With the opening of Chicago Bears training camp just days away, let’s take a look at five “under the radar” prospects who, with some luck and under the right circumstances, could crack the Bears final 53 man roster.
1. Michael Ford, RB…the undrafted rookie free agent from LSU offers the Bears something they don’t have. Pure speed to the edge. Ford was underutilized at LSU, playing in a running back rotation that never let any single back develop. He has a sculpted build and the speed (5-10, 4.46) necessary to contribute as a third back and kickoff return man. Ford isn’t a creative runner, lacking some instincts and moves, but he possesses a burst to the outside, and was LSU’s leading rusher his junior campaign (756 yards). A highly decorated prep player, Ford saw his role diminish his senior year but rebounded with a strong combine effort. He’s limited in the passing game and will need to improve his protection, but Ford is a durable back who may his best football ahead of him. Look for him to challenge holdover Armando Allen as the Bears third back.
2. Marquess Wilson, WR…Wilson, the Bears seventh-round choice in April’s NFL draft from Washington State, is a talented, but slender receiver who will be trying to put his past in the rearview mirror. Productive throughout his career in Pullman, Wilson ran afoul of mercurial coach Mike Leach and was dismissed from the team in his senior year. Wilson’s comments afterwards burnt his bridges to the point he wasn’t allowed to work out or participate in the school’s pro day. Yet, there appears to be an opening for him on the Bears roster if he can remain durable and showcase his athletic skills during camp. Wilson possesses a long, gliding style that is more quick than fast. His frame allows him to compete for jump balls and make the acrobatic grab, but he’ s equally prone to dropping an easy pass. His thin frame may prevent him from getting off the jam in the pro’s, and his overall inconsistency could spell a short stay in Bourbonnais. If he can stay on the field, demonstrate his playmaking skills, and contribute on special teams, Wilson could stick as the fifth wide receiver. He’ll compete with veteran Eric Weems and second-year man Joe Anderson for one of the final wide receiver slots.
3. Fendi Onobun, TE…Onobun was one of the surprises during Bears offseason workouts. Now with his fourth NFL team, the former hoops player certainly looks the part. At 6-6, 260, he has the athletic frame to suggest he could be an intriguing addition. However, Onobun has merely shown flashes throughout his NFL career and may never be more than a “workout warrior” who looks good in shorts and t-shirts. The Bears could use depth behind starter Martellus Bennett, with journeyman Kyle Adams, Brody Eldridge, and Steve Maneri part of the equation. Onobun impressed Bears coaches during the spring with his receiving and movement skills. He’ll need to translate that into production during training camp and preseason contests to solidify a spot, something he’s failed to do in previous attempts with St. Louis (sixth round pick, 2010), Jacksonville, and Buffalo.
4. C.J. Wilson, CB…Rookie free agent Wilson earned a training camp invite after strong play in the Bears offseason program. With age and limited depth in the Bears deep patrol becoming a concern, there is an opportunity for Wilson to make a name for himself. A talented high school running back who transitioned to corner during his North Carolina State career, Wilson started 31 times in his 48 career games in Raleigh, and made 104 tackles and four interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns. He’s an aggressive, instinctive defender who fits well into the Bears scheme and can play on special teams. With a good training camp and preseason, he could push veteran Zach Bowman his way onto the final roster.
5. P.J. Lonergan, C…With no long-term backup to 34-year old center Roberto Garza in sight, the undrafted rookie free agent from LSU could create a role for himself, at least on the practice squad. Lonergan is a battling, SEC-experienced pivot with a stout frame and some short-area quickness. He’s more of a self-made player, but has the size at 6-4, 305, to compete. Lonergan is tenacious and plays to the whistle, but needs to improve his pass protection skills and take advantage of his practice reps to have a chance. He’ll overextend and give up leverage against on-rushing lineman.Veteran Edwin Williams is the perceived backup to Garza, but that’s based more on a lack of depth than merit.