Backups in as starters at Carolina warrant close looks

Backups in as starters at Carolina warrant close looks
August 6, 2013, 3:30 pm
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BOURBONNAIS – The first depth chart of the season came out on Monday, and Tuesday’s practice lineups had some modifications that will make Friday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers especially interesting:

Defensive endings

Julius Peppers, who left Saturday night’s practice with a hamstring strain, did not practice on Monday and was excused from practice altogether on Tuesday.

With Peppers out, Shea McClellin started at left end and Corey Wootton at right. The two are technically competing for the No. 1 job at left end, but they also are both integral to a number of creative packages, including the nickel pass rush.

[MORE: Bears camp: Very bad flashbacks for Cutler]

The Bears have only Wednesday’s practice before leaving for Carolina. Since starters rarely play more than one quarter, and in the case of veterans like Peppers, even less, the eight-time Pro Bowler projects to be inactive on Friday rather than dress for a series or two on a suspect hamstring.

The Carolina game provides a serious look at both McClellin and Wootton, as well as rookie Cornelius Washington, Cheta Ozougwu and Kyle Moore, the leading contenders for the No. 4 end spot.

Your new starting 2013 middle linebacker?

The Bears used their second-round draft pick on middle linebacker Jon Bostic despite the offseason signing of veteran D.J. Williams. Bostic has been with the No. 1 defense now for a week as Williams continues to watch practice because of a severe calf injury, and with every practice Bostic shakes off a little more of his rookie’ness.

It's the sort of thing that puts the rookie linebacker in Opening Day lineups.

Bostic admitted to struggling with pass drops in the middle, the strongest asset of Brian Urlacher’s game, but “I think he’s going to get better with reps,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “It’s just having to see it, repetitions, doing it over and over again. I expect that to pick up. Certain things that guys pick up more quicker than other things. So that’s one of those things he’s got to work on.”

[RELATED: Frey continues strong bid for roster spot]

Heir apparent at CB?

Pro Bowl cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are in the final years of contracts, as is nickel back Kelvin Hayden. Hayden went down with a hamstring injury in Saturday night’s practice and has not been in uniform since then.

In his stead, Isaiah Frey has continued making the kinds of plays and impact that he has all training camp. He is expected to start in place of Hayden at nickel and likely will get snaps in place of Jennings and Tillman in what projects to be a look at a key part of the starting 2014 -– or sooner -– secondary.

Frey has gone from the practice squad in 2012 to challenging for at least a No. 1 nickel role, acquitting himself well against the No. 1 offense.

“Whenever you can go ‘good against good,’ that’s the best rep you can get,” said secondary coach Jon Hoke. “He’s getting valuable reps because he is going against our first group, so hopefully we’ll see that carry over into the preseason games.”