Many questions remain unanswered regarding the Chicago Bears roster. What are some position battles to watch in the coming months?
Free Safety: Chris Conte vs. Brock Vereen
As far as headline material, no position battle is going to garner more attention in Chicago than the safety position. After all it came under a lot of scrutiny following the disaster against Green Bay in the season finale last year and many wonder if incumbent starter Chris Conte deservers another chance. His best competition is rookie Brock Vereen, an athletic kid out of Minnesota who drew high praise from numerous draft experts. If he wins the job, it will send a clear message about Conte.
Middle Linebacker: D.J. Williams vs. Jon Bostic
D.J. Williams played well at middle linebacker last year before a torn pectoral muscle robbed him of the rest of his season. Still, his play was enough to garner another chance, but he should not expect to be handed the job outright. Williams will have to battle for it this time. His principal competition will be second-year man Jon Bostic who filled that role last season as a rookie. Bostic didn’t perform great but he gained valuable experience and should present tougher competition this time.
Outside Linebacker: Jon Bostic vs. Shea McClellin vs. Khaseem Greene
Another spot up for grabs is the strong side linebacker following the departure of James Anderson. Bostic is also in play for this spot but he is not alone. Fellow 2013 rookie Khaseem Greene will compete there as well. At the same time a familiar teammate will join the fray as Shea McClellin makes the move to linebacker from defensive end where he started his career. Hopes are high that McClellin unlocks his potential at that position, which is much more natural given his speed and athleticism. Unlike middle linebacker, the competition for the outside spot is much more murky.
Three Technique Defensive Tackle: Stephen Paea vs. Nate Collins
Jeremiah Ratliff came in as an outside in 2013 but the four-time Pro Bowler quickly immersed himself in the Chicago Bears locker room and has become one of the team leaders. Expectations are for him to start at defensive tackle, namely at nose tackle. The question is who will join him? Henry Melton is gone so the three technique position is, as yet, unfilled. The two names expected to compete for it are Stephen Paea, who was originally the nose tackle and former reserve Nate Collins who played the three technique very well prior to tearing his ACL last season.
Slot Receiver: Marquess Wilson vs. Josh Morgan vs. Domenik Hixon
Among other things, Bears fans are eager to see the progress made by second-year receiver Marquess Wilson. The former 7th round pick came in with off-the-field questions but also loads of talent that was hard to miss. At 6’4″ and boasting deep speed he would make a terrific addition as the third receiver between Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The question is can he take advantage of his opportunity. Chicago coaches will give him first crack but the front office made sure to add competition in the guise of veterans Josh Morgan and Domenik Hixon, both of whom would made more than capable slot options for Jay Cutler.
Backup Quarterback: Jordan Palmer vs. David Fales
Few franchises understand the value of the backup quarterback position more than the Chicago Bears. It was a big reason why they didn’t make the playoffs in 2012 and a big reason why they almost did in 2013. With the departure of Josh McCown, many wonder who will emerge to become the new second man up behind Cutler. Coaches are confident 29-year old Jordan Palmer is the answer despite the fact he has exactly ten career passes in five seasons. He must hold off rookie David Fales, a sixth round pick from San Jose State who many believe is a natural fit for the Marc Trestman offense. Palmer does have the experience, but he can’t afford to relax with Fales on the roster.