5. Kick Returner – Towards the end of last season Phil Emery knew the team would part ways with Devin Hester during the offseason so he began to look for his potential replacement. He signed former Canadian League kick return star Chris Williams off the New Orleans Saints practice squad during the final week of the regular season. The Bears are going to give Chris Williams every opportunity to win the kick return job during training camp. Williams is only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, but he is a blur on the field (ran 4.28 pro-day 40 yard dash in 2009). He was the CFL’s special teams player of the year in 2012 with five punt return touchdowns. Williams would also bring versatility as a wide receiver. He caught 17 touchdowns for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during his two seasons in the CFL. The innovative Trestman could use his speed in certain package plays out of the slot. Yet following in his theme of competition, Emery also signed kick return specialists Armanti Edwards and Michael Spurlock last month. Holdovers Eric Weems and Michael Ford will also be in the mix. Williams has the talent to win the job, but he is unproven in the NFL. The pre-season will be his opportunity to seize the job.
Chris Williams CFL Highlights: http://youtu.be/MEDRSRZgHQs via TallMall33
4. Is Marquess Wilson ready to be breakout? – Wilson has been the buzz of the Bears offseason workouts and the number three wide receiver job is pretty much his to lose. Wilson spent six weeks this offseason training with Brandon Marshall at his facility in Florida. He got stronger and immersed himself in the playbook, learning the nuances of the position. This is the same path Alshon Jeffery took a season ago before his breakout 2013 season. All of Wilson’s hard work showed during the Bear’s offseason minicamps. He showed up stronger, more explosive and more focused. At 6-foot-3, Wilson could be deployed out of the slot with Marshall and Jeffery getting all the attention outside. This will leave plenty of opportunities for Wilson to make an impact. His toughest competition will likely come from free agent acquisition Josh Morgan, a seven year veteran who has a 199 career receptions to go along with 11 touchdowns. The question with Wilson is can the Bears trust a seventh round draft pick who caught two passes last season for 13 yards to be a vital part of the offense in 2014? This will definitely be a story to watch all through training camp and the preseason.
3. The Shea McClellin experiment – Phil Emery finally admitted this offseason to what is probably viewed as his biggest mistake since becoming the Chicago Bears general manager. That is that he miscast Shea McClellin as a defensive end the past two seasons. So he has moved McClellin to what I always thought was his more natural position which is linebacker. In order to get ready for the position switch McClellin trained in California for 12 weeks this offseason to lose weight. He showed up at the start of OTAs at 252 pounds with only 10 percent body fat. That’s down from 266 pounds and 17.5 percent body fat in 2013. But we all know body fat percentages don’t win you football games, but it’s a start for the often criticized McClellin. During offseason workouts McClellin has been lining up at the Mike and Sam linebacker positions. He’s more likely learning the Mike position in case of an injury to incumbent starter D.J. Williams. He is in competition with Jon Bostic to start at Sam linebacker. This would be his best position as he could use his speed and athleticism to rush the quarterback. Bostic was another player that was forced to play out of position last season due to all the injuries. His speed and aggressive play is more suited for an outside linebacker position. The competition between these two will be interesting as this maybe McClellin’s last chance to live up to the first round pick Emery used on him in 2012.
2. Who starts at Safety? – To say that last years starting safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright struggled, would be an understatement. The duo graded out as the worst by Pro Football Focus last season. Conte graded out at a -15.8 and Wright graded out at a -27.4, worst among all NFL safeties. Now some of their struggles can be attributed to the injuries the Bears defensive line suffered and lack of pass rush, but both were deficient in coverage and their tackling left a lot to be desired.
So this offseason Major Wright departed to Tampa Bay via free agency and Chris Conte has been sidelined after major shoulder surgery in March. In comes Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings via free agency. The team also re-signed Craig Steltz and Danny McCray. In May they drafted Brock Vereen in the fourth round out of Minnesota. In the final offseason practices, Mundy and Vereen took all the first team reps. Mundy looks like a lock to start at strong safety as he has shown an understanding of leverage, angles and technique during workouts and minicamps. Something neither Conte nor Wright showed last season. Vereen has been a pleasant surprise during offseason workouts. His speed (second fastest 40 yard dash time among safeties at the combine), range and versatility have put him in serious contention to start at free safety.
My dark horse in this race is the recently signed Adrian Wilson. He’s a 34 year old veteran and a five-time Pro Bowler. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds Wilson is almost like having an extra linebacker on the field. He is coming off a torn Achilles that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season with New England. If anything his experience and knowledge of the position will be great for the younger guys, especially Vereen. Bears fans will definitely be watching this position battle to see how things shake out before the season opener against Buffalo.
1. Who is this year’s Josh McCown? – Josh McCown was a revelation last season. He started five games for an injured Jay Cutler and played in eight games total. He threw for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns against only one interception. He also completed 66.5 percent of his passes. The Bears were 3-2 in those games he started and in playoff contention until the final regular season game. McCown was an 11 year veteran who bounced around the league prior to finding success here in Chicago. Now some say it was all Trestman and his system, some say it was that McCown finally got an opportunity to play and showcase his talent. I guess we’ll all find out soon as he bolted this offseason to be the starting quarterback for former Bears head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay (Mark your calendar: Tampa Bay visits Chicago this season in week 12).
The contenders to be Cutler’s primary backup are Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen. Palmer is a six year veteran with 15 career passing attempts who was signed last season. In May head coach Marc Trestman stated that the backup job was up for grabs but that Palmer would get the first crack at it. Even with the confidence that both Emery and Trestman have expressed in Palmer, they signed the once highly touted Jimmy Clausen to a deal. Clausen impressed in his workout for the Bears, showing he was finally healthy after a rash of injuries ended his tenure with the Carolina Panthers. Palmer missed a portion of OTA’s with a right shoulder strain and that opened the door for Clausen to get more reps and show what he could. At just 26 years old he could be another great reclamation project for the quarterback whisperer, Marc Trestman. The Bears also drafted developmental quarterback David Fales out of San Jose State in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Whoever wins the job will need to be ready as Cutler has only played in all 16 games once since arriving here in 2009. This promises to be a battle that all Bears fans play close attention to during the preseason.