Published by Jerz 7/25/2014
The Chicago Bears 2013 season was both memorable and forgettable at the same time. For the first time, ever, the offense was a force to be reckoned with and the defense was an absolute laughing stock. As a fan of this team since the late 70s, I can’t ever remember saying both of those things in the SAME sentence. GM Phil Emery was swift and decisive in how he went about his business this off season from everything to re-signing key Free Agents like Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, Matt Slauson and Charles Tillman to infusing a shot of youthful talent into a defensive unit pretty much left for dead after week 4 of last season with the drafting of Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton and Brock Vereen. The Bears started 2014 training camp this week with 43 NEW faces and look to build off a tremendous offensive showing in 2013 and absolutely burn and bury a defense that made marshmallow cream look like granite.
The NEW faces range from some of the above mentioned draft picks to high profile pickups in Free Agency like defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen down to street free agent pickups like Adrian Wilson and Jimmy Clausen. I’ll discuss a handful of “newbies” that I’m excited to watch and they range from high profile draft picks and free agents to under the radar street and undrafted free agents. The first guy I want to get an up close and personal look at is 1st round cornerback Kyle Fuller. Like most of Bears Nation, I was hoping Pitt’s Aaron Donald would fall to us (taken 1 pick before the BEARS by the Rams) or we’d nab Louisville’s Calvin Pryor or Alabama’s Ha-Ha Clinton Dix (who I hated to see fall in Green Bay’s lap, by the way). I, like many others, didn’t see cornerback as much of a priority (with the re-signing of Pro Bowl caliber corners Jennings and Tillman) as much as safety (with the debacle that was Chris Conte and Major Wright playing more like “Minor Wrong” last season). The more I had time to think about it, the more it actually made sense to me. With so many teams relying on multiple WR sets, you can never have too many good corners. Secondly, with Tillman on a 1 yr deal, it only makes sense to have a replacement plan brewing in case this is his last year playing if not for the Bears. Fuller was one of the top corner prospects coming out (even #1 on some experts boards) so the Bears definitely didn’t hurt themselves (especially with Donald off the board at their pick). Fuller’s ability to play on the outside and inside in nickel situations makes him a valuable asset for a defense featured by Mel Tucker to have multiple alignments and responsibilities for his personnel. The more you can do the better. The Bears have even started things out slowly for the rook by lining him up outside and bumping veteran Pro Bowl corner Tim Jennings inside to play nickel in passing situations. Fuller didn’t disappoint in his 1st practice as a Pro with two picks (though off backups Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen) so I’m sure I won’t be the only one keeping a close eye on the 14th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
My thought on why the Bears didn’t aggressively seek to upgrade the safety position in free agency (no offense M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray) is that they simply feel with better front 7 play (the D-line and linebackers) the safeties won’t be nearly put on the spot as much as Wright and Conte were in 2013. The signing of Ryan Mundy didn’t exactly make me beat my chest ( I was hoping for former Panther Mike Mitchell who signed with the Steelers) but I saw it as a solid signing. I eased my hand further away from the panic button when “Uncle Phil” was able to move back into the 4th round of the Draft and snag safety Brock Vereen from the University of Minnesota. Vereen, like Fuller boasts ball skills and athleticism in coverage that at times was M.I.A. from Bears safeties last year. It got so bad that last season’s “whipping boy” Chris Conte earned the nickname the “Policeman” (because he was a white man in a blue uniform running after people in every other team’s highlights). I actually expect Conte to come back this year with a huge chip on his surgically repaired shoulder and play well. There aren’t too many other safeties in the league that would’ve played much better (considering how bad the front 7 was in front of him). I won’t even talk about not hearing the check in that game losing TD given up to Green Bay (though I just did). He isn’t doing himself any favors right now not being able to compete for a starting safety spot that once belonged to him but is clearly on the table. This brings me to the next newcomer I’m excited about seeing Adrian Wilson. Skeptics say he’s coming off injury and will be 35 this season. Optimists (myself included and obviously GM Phil Emery) see an opportunity to kick the tires on a guy that was one of the most feared (and productive) players at his position (and here’s the “kicker”) when healthy. By all accounts, the former Pro Bowl safety is “healthy” as the deformity he had to deal with concerning his heel and Achilles tendon is no longer a problem. Phil Emery felt strong enough about a workout Wilson had in June to offer him a 1 yr deal. By all accounts, Wilson doesn’t even have to be his former Pro Bowl caliber self (though it would be nice) to be an upgrade at the position and a viable contributor. At 6’3″ 230 pounds, Wilson provides the type of thump and intimidation the back end of this Bears defense has been missing since Mike Brown. If Wilson can stay healthy and get the finer details of the Bears defense down (by him being the Pro he has coming into his 14th training camp, I don’t expect the latter to be a problem) he essentially becomes “found money” in 2 instances. 1st you add a hammer to the back end of your defense that is an accomplished blitzer and stout against the run and secondly the experience he adds to your safety room would be invaluable for rookie Brock Vereen and even Ryan Mundy. I’m pulling for Wilson to make this team and hope to see him lined up with the 1st team in week 1 against Buffalo.
