Things to watch at Bears training camp
The Bears are in the enviable position of returning all 22 starters from last years team, but there are still several positions up for grabs on both sides of the ball. Here are a couple of key position battles that will be playing out at training camp this year.
RUNNING BACK - You have the guy who carried our offense last year in Thomas Jones and then you have Cedric Benson who has the "potential". The most likely scenario is that they both play quite a bit this year, but as long as Benson can pick up the pass protection schemes, he should be the starter. They are both very similar in size and running style, but Benson has a better burst and is tougher to tackle. Jones is probably the better receiver out of the two.
SAFETY - All eyes are on Daniel Manning to see if he can supplant Chris Harris as the starting free safety. Odds are good that he does it as Harris is solid but lacks the athleticism and instincts that Manning does. It will all depend on how quickly Manning learns the defense as Rivera will not play a guy unless they know where they are supposed to be at all times.
WIDE RECEIVER - Moose is firmly planted at the #1 spot, but the #2 is open between Mark Bradley and Bernard Berrian. Justin Gage, Rashied Davies and Aierese Currie figure to battle it out for the remaining two WR positions. This will probably be the best battle of camp. Bradley and Berrian are both promising young receivers with good speed. This one is a coin flip and will just depend on who has a better camp.
CORNERBACK - Ricky Manning is supposed to push Tillman and Vasher for a starting spot, but I don't see it happening. Tillman should return to form after an off year and Vasher is the kind of ball hawk that Rivera and Lovie want on the field. Manning should win the Nickel position easily enough and that leaves Dante Wesley and rookie Devin Hester to fight for the Dime position. I think Wesley wins it easily as Hester is just too raw at the position.
SPECIAL TEAMS - Figure for a decent, though unexciting, battle at both kicking positions. Gould will be pushed by rookie Josh Huston, whom many thought would be drafted as either the first of second kicker this year. Maynard had a very bad year last year so the Bears have brought Joel Stelley in to compete. Maynard should win his job fairly easily.
Perhaps the battle I'm most excited about is at punt and kick off returner. A position of weakness last year should be significantly upgraded this year. Devin Hester, Daniel Manning, Rashied Davies, Airese Currie and even Bernard Berrian could all be fighting over this job depending on other position decisions. I personally would like to see Devin Hester returning both punts and kickoffs but most likely he will get the punt return job with Manning or Davies getting kick off duty.
TIGHT END - Des Clark has the starting spot all but locked up. The only interesting prospect here is undrafted rookie Tim Day. Day was projected to be a first day draft pick but went undrafted after a bad combine and pro day. If Day can play like he did at Oregon he should win a spot on this team and possibly be a starter someday.
DLINE - The end position looks set with A. Brown and Ogun, but look for rookie Mark Anderson to get a lot of playing time this year. The tackle position should be unchanged with Harris and Scott starting, but there are a lot of guys fighting to make the team behind Harris, Scott, Tank and Dvoracek. Of Idonije, Haynes and Boone probably only one will make the team. My bet is on Idonije as he contributes more on special teams.
QUARTERBACK - No real competition here. Grossman will be the guy unless he gets hurt. If Grossman plays and fails , Griese will come in but not before the second half of the year.
OLINE - All positions are set with this veteran unit. If they stay healthy, they are one of the best units in football. Tait, Brown, Kruetz, Garza and Miller are all solid to above average players. The only concern here is that they are all getting old.
LINEBACKER - It's Urlacher, Briggs and Hillenmeyer starting on opening day no matter what happens with Briggs contract. The rest of the LBs are fighting for a spot through special teams.