There is a lot to sort through for the Chicago Bears as far as their roster goes before the regular season. How will the pending position battles shake out?
Backup QB: Jordan Palmer vs. Jimmy Clausen
Rookie 6th round pick David Fales looks more and more like a perfect practice squad candidate, leaving the battle for the backup quarterback job as a race between Jordan Palmer, the Bears’ third stringer from last season and recent free agent signing Jimmy Clausen, a former 2nd round pick who flamed out in Carolina. Both haven’t seen regular season action in a long time but still have youth and some talent on their side. Palmer is bigger and more experienced in the system. Clausen has great accuracy and a quicker release.
Winner: Jordan Palmer
One thing to remember about head coach Marc Trestman is he tends to stick with a player when a decision is made. His choice to remain committed to Jay Cutler last season despite Josh McCown playing so well is a perfect example. So unless Palmer absolutely blows it, he should be the backup.
Slot WR: Marquess Wilson vs. Josh Morgan
Youth upside against veteran experience. Hopes are high for second-year man Marquess Wilson, a 6’4″ talent the Chicago Bears picked up in the draft a year ago and has worked hard to improve with help from team stars Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. His main threat for the third receiver spot is free agent Josh Morgan, who has made stops with multiple teams but has production to show at each of them.
Winner: Marquess Wilson
The upside is way too much for the Bears to keep off the field. Wilson has put in the work. He’s ready for his shot. Early signs in practice point to serious improvement, giving Chicago yet another tall target to gash defenses with. Morgan will need a great preseason to have a shot at changing any minds.
Backup TE: Dante Rosario vs. Fendi Onobun
The situation behind starting tight end Martellus Bennett is interesting. It’s a mix of blockers, special teams aces and inexperienced athletic talent. Perhaps the two names that stand the best chance to claim the backup job are Dante Rosario, who held it last year and was a special teams help and the enigmatic but freaky athletic Fendi Onobun. Rosario is who he is, he does the job in the third phase and is an occasional help on offense but not much more. Onobun has zero regular season playing time but caught the eye of Bears coaches thanks to his remarkable combination of size and speed.
Winner: Fendi Onobun
This may turn into the biggest upset of all the battles. Onobun offers little security on special teams but after a year on the practice squad he has a chance to finally realize his potential as an offensive weapon. Chicago saw flashes of it in the preseason last year and they would love a chance to add another pass catching threat to flank Bennett.
Backup OG: James Brown vs. Ryan Groy
There will be no drama regarding the starting Bears offensive line, but there are spots up for grabs in reserve roles, particularly at guard. There, veteran James Brown has held off all comers the past couple seasons but he’s in store for a fight as Chicago was able to land Wisconsin standout Ryan Groy as an undrafted free agent. Groy was considered worth of a mid round pick, is very intelligent and has the ideal size of a pro guard. Ironically the same was said of Brown when he signed with the Bears as an UDFA in 2012.
Winner: Ryan Groy
Based on the numbers the Chicago Bears front office spent a lot of money to get Ryan Groy on their roster, so clearly they wanted him. He’s a good fit for their scheme and brings the sort of savvy and blue collar approach line coaches love. Brown has never really stood out as a backup and is a holdover from the Lovie Smith era. Groy makes him expendable.
Middle LB: D.J. Williams vs. Jon Bostic
Strangely enough the middle linebacker job wasn’t getting much attention because most fans assumed it would go to veteran D.J. Williams, who played well there in 2013 before getting hurt. However, recent developments hint that his hold on the spot is not as concrete as first thought. Second-year man Jon Bostic, who replaced Williams as the starter last season, has come on strong early in practices, showcasing his speed and explosion along with a better feel for the scheme. He’s already caught the attention of new linebackers coach Reggie Herring, which is an intriguing sign.
Winner: Jon Bostic
One thing Herring and the Bears defensive coaches covet is speed. D.J. Williams isn’t slow but he’s also not durable, and is 32-years old. Bostic is no longer a green rookie. He has quality experience and is playing in a system that has been tweaked to better fit his talents. That puts him in prominent position to capitalize on what the team had hoped in becoming their long-term middle linebacker.
Strong Side LB: Shea McClellin vs. Khaseem Greene vs. Jon Bostic
That isn’t the only position Bostic is shooting for though. He’s also in a race for the strong side job as well, as is fellow second-year man Khaseem Greene and converted defensive end Shea McClellin. All three of them are quick, fast and athletic and bring plenty of pop required for the strong side job. McClellin feels he’s a better fit at linebacker and is a pass rush threat. Greene is a converted safety out of college and might bring coverage help. Bostic is a strong tackler and can deliver the hit.
Winner: Shea McClellin
One thing about defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is that 2013 proved he’s much more aggressive than Lovie Smith or Rod Marinelli. He likes to bring the blitz when the situation dictates. That means he will want as many pass rushers on the field as possible. McClellin has the history and shown enough in practice to predict the job will be his.
Free Safety: Chris Conte vs. Brock Vereen
No position will be under the microscope more for the Chicago Bears this off-season than safety. It was a big reason why they didn’t make the playoffs last year and needs to improve if they are to have a shot in 2014. Free agent Ryan Mundy looks like a favorite at strong safety, leaving the free safety spot wide open. With all due respect to fellow free agent M.D. Jennings, it’s likely this job will either go to former starter Chris Conte or intriguing rookie 4th round pick Brock Vereen. Conte is still quite young and experienced. He posted career best numbers last season despite his struggles. Vereen has athletic upside and drew the attention of scouts at Minnesota due to his intelligence.
Winner: Chris Conte
Vereen is definitely somebody to watch for the future. However, Chris Conte deserves another chance at the job especially after playing behind what was arguably the worst front seven in Chicago Bears history late last season. He needs to get healthy first but based on experience and direct comparison, the job should wind up back with him.