The roster is all filled up for the Chicago Bears and training camp awaits. Here is an early prediction for their opening day depth chart.
QB: Jay Cutler, Jordan Palmer, David Fales
A $126 million payday pretty much means it’s the Jay Cutler show for the next three years. Coaches have stated they are quite comfortable with Jordan Palmer replacing Josh McCown as the backup. David Fales should fill the number three role perfectly but has enough prowess to seriously challenge Palmer for the #2 job if he picks up the offense quickly.
RB: Matt Forte, Ka’Deem Carey, Jordan Lynch
At age 28 there is no reason to think Matt Forte is due for a nose dive in production just yet but the Pro Bowler is getting older. That is why the drafting of Ka’Deem Carey was one of the best picks the Bears made, in my mind. He isn’t fast but the kid is tough, strong, sees the hole and hits the hole. Now here’s the curveball. I believe Jordan Lynch will not only survive the first cuts, I think he has a enough talent to stick on the active roster as a running back. He should bulk up more to survive the NFL level pounding but his size and ability as a runner were what made him a Heisman finalist.
FB: Tony Fiammetta
He was a surprise roster addition last year but not this time. Tony Fiammetta was a solid blocker for the Chicago Bears a year ago and should continue that trend in 2014.
WR: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Marquess Wilson, Eric Weems, Josh
Morgan, Domenik Hixon
The top of the receiver group is set with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. After that it gets really interesting. Marquess Wilson is a favorite among fans and coaches to make the leap from back roster occupant to become the third receiver between the two Pro Bowlers. Eric Weems is a special teams ace and took a paycut to stay. Josh Morgan, despite his recent off-the-field incident should be the primary competition for Wilson while Domenik Hixon provides quality veteran depth and special teams help.
TE: Martellus Bennett, Dante Rosario, Fendi Onobun
The “Black Unicorn” earned his saddle last season. Martellus Bennett is the unquestioned starter at tight end. Dante Rosario will back him up and play a key special teams role as he did last season. The real wild card here is Fendi Onobun. For the first time the former basketball standout had a chance to stick with a team on the practice squad and actually learn the offense and develop as a football player. His athletic ability and size were what drew the attention of coaches. Here’s saying he makes the progress needed to crack the roster.
OT: Jermon Bushrod, Jordan Mills, Eben Britton
No surprises with this position group. It’s the same three that played all of 2013 for teh Chicago Bears with Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills starting and Eben Britton being their primary backup.
OG: Matt Slauson, Kyle Long, Ryan Groy
The starting lineup that helped forge one of the best offensive lines in football remains in place as the Bears retained Matt Slauson on a long-term deal while Kyle Long continues to develop from his Pro Bowl rookie season. Outside of them I think a newcomer will join the fray in undrafted free agent Ryan Groy. He comes from a proven program at Wisconsin and was projected as a 3rd or 4th round pick in the draft. He’s big, durable, strong and very smart. The perfect backup who can step in at a moments notice.
C: Roberto Garza, Brian De La Puente
Chicago wisely brought back veteran center and captain Roberto Garza for another year, keeping their entire offensive line intact for 2014. An even better signing was Brian De La Puente, an experienced starter from New Orleans who knows their system very well and should be the heir apparent for when Garza retires.
DE: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Israel Idonije, David Bass
No position group improved more for the Chicago Bears this off-season than the defensive ends. All-Pro Jared Allen is joined by promising young veterans Lamarr Houston and Willie Young to form a solid three-deep rotation. Add in the terrific locker room presence of Israel Idonije and the intriguing upside of second-year man David Bass and they have a deep group on their hands.
DT: Jeremiah Ratliff, Nate Collins, Stephen Paea, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton
The same can be said for the defensive tackles as well. Looking at the group GM Phil Emery has assembled, the Bears can safely say they should be considerably better against the run this season. Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea provide size and power at nose tackle while Nate Collins can add some pressure from the interior provided his ACL is fully healed. The two newest additions though are the ones to watch. Ego Ferguson is a big athlete with serious power who showed at LSU he’s hard to run at. Will Sutton was a disruptive nightmare in 2012 as a pass rusher before he let his weight get out of control. Their development could turn the Bears tackle position from okay to really good this season.
