Expectations Are (Always) High As Bears Report To Training Camp
The Bears reported to training camp Tuesday and according to general manager Phil Emery, it's time to start "pounding wood." This year brings some of the highest expectations since 2006, the year the Bears went to the Super Bowl and back when people thought Rex Grossman was a good quarterback. With additions to the offense and the returning core of veteran defensive players, this year's team is a solid contender. They are well-rounded and should compete for the NFC North title or the wild card. Here are a few things to watch as workouts begin in Bourbonnais:
Granted the battle between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams isn't that of a hotshot rookie and a future Hall of Famer, but whoever wins this position will be tasked with the critical job of keeping Jay Cutler safe. And as we saw last year, an injury to Cutler can have dire consequences. A key telling point will be which player begins to take more snaps during workouts and who is the starter in the first two preseason games. The starter will be decided quickly as the offensive line will need time to gel and work cohesively towards the end of training camp.
A recurring theme for the Bears has been the revolving door at safety. The starters at the beginning of camp will be Major Wright at free safety and Chris Conte at strong safety. But after two injury-plagued and underwhelming years, Wright is on the bubble. If training camp reports include recaps of how Wright got burned or that he is recuperating from minor injuries, a change will be imminent. Conte has also shown himself to be prone to injury. If either player can't stay on the field or is struggling, look for Craig Steltz or rookie Brandon Hardin to step in.
It will be interesting to see how rookie Alshon Jeffery is used during training camp. During mini-camp he wowed coaches and reporters with a few spectacular catches but also had problems staying on the field with a few aches and pains. If he is getting a long look on the field and stays injury-free, he may challenge Devin Hester for the position opposite of Brandon Marshal with Earl Bennett playing in the slot. The Bears have continued to rave about how Hester will be used in the new offense, but if Jeffery is effective it would be wise to limit Hester and start Jeffery. Two receivers over six feet tall will pose a significant problem for opposing defenses and give Cutler the big targets he lacked in his first three years with the Bears.