Position battle updates after first week

Position battle updates after first week

The Chicago Bears have wrapped their first full week of training camp with seven practices, including two with pads, in the books.

There’s been plenty of competition at multiple positions on the roster, including some shake-ups along the offensive line and at cornerback, as well as some interesting names emerging at wide receiver.

There are no shortage of roster battles we’ve been monitoring at the start of the summer, and there have been some interesting developments through the first portion of camp.

Following the first seven practices of training camp, we’re taking a look at how some of the Bears’ top position battles are shaking out.

Offensive line

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The offensive line has been a focal point since the offseason, and there have been some interesting developments at multiple positions. Lucas Patrick is out indefinitely after suffering a broken right thumb, which has shaken things up at center. Sam Mustipher, who started all 17 games at center last season, was working exclusively at right guard this offseason. But he’s since been moved over to center, where he’s been splitting reps with rookie Doug Kramer. With Mustipher at center, it’s been veteran Michael Schofield and rookie Ja’Tyre Carter rotating at right guard.

Elsewhere, the tackle position has been one to watch over the last week. Braxton Jones started the summer working at left tackle with the starters, and he was splitting reps with Riley Reiff as he got up to speed. Reiff saw starting reps at left tackle for a few practices before moving to right tackle for the first two padded practices. During that time, Jones took every first-team rep at left tackle. Larry Borom had taken all of the starting reps at right tackle before Reiff moved to right tackle, where it’s been Reiff starting with the first-team and rotating with Borom.

It’s important to note that this entire situation is fluid at this point. Matt Eberflus and his staff are trying out multiple combinations, as well as seeing what they have in the rookies. Things will eventually settle. But there’s plenty of shifting and competition through the first week of practice.

wide receiver

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At this point, it’s a wide open receiving room behind Darnell Mooney, who is the only lock as the WR1. Rookie Velus Jones Jr. has been flashing during practice, and Byron Pringle has hauled in some nice catches from Fields. One surprising name that has emerged as a top target for Fields is Equanimeous St. Brown, who played with Luke Getsy in Green Bay last year. st. Brown has a good understanding of Getsy’s offense, but he’s also proved to be a reliable target for Fields in the red zone.

Newcomer N’Keal Harry has also had his moments through the first seven practices, where he’s developing a rapport with Fields and showing his versatility in blocking and the run game. Dazz Newsome is also reminding everyone that he’s still on this roster and has an impressive skillset, something that’s been on display so far.

Like with the offensive line, it’s far too early to gauge exactly how the receiver room will shake up. While Mooney is the lone true lock, it’s safe to say Pringle, Jones and St. Brown will also make the roster. Harry, Newsome and David Moore are names to watch for those final two roster spots.

Nickel cornerback

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While the offensive line and wide receivers were the top battles heading into camp, the cornerback situation has emerged as one to watch. That has to do with rookie Kyler Gordon, who’s seeing time at both outside and nickel cornerback — and excelling — during the first week of practice.

There have been some different groupings at cornerback during the last few practices, which figures into where Gordon is lining up. The Bears have had Jaylon Johnson and Gordon on the outside with Tavon Young in the slot. But when Gordon is at nickel, it’s been Johnson and Kindle Vildor on the outside. There’s even been a combination of Johnson and Gordon outside with Vildor seeing time in the slot.

Thomas Graham Jr., who had been competing with Young in the slot, has been sidelined with a hamstring injury that’s going to hold him out of practice for a little bit. That’s not good for Graham’s chances of winning a starting job.

Like with the offensive line, Eberflus and his staff are exploring different combinations to see which one fits best. Expect that to continue into the rest of camp and the preseason.

Defensive end

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Now, we’re on to some of the more under-the-radar battles. The Bears have some talented defensive ends on the roster, starting with Robert Quinn, who set a franchise single-season sack record last year. There’s no doubt he’ll be starting — assuming he’s still on the roster when the regular season kicks off. But it’s a matter of who will start opposite him, and it’s coming down to Trevis Gipson and Al-Quadin Muhammad.

There’s no doubt all three of those guys will see significant reps, especially as Eberflus implements a defensive line rotation. But who will be the top guy after Quinn?

Both Gipson and Muhammad have brought pressure on quarterback Justin Fields during the first week of camp, and things are certainly ramping up now that the pads are on. It’s too early to gauge who has the upper hand at this point. Especially as both have been working primarily with the starters as Quinn gets up to speed after missing the entirety of the offseason program.

Then there’s the competition for roster spots behind those top three guys, where rookie Dominique Robinson continues to impress teammates and coaches. Then there are some young guys in Charles Snowden, Sam Kamara and Carson Taylor who are looking to compete for a roster spot. Even Mario Edwards has seen time at defensive end when the Bears are in their base defense.

Linebacker

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The linebacker position has undergone a lot of change this offseason as the team transitions to a 4-3 defense. There’s little question that Roquan Smith and newcomer Nicholas Morrow will be starters, where he’ll be Smith on the weak side and Morrow calling plays in the middle. But there’s plenty of questions behind those two players, including who will start on the strong side.

Right now, it looks to be Matt Adams and Joe Thomas competing for the starting SAM linebacker role. Adams saw starting reps opposite Morrow on the first practice of training camp. Adams has made some plays, including a pass breakup on a jump ball to Cole Kmet from Justin Fields in the end zone. Thomas has made an impression several times during camp, including hauling in an interception on a deflected pass by Jaylon Johnson and forcing a fumble that was returned by Johnson for a touchdown.

As with the other position battles, we still have a long way to go before we get any clarity at strong-side linebacker. But strong performances from Adams or Thomas will go a long way in camp or the preseason.

Running back

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Running back is no doubt the biggest strength on offense, which is a good thing considering the Bears offense will be a run-heavy scheme. There’s no question that David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert will lead the way in the backfield, and Khari Blasingame will play a pivotal role at fullback. But there is competition further down the depth chart with Darrynton Evans and rookie Trestan Ebner.

Ebner has been making waves through the first week of practice, where it’s easy to envision him in a hybrid role. Ebner has showcased his ability both as a tough runner and as a receiver out of the backfield, where he’s turned some catches into big plays with his impressive speed. Evans has also been putting on a show with his ability to make runners miss and as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

Assuming the Bears carry five running backs on the roster, there’s a little doubt that Ebner and Evans will be a part of that group. But when you start looking at which one will be more involved, it’s hard not to say Ebner given he looks like he could serve in a Tarik Cohen role.

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