Bears

Rookie minicamp means first look at Bears' 2015 draft class

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Rookie minicamp means first look at Bears' 2015 draft class

The constant around-Chicago question of the past week - “So, whaddya think of the Bears’ draft?” – starts getting a meaningful answer on Friday with the advent of the rookie minicamp at Halas Hall. But with no pads and three of the Bears’ six picks being linemen, the truly meaningful answers will have to wait until July 29 when the Bears open training camp in Bourbonnais.

In the meantime, however, orientation for the draft picks and undrafted free agents is the real job of coaches as they introduce individuals who were college football players seven days ago into the ways of not only the NFL, but the coaching staff of John Fox.

“Our expectations are high for these guys,” said GM Ryan Pace coming out of one draft day. “There’s a lot of opportunities in front of them.”

[MORE BEARS: Bears agree to terms with draft picks Kevin White, Eddie Goldman]

More for some than others, and not just for the draft choices. Undrafted free agent quarterback Shane Carden from East Carolina will be taking his first NFL steps in a competition for a roster spot with David Fales, a sixth-rounder in Phil Emery’s final draft (2014) as Bears GM.

No. 1 pick Kevin White was drafted to replace traded-away Brandon Marshall at wide receiver. No. 2 Eddie Goldman is ticketed for nose tackle, where the Bears have no one at his size (6-4, 335 pounds) anywhere on the defensive line, nose or otherwise.

Center Hroniss Grasu at No. 3 begins his center career behind Will Montgomery, brought in from Denver where he played for Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, albeit just for the 2014 Broncos season, plus his rookie season (2006) with Fox in Carolina. But Montgomery is 32 and has not sufficiently established himself as a linchpin of offensive lines with the Broncos, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

After the top three, the expectation for the remaining picks as well as the undrafted free agents is for them to be factors on special teams as depth. Given the recent litany of injuries in all three phases, there will indeed be the opportunities of which Pace spoke.

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Running back Jeremy Langford (fourth round) rates as the favorite to secure the No. 2 running back job. Since Langford has played defensive back during his time at Michigan State, “there’s flexibility there positionally,” Fox said.

“He’s played on defense before. Sometimes that comes into a factor as far as fourth down or special teams. The guy’s tackled somebody before. He’s been in that kind of environment.”

Fifth-rounder Adrian Amos comes in behind veterans Ryan Mundy and Antrel Rolle at safety and into competition with Brock Vereen from the 2014 draft. Offensive lineman Tayo Fabuluje will be looked at as a guard and tackle, with a chance to unseat right tackle Jordan Mills.

It would not be the first time an unheralded late-round pick emerged as a first-year starter on the offensive line. J’Marcus Webb was a 2010 seventh-rounder and the starting right tackle by game five of that season. Webb in turn lost his job (and roster spot) to Mills, a fifth rounder in 2013.

“When [Fabuluje] is at the right weight, we feel really good about him,” Pace said, “and there’s a lot of upside potential as well.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

Seth Gruen, Chris Emma and Matt Zahn join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester pitches like Jon Lester again and the offense does just enough to win in Pittsburgh. Jim Deshaies joins the guys to talk about the Cubs.

 

Should Roquan Smith make his preseason debut in Denver? Plus the Ohio State controversy takes a salacious turn. Will Urban Meyer keep his job when the investigation wraps up Sunday?

 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

DENVER — Expect the Bears’ starters to play deeper into the first half on Saturday in Denver than they did last week in Cincinnati, but their time on the field will still be relatively brief. The real dress rehearsal for the Bears will be next weekend, when they gameplan for and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 25. 

But Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium still represents sort of a checkpoint in the buildup to Sept. 9’s season-opening tilt with the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the last game of the installation phase of the offseason, with coaches turning their focus to gameplanning for the Chiefs next week and then the Packers afterwards. 

There’s still plenty to be learned on Saturday, though. A few things to watch:

1. Will the first-team offense actually produce?

Mitch Trubisky this week bristled at the notion preseason games didn’t matter — “They don’t matter?” he said. “Then why do you guys talk about them so much?” — which fits with the attitude of a guy who was fairly frustrated with his and his teammates’ performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Trubisky wasn’t happy with offense’s sloppy and ineffective play during the two drives he quarterbacked, and wasn’t willing to write it off as “just” a preseason game. 

