With Chicago Bears training camp right around the corner, here are five positional battles to keep an eye on in Bourbonnais.
1. J’Marcus Webb vs. Jonathan Scott, Offensive Right Tackle (ORT). Webb gets another chance, this time back on the right side following the free agent signing of new left tackle Jermon Bushrod from New Orleans. Webb may find the right tackle slot more conducive to his skill set of size, arm length, and footwork. He won’t face the premier pass rushers that gave him fits, but needs to demonstarte consistency if the Bears are going to remain confident that Webb is a competent NFL starter.
The veteran Scott was a pleasant surprise after being signed just prior to the 2012 regular season opener. His experience, football intelligence, and workmanlike approach may serve the Bears well on the retooled front line. It wouldn’t be a shock if Webb starts the season, but later replaced by the more consistent Scott.
2. James Brown vs. Kyle Long, Offensive Guard (OG). Brown is a second-year, undrafted free agent with potential. Possessing good size and athletic skills, he spent most of the offseason lining up with the first team. Brown saw limited action in 2012 when injuries dictated he play, and performed admirably. He’s rough around the edges, but has many of the characteristics new offensive coordinator and line coach Aaron Kromer covet.
Long, the Bears first-round pick in April, will be an intriguing watch. His college playing experience of roughly five games makes it difficult to envision him in the starting lineup day one, but he holds long-term potential and the coaching staff may want to begin his development quickly. A terriffic athlete who was once drafted by the Chicago White Sox in baseball, Long has the family pedigree that suggests success. He’s already demonstrated an eagerness to study, learn, and improve in his first months as a Bear.
3. Backup Quarterback (QB). Neither Josh McCown or Matt Blanchard inspire confidence as Jay Cutler’s backup should Cutler go down. McCown is a veteran journeyman who has played sparingly over the last five years. At his best, he’s a journeyman that serves as another set of experienced eyes for Cutler as well as a good locker-room presence. His greatest asset is his mobility and ability to pick up yardage or make a play when protection breaks down.
Meanwhile, Blanchard cracked the practice squad as a rookie after earning a training camp invite as a tryout player. He’s green as grass but has some size and decent arm strength.
Expect a move for another veteran QB at some point during the early stages of camp. The Bears can’t feel secure that they can go through a season in which they hope to compete for a divisional title without a better plan B option.
4. Corey Wootton vs. Shea McClellin, Defensive End (DE). After an injury-plagued start to his career, Wootton flashed the ability the Bears expected in 2012. He ended the year with seven sacks, displaying a quick first step to get to the QB. He benefits from having Julius Peppers on the other side, but has some talent and should be entering his prime. Wootton needs to improve his run defense recognition and instincts.
2012 first-rounder Shea McClellin demonstrated some skills, but injuries and inconsistency cost him playing time. McClellin’s natural quickness and range showed up when he did play, but he needs to improve his overall strength to prevent from becoming a liability as a run defender. A plantar fasciitis injury, the same ailment that affected Julius Peppers last season, hampered him during the offseason. McClellin is expected to take a major step forward in 2013, and will be counted on to become one of the future stalwarts of the defense.
5. Adam Podlesh vs. Tress Way, Punter (P). This could be a surprise, but Podlesh may be in for a battle. Nagging injuries in last year’s camp carried over into the early part of the season, limiting Podlesh’s effectiveness. He’s best at kicking directionally and pinning the opponent inside their 20. In 2012, he averaged a career low 42 yards average per kick.
Enter undrafted rookie Way from Oklahoma. He boasts a strong leg and has impressed during offseason workouts. Look for the Bears to carry two punters deep into camp for competition sake, and letting the preseason results dictate their choice.