Chicago is a city with high expectations for every sports team in town, especially the beloved Bears.
Since the transition began last off-season with Marc Trestman taking over the ropes as the head coach, the hype and excitement has increased tremendously.
After an off-season highlighted by the re-signing of quarterback Jay Cutler and additions of veteran pass rushers Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen, things look very bright in the windy city and rightfully so.
General manager Phil Emery just completed his third draft with the Bears and his last two first-round picks are the Kyle's; Kyle Long (Pro Bowl-2013) and Kyle Fuller (No. 3 cornerback this season). Both players have tremendous potential.
However, through three preseason outings, the Bears's defense has struggled. The group was the 31st ranked defense in the NFL a season ago.
Mel Tucker's revamped defensive unit hasn't looked much better with all the acquisitions and depth brought in for improvement. The special teams has been just as bad if not worse.
But the bright side to all of this, if there is one, is that it's only the preseason and most of the problems that they have can be fixed or tinkered with as the season rolls on. Time is on the Bears side.
Here are some positional areas that the Bears are still trying to figure out what exactly they have in terms of depth and key contributors.
Michael Bush was released this off-season and quite frankly he never fit the Trestman offense anyway. Shaun Draughn and Ka'Deem Carey are the primary backups to Pro Bowler Matt Forte as of now. Things could definitely change at final cuts. Draughn compares similarly to Forte, plus his veteran status and work ethic has helped him likely carve out the No. 2 role. Carey should open up the season as the third runner despite being selected in the fourth round this year. Behind Draughn and Carey are rookies Senorise Perry and Jordan Lynch. Perry has a much better chance at earning a roster spot as a No. 4 back and return man, while Lynch seems destined for the practice squad with his transition from passer to halfback continues.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the scariest receiver tandem in the league and that was put on display last season. With Earl Bennett no longer in town, the Bears have turned to veterans Josh Morgan and Santonio Holmes to fit the No. 3 role with Marquess Wilson (collarbone) healing up. Morgan has been steady all throughout training camp and should be the third receiver in Week One, while Holmes contributes and gets more comfortable with the playbook. After that, things are up in the air with Chris Williams, Michael Spurlock, Josh Bellamy, Armanti Edwards and Dale Moss all battling for a roster spot. It seems most likely that Williams will win the fifth spot if healthy, while the Bears plan to hold a spot for Marquess Wilson's anticipated return. If not Spurlock could earn the role with a solid showing in Cleveland on Thursday.
Martellus Bennett is a great target for Cutler and he is locked in as the No. 1 tight end. But once again, the Bears find themselves short on talent at the position. Zach Miller looked promising, but he is out for the season, while Dante Rosario, Matthew Mulligan and Jeron Mastrud are currently on the roster. This has been a position that has lacked depth since the Bears traded away Greg Olsen three years ago. Look for the Bears to pluck a tight end or two off the waiver wire before the home opener against Buffalo.
Houston and Allen are the starters with Willie Young serving as the top backup and situational pass rusher. Veteran Trevor Scott, journeyman Austen Lane, and second-year players David Bass, Cornelius Washington and Tracey Robertson round out the rotation. The depth at the position is increasingly better than last season's unit and Scott and Lane, both seem destined to earn roles after nice efforts this preseason. Washington and Robertson have a lot more maturing to do before they can be key contributors. Both are eligible for the practice squad. Bass is on the outside looking in unless the Bears decide to keep a sixth defensive end, which might happen. He flashed his high-energy and athleticism last season in 12 appearances, so he is certainly an intriguing prospect. It will be interesting to see what the Bears do with Bass as they make their final decisions.
The Bears are instilling their trust into a mixture of veterans and key draft picks at linebacker. Lance Briggs is the clear cut leader at weakside, while D.J. Williams is the man in the middle. Jonathan Bostic and transitioned Shea McClellin's roles remain to be seen. Bostic should come onto the field on nickel downs, next to Briggs, while McClellin seems to be the favorite for the starting strongside spot despite and up-and-down preseason. 2013 fourth-round selection Khaseem Greene and undrafted rookie Christian Jones could both make the team as the final two linebackers on the depth chart. Jerry Franklin and DeDe Lattimore are simply trying to find a spot through special teams. The depth is there, but who will step up and take command of the position besides the crafty veteran Briggs?
Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kyle Fuller and Kelvin Hayden are the top four cornerbacks and that's no surprise. A couple spots should be open for key special teams contributors and intriguing talents. Isaiah Frey, who played over 500 snaps a season ago at nickelback was released on Tuesday as the Bears officially trimmed their roster to 75. That leaves Sherrick McManis, C.J. Wilson, Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean and Marcus Trice as the remaining depth. McManis has been impressive as a cover corner and is a special teams leader, so he should be on the final roster. Wilson likely has the edge with two interceptions this preseason, but Louis-Jean could be a dark horse after also putting together some nice game tape. No matter who wins, this is a group that has much better talent this season and depth much like the defensive ends.
Ryan Mundy has looked like the steadiest of this bunch and is penciled in as the starting strong safety. Danny McCray has played alongside Mundy plenty with the first-team and held his own for the most part. Chris Conte came back last week after finally recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, but he suffered a concussion and is day-to-day. Brock Vereen is a talented rookie, but he could need more time to develop. Lastly, M.D. Jennings would be best served as a special teams leader after disappointing in Green Bay the past couple of seasons. All five could easily make the team. This is once again a position that is thin, but with Mundy and Vereen in the fold it could be slightly improved.
Don't forget to read up on the kick returner battle that should be decided in Cleveland on Thursday night.
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