CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 08: Rookie Kyle Fuller #23 of the Chicago Bears works his coverage during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field on August 8, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Chicago Bears held a final walkthrough at Olivet Nazarene University on Wednesday morning before they broke camp, and it capped off what has been an interesting couple of weeks in Bourbonnais for the team.
Whether it was the suspension of Martellus Bennett, the rash of injuries that claimed players like Marquess Wilson and Jordan Mills, or the furious position battles that have marked the camp, the Bears made plenty of waves with their workouts during the preseason. As the scene shifts back to Soldier Field for Thursday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, we run down the top five storylines that have emerged from training camp.
Five: Kyle Fuller’s Role Looks to be Big
Part of it was Tim Jennings missing practice time thanks to a quad injury, but even when the veteran was on the field, it’s clear that the Bears are looking for big things from Kyle Fuller in his first NFL season.
They’ve been having him work out at the cornerback position, with Jennings shifting inside to the nickel spot. That seems to suit Jennings just fine, and the added benefit of having the sideline to use in coverage is helping Fuller to get acclimated to the NFL quickly. Having to play on the side of the field opposite Charles Tillman also helps, but even still, going up against some of the number two wide receivers in the NFL is going to be a challenge that will show Fuller’s mettle quickly once the season starts.
Four: Who Will Win the Safety Battle? Who Knows?
Tracking who has the advantage in the safety battle has been a daily exercise in futility for Bears writers and pundits, and we still don’t have any clearer a picture than we did when camp first started. Chris Conte has been added into the proceedings now, but Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, and Danny McCray have all made solid claims to a job.
There are still five players with a realistic chance at a starting spot, with the aforementioned four and Brock Vereen all competing. The preseason games will have a lot to do with who wins it, but the practice fields of Halas Hall could hold answers as well.
Three: Shea McClellin Doesn’t Impress Early at Linebacker
It’s always hard to evaluate a player based solely on training camp, but Shea McClellin’s shift to linebacker didn’t look all that promising on the fields of Bourbonnais, and things looked equally questionable against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
His inability to shed blocks and his penchant for being deceived by play-fakes has made him an unpopular man among the populace, and even though the Bears are preaching patience with him at the position, it still feels as though he is running out of chances as he tries yet another spot with the team.
Two: Can Special Teams Rebound After Awful Season?
Last season, Joe Decamillis’ special teams unit was awful, and things have been off to an equally unimpressive start early in camp. Neither Eric Weems nor Chris Williams has laid convincing claim to the kick returning job, and Tress Way and Pat O’Donnell struggled in the team’s first preseason game as well.
Add the blocked Robbie Gould field goal and the 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Eagles (thanks to a missed gap assignment by Michael Ford), and it’s clear that the team still has work to do.
Fortunately for the Bears, they still have three preseason games and several weeks of practice remaining, so it’ll be interesting to see how DeCamillis addresses the shortcomings as time wears on.
First: Injuries Wreak Havoc on Depth Chart
Needless to say, the injury bug that has gone through the Bears’ roster like wildfire in camp has hindered several competitions for position. Wilson’s injury was a big one at third wide receiver, and the Williams hamstring injury was equally detrimental as the team lost another candidate for the spot.
The offensive line has been especially hard hit, with Mills having issues with his surgically repaired left foot, and guards Eben Britton, Kyle Long, and Brian de la Puente all missing time as well. The left side of the line is intact however, and that’s one good thing for the Bears to focus on.
The defense is also healthy for the most part, with Conte and Craig Steltz rejoining the safety battle. With plenty of aging veterans on that side of the ball though, their depth will eventually be tested, and so Marc Trestman’s willingness to shuffle around personnel could end up having some positive consequences should the need to replace players arise.