As you all know, the Bears already held their first mini-camp this past week. It was an unusual time to schedule, as most teams wait till after the draft, but it helped the Bears get a jump start on the season. They've forced their players to start preparing earlier and stay in shape. They let new coaches become familiar with the roster to start forming some chemistry, and it gave management a chance to re-evalute talent prior to the draft.
The re-evaluation of the roster was perhaps the most significant part of the mini-camp, as the Bears will be relying very heavily on this years draft to find immediate starters at several positions.
So, what did we learn about this team after the mini-camp?
1. Offensive line is a major work in progress
New acqusition Frank Omiyale started the mini-camp lined up at LG with the 1st team. When the Bears signed Omiyale, Jerry Angelo said they, "wanted to look at him at guard first."
However, after John St. Clair signed with the Browns this week, Omiyale quickly moved from LG to RT, and Josh Beekman returned to his 1st team spot at LG.
Beekman started all 16 games last year at LG, but I wasn't sold him. Apparently, neither were the Bears, as they are trying to provide serious competition for him at LG.
On the other side, incumbent starter, Roberto Garza, will compete with Dan Buenning at RG. Buenning also lined up as backup Center, when Omiyale shifted to RT, and Beekman resumed his spot at LG. Last year's #1 pick, Chris Williams, will man the LT... whether he's ready or not.
Draft take: It's no secret that the Bears will likely be focusing on RT with one of their top picks. But, don't be surprised if they draft a guard on the first day as well to compete at both spots.
2. Searching for safeties under every rock.
The depth chart is set... but it's certainly not in stone. Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz appear to be the starters at safety.... for now. Of the two, it looks like Payne's job is more secure. After saying good-bye to Mike Brown and Brandon McGowan, and ending the Danieal Manning experiment... the Bears are looking everywhere for replacements.
They signed former Saints starter, Josh Bullocks.... asked last year's 5th round pick Zack Bowman to switch positions... and invited former Texan, Glenn Earl, to mini-camp on a try-out basis, and signed him afterward.
That fact that they're trying so hard to resolve the issues at this position is an alarming sign that the talent level is unacceptable.
Draft take: FS is among the top draft priorities for a team that runs the Cover 2, and it should be addressed very early in a weak draft class.
3. Devin Hester and Earl Bennett will likely be next year's top 2 WRs
The Bears propaganda machine is at it again... last year they spread the word that Earl Bennett was having a very impressive training-camp. Now, this year, they're telling us he's having a nice mini-camp, and Bennett admitted himself, that he struggled last year with the playbook.
With the Bears passiveness on the free agent market, and Jerry Angelo's attitude that the QB play is more important than the WRs... it seems Hester and Bennett will have to make big contributions.
The Bears are still trying to replace the production of Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad, as last year's replacements, Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd, will not be back for a second season. With very little experience on the roster at WR outside of slot man Rashied Davis, it's hard to imagine where the production is going to come from.
The rest of the depth chart is currently filled out by practice squadders Devin Aromashodu, John Broussard, and Brandon Rideau.
Draft take: WR has to be another high priority for the Bears. But, at this point... experience is just as important as talent. Jerry Angelo traditionally hasn't selected WRs in the first round (Reidel Anthony in '97 was the last one). But look for the Bears to select a WR on the first day, (possibly in the 3rd round where they might receive an extra comp pick for the free agent loss of Berrian). Also look for the Bears to sign a veteran after the post-draft roster cuts, as Angelo often refers to...