second-round pick in 2013 out of Florida, has been taking the first-team reps at the position. And even if Williams beats out Bostic to start the season, Bostic figures to be knocking on the door for the starting middle linebacker spot as the year goes along.
The situation is very similar at the strongside spot, where veteran James Anderson, previously of the Carolina Panthers, holds the top spot on the depth chart at the moment, but could be challenged for the starter's role by Greene. Greene was the Bears' fourth-round selection out of Rutgers in 2013.
But we're well familiar with the No. 1 guy at weakside linebacker, who won't be losing his starting role as long as he's a Chicago Bear. I'm of course referring to Lance Briggs, the seven-time Pro Bowler. Briggs also takes over the role of defensive play-calling, something Urlacher was previously in charge of.
Special teams ace Blake Costanzo is capable of playing linebacker in a pinch, and is listed as the No. 2 strongside 'backer. Competing with him for backup strongside linebacker duties are JT Thomas (a guy I really like), and Andrew Starks, a Plainfield North product that played college football at Princeton last season.
At weakside linebacker, Patrick Trahan is listed as a third-stringer, followed by Jerry Franklin. Trahan played in games with the Bears each of the last two seasons and offers ability on special teams.
And at middle linebacker, Lawrence Wilson holds the current third-string spot.
With Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, the Bears had the best cornerback duo in the NFL in 2012, and that duo returns in 2013. However, they'll both be free agents after the season, so the backups have a chance to show that perhaps they are worthy starters in 2014.
Right now, the second-string backups are Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.
The 28-year-old Bowman started 15 games for the Bears between 2009-2011, but his primary role on this team now is in the special teams department, where he excelled during the late part of 2012.
Hayden, 30, started two games in 2012, and was a starter for the Indianapolis Colts from 2007-2010. He's a very capable starter, but will serve as the nickel back on this team (UPDATE: Hayden tore his hamstring and will miss the entire season).
Perhaps no player at Bears camp has turned heads more than Isaiah Frey, a sixth-round pick by the Bears in 2012. Frey is listed as a third-stringer at the moment, but is currently filling in for Hayden at nickel back as Hayden rests due to a hamstring pull. Frey has been great in coverage all camp, batting down passes, and even intercepting passes (as he did on one Cutler pass Tuesday). He's the main cornerback to watch closely in the preseason games.
Sherrick McManis is also a third-stringer, but like Bowman, is around primarily for his contributions on special teams. C.J. Wilson and Demontre Hurst are fourth-stringers, and would need to greatly impress over the next month to have any chance at roster spots.
The safety duo will be the same as last year as well- Major Wright at strong safety and Chris Conte at free safety. I highly recommend reading an article former NFL safety Matt Bowen recently wrote about Wright and Conte potentially being in store for breakout seasons: Link.
Craig Steltz is listed as the second-string free safety, followed on the depth chart by Cyhl Quarles and Tom Nelson. Only Steltz would make the team right now out of that group.
Listed on the depth chart behind Wright at strong safety are Anthony Walters on the second-string, Brandon Hardin on the third-string, and Tom Zbikowski on the fourth. Hardin didn't play in a game during his rookie year after going on IR, and still has a lot to show to make an impact this year.
No surprises on the special teams depth chart. Robbie Gould is the kicker, Adam Podlesh is the punter, Devin Hester is the kick returner/punt returner, and Patrick Mannelly is the long snapper.
Gould has no competition at kicker, but undrafted rookie Tress Way out of Oklahoma has an impressive leg that could push Podlesh at punter. Still, it would be a stunner to see Way beat out the solid veteran.
Hester's been fully removed from wide receiver duties and seems very motivated to do everything he can to get back to being an elite returner again. Although he's quite pricey for a guy only on special teams, it would be a surprise to see the Bears cut him. Eric Weems follows Hester on the kick return depth chart, while Earl Bennett and Michael Ford follow No. 23 on the punt returner depth chart. It's worth noting that rookie wide receiver Josh Lenz was also catching punts with Hester on Tuesday in practice.
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