The next “newbie” I’ll have my eyes on is 4th round pick Ka’deem Carey. The rookie running back from Arizona has a great opportunity to emerge as the #2 running back behind Pro Bowler Matt Forte (who at 28 should relish an opportunity to prolong his career since he’d like to play another 6 seasons). He has a room full of guys to beat out to earn that distinction but this kid has the skills to pay the bills. The knock on him coming out was he doesn’t have “top end” speed but tell that to the defenses he ran over and away from during his run in the Pac-12 Conference. It’s amazing to me that the running back position has become so de-valued that a talent of Carey’s caliber was left hanging around in round 4 but trust me the Bears aren’t complaining. Carey may not be a “speedster” (as his 4.7 forty yard dash at the combine showed) but his vision, ability to get to the next level and move the sticks speaks for itself and running behind the Bears very solid offensive line will be a match made in heaven. Michael Ford, Shaun Draughn, Senorise Perry and former NIU star Jordan Lynch may have something to say about it but this should be one of the better battles to watch and one of the toughest competitions in camp.
The 4th guy I’ve got my close eye on is a guy a lot of people have already slept on (by not drafting him). He finds himself in position to sneak in and snatch one of the available backup linebacker spots if not compete to start at SAM backer. Coming into camp we’ve heard so much about Jon Bostic and DJ Williams battling it out for the starting middle linebacker spot and how Shea McClellin has trimmed down and in competition for playing time at both MIKE and SAM backer spots and even last year’s 4th round pick Khaseem Greene has been said to look good in earlier mini camp practices. The guy I think can surprise everyone is undrafted rookie linebacker Christian Jones. The former Florida State standout comes to the Bears almost like an extra draft pick (if you ask me). It’s not very often a 6’3″ 240 pound athletic, versatile (played all 3 LB positions and some DE) guy with a 2nd or 3rd round grade falls in your lap AFTER the draft? A diluted urine sample made every team pass on him in the Draft and the Bears could be the recipient (once again) of “found money”. At worst, I expect Jones to contribute on special teams, make the ball club and eventually find his was into the mix to contribute on defense this season. This will all depend on how quickly he can adapt to the Pro game (speed of it and it’s high volume of information to process) and react and respond to some pretty tough coaching. If he can do his job and let his GOD given talent and ability do the rest, the Bears may have landed themselves a steal.
I don’t want to just mention these 4 Bears newcomers like they’re the ONLY guys to keep an eye on, with so many position battles for starting spots still up in the air. The team has to determine who will replace special team standouts Devin Hester and Patrick Mannelly as well as who will punt the ball (between 6th round pick Pat O’Donnell and Tress Way)? 2 starting spots up for grabs in the linebacking core and at safety. Competition should heat up at both defensive tackle spots with veterans Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff trying to fight off veteran Nate Collins and rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Can Jared Allen continue his pass rush assault on NFL QBs? Can Marquess Wilson nail down the #3 WR spot and what other 2 or 3 WRs make the team behind him? Can Brian de la Puente beat out savvy vet Roberto Garza for the starting center position? Is Jordan Mills safe at right tackle or is Eben Britton on his heels? These questions (and MORE) will ALL be answered this preseason and as an avid Bear fan, I’ll be all over it! #BEARDOWN!!!