Part 2 of our Bears training camp preview looks at the returning defensive stars, competition at safety and a final overall look at the team. Read about the expected offensive position battles and more in Part 1.
By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Defensive continuity is a valuable commodity on any football team preparing for a new season and the Chicago Bears are hoping its top-ranked defense from 2018 can maintain its high standing by retaining 10 of its 11 starters for 2019.
Some changes are coming this year with a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano, but the talent on the roster looks just the same like last year. On the defensive line, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman lead the way. Look out for last year’s rookie sensation Bilal Nichols or another potential break-out player in Roy Robertson-Harris to be a potential starter up front.
Going next level up, the linebackers are perhaps the most unchanged position from last year. Khalil Mack, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Leonard Floyd will be the starters baring injury; Smith and Floyd are especially intriguing because if they elevate their play the Bears will easily have the best linebacker core in the NFL.
The reserves are the same as last year with Aaron Lynch returning to backup Mack/Floyd, but a battle that might take place is for the primary backup with the inside linebackers. Last year that person was Nick Kwiatkoski and it’s his job to lose but a rookie from a year ago in Joel Iyiegbuniwe may push Kwiatkoski for that role.
Now to the last level of the defense, a talented secondary. There will be some adjusting between the safeties and cornerbacks as both levels lost an important player. One of the starters lost was safety Adrian Amos and although cornerback Bryce Callahan was not a “starter”, he played a terrific slot corner.
Buster Skrine will be the likely replacement for Callahan but the competition with rookie corner Duke Shelley could get interesting. Besides the return of corners Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara that makes four spots taken of likely what will be five spots total. Kevin Toliver II was the primary backup and the team seems to like him as an outside corner, Sherrick McManis might get the final spot but he has been getting work with the safeties as well.
Safety Competition — For the safeties, its about the depth rather than finding a starter because the starters are Eddie Jackson and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. Sadly, a wrinkle to this story came after it was announced that Clinton-Dix was placed on the PUP list (Physically Unable to Perform) to start camp.
As of now the injury is not a long term concern but in the short term this opens up a chance for another player to show they can play well next to Jackson. Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson are the seemingly obvious backups battling for the key reserve roles behind the starters.
Other guys will be rotated in and some may come from the cornerback position like the aforementioned McManis and Stephen Denmark.
Last, But Not Least — As good as things seem in Bears world with the Kool-Aid flowing and #ClubDub still rocking, a giant gray thunderstorm cloud can be seen in the distance… inching closer and…closer.
Worry remains about the place kicking after that visually stunning effort last season in the playoffs. Options still remain for the team as they have a couple of kids with potential in camp now and there still is the possibility of getting a veteran once final cuts happen. The worst part in all this for fans is that without a kicker with some NFL experience, it will be impossible to gauge how good anyone is until kicks are made in the regular season. Only when the kicks count can teams really see what their kicker is made of.
If either of these kids struggle early in camp or pre-season then the fans and the team might turn on them quickly. Nagy and the rest of his staff are hoping these kickers get off to a good start or scrutiny could follow. Either way, the Bears better have some kind of plan in place or face some potential tough times ahead.
A highly anticipated training camp only happens after a team has success and can fill a roster full of talent and depth. For the Bears, it looks like they have enough of both to be true contenders but thats only on paper.
Hopefully all the competition on the roster makes players and position groups develop at an accelerated rate. Key guys like Trubisky and Mack must set the tone and be the catalysts for success on their respective sides of the ball.
Luckily the Bears have a good group of veteran leadership for a locker room full of young players. Training camp is all about developing players and the team to get ready for the season ahead, an important early step on the road to the Super Bowl.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR