Important Position Battles Heading Into Training Camp(Chicago Bears)
Chicago Bears OTA's are around the corner, and this article will highlight the most important position battles for the upcoming season. Unless one of the latest draft picks emerges as a stud, the starting line up's on offense and defense are set. The Bears lost core special teams players, and the players that make contributions on special teams will decide the lower part of the 53 man roster. This alone shows how well Ryan Pace has done with the rebuild. Most teams will have multiple starting spots up for grabs going into pre-season. The Bears have 20 of 23 returning starters(23 includes the nickel as a starter).
If you thought the past offseason was tight, it's nothing compared to what 2020 looks like. The Bears are already 25 million dollars in the red. Since the 2013-2014 seasons, there's been at least a $10 million cap increase. The Bears should roll over some cash from this year, but that still won't take them out of the negative. It would be a blessing if they were at $0 to start the offseason. The Bears will need some of the older practice squad players, depth players, and draft picks to be starting caliber by 2020. The notable names that can be cut, or traded, in 2020 with minimal dead cap attached are Allan Robinson, Kyle Long, Prince Amukamara, and Taylor Gabriel. The Bears also have not re-signed Cody Whitehair. It's possible the Bears will lose two interior linemen in 2020. Money is another important factor when selecting position-battles in 2019. The position battles highlighted in this article will be Guard, Wide Receiver, and Defensive Back.
Take a look at the defensive backfield. It is pretty solidified, for 2019, Skrine and Clinton-Dix will be replacing Amos and Callahan. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is on a one year deal, and as stated before, Amukamara may be moved to create cap space. Kevin Toliver is signed through 2020 and showed improvement last year, earning more snaps after the Jackson injury. Toliver has a roster spot locked up, but I don't think he is a long term answer. Three names to look at are Duke Shelley, Michael Joseph, and Stephen Denmark. Michael Joseph is a UFDA from the 2018 off-season and played well in the pre-season. I have a soft spot for him, but I don't know if he will materialize as a starter. Duke Shelly was just drafted out of Kansas State, and Pace said his ideal position is the nickel. If you watch his tape, Shelley is scrappy and willing to battle with anyone. I honestly believe that Pagano and the new staff will develop him into a starter by 2020. If that's the case, Skrine has experience on the outside and can be bumped to the corner spot. Stephen Denmark, out of Valdosta State, was one of the players selected by the Bears in the seventh-round of this year's draft. He is transitioning from wideout to defensive back, and his frame and skill set are comparable to Richard Sherman. It will take a lot of work to get him on the field as a defensive back though. I believe he will make the practice squad or possibly the 53 man roster to cover on special teams. Heading into training camp Toliver, Joseph, Shelley, and Denmark are all names to look for in the pre-season, one or two might be future starters.
Next up are the hogs. The Bears did not draft any O lineman this year but have signed multiple un-drafted free agents. Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher and Joe Lowery are the notable interior lineman that have signed with the Bears. Bars and Mustipher used to play for Harry Hiestand, the current bears O-Line coach, at Notre Dame. Bars wouldn't have fallen out of the draft, but multiple knee injuries made him a big question mark. It's possible he will be put on season-ending IR to ensure he will be on the roster and fully healthy by 2020. In my opinion, Mustipher is a lock to make the practice squad. If Heistand knew Mustipher wasn't good enough to make the team, he wouldn't waste a former player's opportunity to make one elsewhere. Joe Lowery was a three-year starter at tackle for the Ohio Bobcats, but the Bears are looking to move him inside. He is a mammoth of a man standing at 6'7" 310 lbs, he might be a little tall for a guard, but I think he will make the practice squad, maybe even the 53 man roster. The three interior linemen to look at this offseason are Lowery, Mustipher, and Bars.
Last is the receivers. I'll start by saying I would want to see neither Robinson nor Gabriel depart, but the NFL is a business, and the Bears have zero wiggle room in 2020. It's a possibility Miller can emerge as a number 1 receiver but does Nagy's system require a solidified number 1? Tyreek Hill isn't a traditional number 1 receiver and last year he produced at an elite level in a similar offense. Right now the Bears have an influx of quality receivers. Last year the Bears had 4-6 receivers active on game day. It doesn't look like the Bears will carry a full back and will have one less tight end on the depth chart, so it leaves room for an extra receiver. The hardest skill position to fill is the slot receiver. Slots require a more savvy skill set and a high football IQ. It's rare that a rookie can play slot, but Ridley will be moved to the slot by 2020, and possibly be the starter. The biggest names to look at are Javon Wims and Emanuel Hall. Chicago media assumes they are in direct competition with one another for the last receiver spot. If either player sent to the practice squad, they aren't clearing waivers, and another team will claim them. If both players are 4-phase special teamer's, the Bears can keep both of them. If the young receivers develop, releasing the vets would solve most of the 2020 cap issues. Robinson, Gabriel, and Patterson will roughly be getting a combined $27 million in 2020. Their dead cap hit would be a combined $5 million. As stated earlier, I don't want to see them go, especially A-Rob, but if some of these younger players develop, its the most logical way to fix next years cap problem.
All in all the Bears roster is solid from top to bottom in 2019. This is the first time I've made this statement with confidence. The biggest competition battles are for back-up players and future starters. To keep the roster looking sound in 2020, younger players will need to emerge. The three depth positions to look at in the upcoming OTA's and training camp are Guard, Defensive Back, and Wide Receiver.