In my last training camp preview, I touched on one aspect of the Chicago Bears‘ offseason that will be a topic of discussion until things are sorted out at the end of camp — the backup quarterback quandary. This preview will continue down that path, as I take a look at the three most intriguing position battles.
Position battles — Chicago Bears edition
While the Bears made additions to the defense that will assure fans the Bears will not finish dead-last against the run this year, there are still some assurances to be made at other positions. For starters, the safety position is one that had fans frustrated beyond belief last season. Heading into camp, the Bears have seven safeties (Craig Steltz, Danny McCray, Chris Conte, Brock Vereen, M.D. Jennings, Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy) vying for two spots. While Conte is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, this will give the others an edge on him. Vereen has spent time with the first-team guys quite frequently, so look for that to continue as well as the others to get a consistent look. Last year, the issue with the safeties was tackling, so whoever can tackle the best will most likely have the best shot at starting.
Devin Hester leaving in free agency undoubtedly left a lot of fans disappointed, but his quality of play in recent years had been lackluster and not what Bears fans were used to seeing. Chris Williams seems to be the favorite to replace Hester, and Domenik Hixon looked to be his backup before he tore his ACL. Alas, the reason for training camp is to sort out complications, so Eric Weems, Josh Morgan and Terrence Toliver along with Williams will all be competing for the coveted return position. If somehow no favorite emerges, watch for a returner-by-committee situation to develop.
I know I am going to catch some grief for this in the comments section, but miscues from one the most unlikely positions played a role in some of the Bears’ losses last season. Former punter Adam Podlesh ranked 33rd in net average at 37.9 yards, and the Bears as a team ranked last in gross punting average. When you have stats like that and fail to get 40 per cent of punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, it is time for a change. Sixth-round pick Pat O’Donnell will compete with Tress Way for the starting position, and I will be shocked if O’Donnell does not come out of camp as the starter.
The University of Miami product weighs in at 6’4″ and 220 pounds, so we know he is more than willing to make a few tackles if necessary. His career yards-per-punt average at Miami was 43.45 yards. Looking at the stats, O’Donnell looks to be the favorite but he is also a rookie. Way, while inexperienced himself with only six punts last preseason, has picked up his performance because of the competition so look for a fierce competitor to emerge.