LB: Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin, Christian Jones,
The two penciled in starters are of course Lance Briggs and probably D.J. Williams who played well last season before tearing his pectoral. That leaves the strong side job open for Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin to compete at. Jordan Senn will play reserve and be a special teams ace. The real surprise is Christian Jones. An undrafted free agent out of Florida State, he had third round grades on him in the draft before he fell due to a failed drug test at the scouting combine. A premier athlete with loads of versatility, he’ll make the roster.
CB: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kyle Fuller, Isaiah Frey, Sherrick McManis
The retention of Pro Bowlers Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings should keep the Chicago Bears secondary stable for the time being while infusion of 1st round pick Kyle Fuller sets them up for the long-term as well. Isaiah Frey should add quality depth in the slot and Sherrick McManis will remain a key special teamer.
FS: Brock Vereen, Chris Conte, M.D. Jennings
Probably the most intriguing training camp battle to watch this summer will be at free safety where Chris Conte must hold off 4th round pick Brock Vereen. Several experts believe Vereen is good enough to start right away, which means Conte must heal quickly from his shoulder surgery to have a chance. Behind them will be M.D. Jennings. The former Packers safety has starting experience but is really at his best on special teams.
SS: Ryan Mundy, Danny McCray
After years of backing up star safeties like Troy Polamalu and Antrel Rolle, Ryan Mundy will finally get his shot to become a full-time starter in Chicago. He’s big, tough, physical, a sound tackler and takes good angles to the ball carrier. Danny McCray should be his backup, outdistancing Bears veteran Craig Steltz. McCray is a special teams ace too but is a year younger and noticeably faster. That should mean the difference.
LS: Brandon Hartson
The longest active playing streak in Chicago Bears history comes to an end. Ageless long snapper Patrick Mannelly is replaced by second-year snapper Brandon Hartson out of Houston.
K: Robbie Gould
His new contract is in place and Robbie Gould is in his prime.
P: Pat O’Donnell
No team spends a draft pick on a punter unless they’re sure he can play. The Bears took that leap in the 6th round on Pat O’Donnell. The Miami product has loads of athletic potential and got better every year in college. He should be an upgrade over the departed Adam Podlesh.
Charles Leno – OT
The Bears are set enough at tackle to relegate their 7th round pick to the practice squad where he can continue to develop his body and technique.
Marcus Trice – S
Nobody knows this kid. Not yet anyway. He was a rookie camp invite whom I believe will catch the attention of coaches. Watched tape of him at North Texas and he is a thumper despite being just 5’8″. Always around the ball too. A transfer from Oklahoma.
Khaseem Greene – LB
The arrival of Christian Jones has to move somebody out and I believe that will be Greene. He still has a future on the team for sure but he doesn’t have the special teams value of Senn so he has to start the year on the squad.
Michael Ford – RB
He nearly cracked the lineup last year and was a favorite to do so this year but the arrivals of Carey and Lynch will crush those hopes unfortunately. His best hope is to become a valuable contributor on special teams.
Jerrod Johnson – QB
The Chicago Bears coaches seemed comfortable with Johnson as their practice squad quarterback last year. Unless a prominent name gets cut elsewhere I see that not changing for 2014.
Terrence Toliver – WR
The young man flashed promise in the 2013 preseason and fits the Bears’ ideal at receiver with 6’5″ frame. He must show improvement on offense and special teams to make a push, otherwise he’ll end up as a reserve on the practice squad.
Cornelius Washington – DE
Among the big wild cards, Cornelius Washington bears watching. He’s an intriguing specimen who now comes under veteran coach Paul Pasqualoni. If the light turns on he could crack the roster over Bass.
Demontre Hurst – CB
The young man from Oklahoma flashed some potential last preseason that I think warrants more development. I want to see if he’s improved given his time on the practice squad last year but for the time being I don’t see him cracking the roster.