“No matter what it is, if it’s on the practice field, if I’m in the backyard by myself, if it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to move the football,” Trubisky said. “That’s what great players do. That’s what great teams do. We’re trying to get some momentum and everybody do our job and execute the offense.”

Still, because the Bears aren’t doing much in the way of gameplanning for the Broncos, any production or lack thereof won’t tell us much about the direction in which this offense is headed. More important will be how successful this group is next week against the Chiefs. 

But Trubisky’s competitiveness means he’s not going to let a poor performance slide, even if it’s only for a few series in a game that doesn’t count. He and the Bears hope that translates into some first downs and points on Saturday. 

2. Some notable debuts

Helping Trubisky’s cause will be the 2018 preseason debuts of running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Allen Robinson, as well as running back Tarik Cohen — who only played one snap against Cincinnati — perhaps being used more. 

The Bears’ offense will not be at full strength, with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Dion Sims (concussion) still out. But for Trubisky, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see how all the work he and Robinson put in to develop a chemistry in the last few weeks translates to the field.

“We continue to create that chemistry in practice and my job is just to get the ball to the playmakers,” Trubisky said. “The more playmakers we have on the field, just continue to get them the ball and let them do what they do and we just need to roll as an offense, be on the same page, everyone continue to do their job, lock in and go out there and have fun an execute. It’ll be nice to see those guys with the ball in their hands this weekend.”

3. What about Roquan?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith in full uniform going through pregame warmups, but it would qualify as a minor surprise if he actually played on Saturday. 

The benefit to Smith playing would be working to accelerate his development with an eye on Week 1, even if it’s only for a few snaps. But does the risk of him getting injured outweigh whatever benefit playing him would provide?

It’s a question the Bears surely are debating. But coaches and trainers made sure to not push Smith too hard in this week’s joint practices against the Broncos, and it would be risky to put him in Saturday but tell him to not play at full speed. 

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Smith to play on Saturday, but more likely would be No. 58 making his preseason debut against the Chiefs with another week of practice under his belt. 

4. Snap decisions

James Daniels felt like he was a little sloppy last week against the Bengals, specifically with his hand placement but more broadly because the intensity of things was increased. 

“I think that’s when my technique gets sloppy is when you’re out there and playing against somebody else, you’re really playing,” Daniels said. 

This week’s joint practices, then, were beneficial for Daniels to focus on keeping his technique sound in a more intense setting. And he had the opportunity to do that all while still playing center, not left guard, where he had been working up until last week. How Bears coaches evaluate Daniels' week of practice — which certainly wasn't perfect — will be important, especially in the context of...

... Cody Whitehair going through a snapping “slump” over the last week or so, starting with that preseason game in Cincinnati. If those low/high snaps crop up again Saturday, and Daniels is able to put in a solid day of work with the second-team offensive line, it may nudge the Bears toward moving Whitehair to guard and inserting the second-round Iowa product into the starting lineup. 

The Bears haven’t considered that move yet, though, and the plan all along has been to keep Whitehair at center. A lot has to happen for that plan to change: If Whitehair can’t consistently get snaps to Trubisky, if Daniels proves he’s one of the team’s best five offensive linemen, and then if Daniels proves he’s a better option at center than Whitehair. So far, the Bears haven’t arrived at any of those conclusions, but Saturday’s game could have a significant impact on what those conclusions wind up being. 

5. Down-the-depth-chart position battles

Plenty of players fighting for a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster will get an extended opportunity to put more good — or bad — things on film on Saturday. 

Near the top of the depth chart, Adam Shaheen will have another opportunity to keep his arrow pointing up at the “Y” tight end spot with Sims still out. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris will continue their competition for the final starting spot on the defensive line, with Bullard still likely the slight favorite. Nick Kwiatkoski can help his case to hold off Smith with another solid showing in what’s been a solid preseason. 

An all-hands-on-deck competition to be the Bears’ reserve outside corner is developing, and with Prince Amukamara (groin) not practicing this week, everyone from that group will get a chance to help their case of making the Week 1 roster. Marcus Cooper needs to have a better game than he did against Cincinnati, while 2017 practice squad’er Doran Grant should get plenty of opportunities, too. For undrafted rookies Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin III, it’s a big opportunity, too, to turn a longshot bid for a roster spot into something more realistic.