Training camp 2012 will unfold in stages for the Bears beginning later this month. Like a satellite launch, the stages are intended to ramp up a team that considered itself a playoff team last year into one that views itself as a Super Bowl one this season.
Id say were a better football team, Im talking about the 53-man roster; even the 61-man roster with the practice squad, said resident optimist Lovie Smith. We have some pretty good training camp battles too going on. Feel like we have an idea of what direction were going.
The Bears of Summer convene for training camp on July 24. Pretty much. They arrive on Tuesday, do some closed conditioning work the next day and then have a pair of afternoon practices without pads Thursday the 26th and Friday the 27th, which means a level above minicamp because offense and defense will be allowed to work against each other.
That level will ratchet up even more when pads come on for a 7 p.m. practice on Saturday July 28.
As far as some of the roster spots, its hard to evaluate, Smith said. You cant really evaluate linemen until you get the pads on. Thats why training camp is important for them.
Camp is important to virtually every member of the football side of the operation, for different reasons. Three individuals and positions will be under particular scrutiny:
The Bears made a change at general manager chiefly because of lackluster results in the draft. Emery scored big with the trade to acquire wide receiver Brandon Marshall and executed a plan to significantly upgrade the reserves at multiple positions with veterans (quarterback, running back, offensive line, cornerback).
But Emery himself set the bar for needing to see impact from his top draft choices, and sooner rather than later.
You need contributions out of those drafted players right away, especially the higher end of the players, Emery said. They need to come in and at least contribute to your squad in a role of some type.
It was apparent from the outset of camp in 2007 that defensive end Dan Bazuin was a mistake with the second-round pick. Same with first-rounder Michael Haynes in 2003, and second-round wideout Mark Bradley in 2005.
More than just defensive end and No. 1 pick Shea McClellin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will be closely watched come late July.
The O-line and its tackle triad
The Bears have three No. 1 draft choices and a No. 2 among their offensive linemen. Tackles Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams were Bears No. 1s and guard Chris Spencer was a Seattle No. 1. Guard Chilo Rachal was a second-round pick of San Francisco.
All could be starters by the end of training camp.
The group collectively has been the subject of constant doubts and criticism since the nine-sack horror show against the New York Giants early in 2009.
Coaches and personnel staff gave the group a vote of confidence by going elsewhere in the draft and free agency.
The time for settling things is at hand.
Only the wide receivers of 2010 received a stronger no-confidence vote than the cornerback and safety positions this offseason. The secondary could be the scene of two 2011 starters losing jobs in the course of camp and preseason.
The Bears gave cornerback Tim Jennings a new contract. They also gave one to veteran Kelvin Hayden, however, as well as Jonathan Wilhite. Jennings is back after a serviceable 2011 that included a game-15 benching for since-departed Zackary Bowman. If Jennings is benched for Hayden, it will not be for one game.
Major Wright was in and out of the lineup with injuries last year and in two seasons has failed to firmly secure the strong-safety position alongside Chris Conte.
The Bears invested a third third-round pick in as many years at safety, with Oregon States Brandon Hardin. Wright did not start any games as a rookie. Conte started nine straight before finishing the season on IR. If Wright does not play to what the Bears expect from their deep coverage, they believe they have an alternative in former-cornerback Hardin.
Because the pads will be on and offense and defense can square off with unpleasant intent, even the seven-on-seven sessions will be worth getting a good seat for.
There are certain routes that the offense has advantages with just because we cant make any contact, so its kind of like a gimme play for the offense, said cornerback Charles Tillman. I definitely think once we have pads, and for sure once we have a pass rush, I think that kind of evens everything out.
Next: Defensive Line