After an active off-season, the Chicago Bears are slated to hit practices a week early this year due to their Hall of Fame game matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on August second, and today is report-day for the Bears in Bourbonnais.
It’s been an active acquisition period for a franchise that is looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. A flurry of activity was needed after their fourth losing season that led to a 5-11 record.
At least on paper, this appears to be the deepest roster in the Ryan Pace era. This means there will be plenty of tough decisions to be made, but more importantly, many camp battles for a limited amount of roster spots.
While it doesn’t seem that are many of roster spot up for grabs, these are five storylines worth watching in Bourbonnais.
The top three spots on the depth chart look to be set with Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho and Aaron Lynch. The problem is, this is a position that’s one injury away from a 2017 receiver-like disaster. This makes the final spot or two on the depth chart a very critical event to watch.
Sixth round pick Kylie Fitts will look to continue his strong first impression as the pads come on and will have the first chance at locking down a spot. Behind him will be second year undrafted free agent Isaiah Irving, who has been equally as impressive, according to his coaches.
Outside of Floyd and Acho, the team doesn’t currently have another three-plus year veteran on the roster that has a contract past this season. This makes it a critical juncture for them to find a young player such as Fitts or Irving, that can carve out a long-term role.
Recently signed Kasim Edebali arrives to camp on the outside looking in, but don’t write him off too quickly. His history with Pace in New Orleans and track record as a valuable depth piece in the past could play role in winning a job.
Don’t rule out the signing of a veteran player such as Lamarr Houston, Willie Young or even Junior Galette in August. For now, it’s wise for this coaching staff to let the position play out a bit longer though. Either way, this is an impactful position that lacks any sort of depth. The results over the next month in Bourbonnais and preseason could determine the Bears’ fate for the 2018 season.
Unlike edge rusher, this is a position that has some top-end talent and more importantly, quality depth.
What needs to be answered on the defensive line is simple- Who will start opposite of Akiem Hicks?
Nose tackle is set with Eddie Goldman, which leaves one question on the line with multiple suitors to fill the role.
After letting Mitch Unrein walk, the Bears are clearly confident they have the horses in the stall to replace him and this next month and a half will be a good starting place.
Widely viewed as one of the draft’s biggest steals just three years ago, former third round pick Jonathan Bullard will get the first crack at the job. The former Florida Gator is entering a make-or-break campaign, so it’ll be his job to lose.
Breathing down his neck on the depth chart is Roy Robertson-Harris. The former undrafted free agent could prove to be another diamond in the rough if he breaks through in 2018. He has the size and athleticism to make the jump and if Bullard falters. Expect him to be first in line for the opportunity if Bullard doesn’t capitalize.
Behind those two is fifth rounder Bilal Nichols, who will also have a chance to challenge for playing time. Even if he doesn’t win the job out of camp, he could carve out a long-term starting role if he develops throughout the season.
Let me premise this by saying that barring something highly unexpected, Cody Whitehair will stick at center.
With that in mind, there’s still a small possibility that rookie James Daniels could slide into center and push Whitehair to left guard. That will all depend on how things progress when the pads come on, and in game situations.
The more realistic approach is that both Daniels and veteran Eric Kush will duke it out for that final starting spot. In the NFL, rookies aren’t given anything, but it’s unlikely that the team who spent a high second round pick on a first round talent like Daniels would have him start the season on the bench.
It’s possible someone like Jordan Morgan could surprise in camp and win the starting job. But more than likely, he’ll compete with Earl Watford and Hroniss Grasu for the final roster spot on the line.
Unlike last year, this won’t be critical to the team’s success (barring serious injuries), as the team’s top three is set with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller.
As for Kevin White, it’ll take either a serious injury or an atrocious camp not to make the final roster. That leaves a pair of spots open on the back end for a competitive group to win.
One of those final spots will be based purely on special teams. That means it’ll come down to mainstain Josh Bellamy, who is playing on a $1.9 million original round tender and veteran Bennie Fowler. Judging by Bellamy getting a handful of first team snaps in off-season activity, it appears to be his job to lose at this point.
Fowler could compete for the final spot with a host of names headlined by seventh round pick Javon Wims, journeyman Marlon Brown and former camp star Tanner Gentry. The undrafted Matt Fleming could push for a spot but more realistically, this will come down between Wims and Fowler, with the former Georgia Bulldog having the edge due to his draft status.
Last but not least, we might have ourselves a showdown at punter position. ”Megapunt” has improved each year but with a new coordinator in place, he must prove his worth to stay long-term.
The free agent market wasn’t great, so they opted to bring back O’Donnell and later sign the undrafted Ryan Winslow.
I’ll keep this short because there’s only so much to say about this.
Winslow is someone who doesn’t have a great leg but has some ability to be a quality directional punter. On the other side, O’Donnell has a good leg but consistency has been an issue for the better part of four years.
The veteran likely has the leg up in this competition, pun intended, but this shouldn’t be as easy as Connor Barth’s “competition” last year, especially if this coaching staff truly wants the best for their roster.