#BearsTalk Pick Six: What are the important storylines for veteran minicamp?

#BearsTalk Pick Six: What are the important storylines for veteran minicamp?

This week’s mandatory three-day minicamp at Halas Hall  closes out the Bears’ official off-season program. Once practice concludes Thursday afternoon, the players are on their own for six weeks before reporting to training camp in Bourbonnais Wednesday, July 26, with the first practice expected a day later.
 
Here’s are a six-pack of storylines CSN's Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz will be especially keeping their eyes on:

1. Roll Call

Only three of the Bears’ 10 Organized Team Activities over the past three weeks were open to the media. A good portion of the roster was out on the field each day we were allowed to witness the workouts at Halas Hall. 

But there were other times a handful of key players were either nowhere to be seen, or off to the side working with the training staff. How much from a group that includes the likes of Josh Sitton, Hroniss Grasu, Markus Wheaton, Zach Miller, Eddie Goldman, Jaye Howard, Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Eddie Jackson will be taking part, from individual drills to 11-on-11? If not every day, any days? And is it because of the coaching staff is playing things cautiously, due to the bad injury track record the past two years, or from setbacks, or something new? 

We won’t get definitive answers on that from John Fox, who’s said the primary objective is to get everyone ready to go by training camp, or the regular season. Mark Sanchez, Cam Meredith, Danny Trevathan and Kyle Long are not expected to be taking part when the offense and defense line up opposite each other. And based on the forecasted temperatures in the 90’s, it wouldn’t be a surprise to reduce risk by working out inside the Payton Center.
— Chris Boden

2. Mike Gennon’s command of the offense

By all accounts, Mike Glennon hasn’t wavered in taking command of the Bears offense since Mitch Trubisky was drafted in April. His “this is my year” line was a public declaration of the approach he’s taken with his teammates, which has been roundly praised before and after April’s draft. This week will be Glennon’s last opportunity to build on-field trust with his teammates before July, but he’ll likely use the six-week summer break to keep building relationships off the field, too. 
— JJ Stankevitz

3. ”Tru” at No. 2               

It’s hard to think Ryan Pace and the coaching staff will stray from their plan to begin the season with the second overall draft pick sitting third on the quarterback depth chart. But with Sanchez sidelined, Mitch Trubisky at least has an opportunity to make them think otherwise. No, he won’t be going up against an angry opponent’s number-one defense that’s scheming to rattle the rookie. But you’d have to think Dowell Loggains (and Vic Fangio) will try to push and challenge the quarterback of the future, who’ll get consistent work with teammates projected to be higher up the depth chart. Should he impress, it won’t change minds of the position pecking order heading to Bourbonnais, but Trubisky showing he’s a quicker study than expected could at least open the door slightly more to that possibility. 
— Chris Boden

4. Where does Kevin White fit?

Among the “ifs” on the Bears’ roster — and there are many — Kevin White may be the biggest. The 2015 No. 7 pick has only played four games in the last two years, but if he can be the guy the Bears (and plenty of draft analysts) thought he was coming out of West Virginia, he’ll go a long way toward replacing Alshon Jeffery. The importance of veteran minicamp for White is mostly just getting him reps, even if pads and contact aren’t involved, as he continues to build his way back from those two leg injuries. 
— JJ Stankevitz

5. The first thing for the secondary

For a secondary with four offseason additions — cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara, and safeties Quintin Demps and Eddie Jackson — OTAs have mostly been important for developing trust and chemistry within the unit. This is a group that will be tasked with creating more turnovers than last year’s total of 11 (tied for the lowest in a single season in NFL history), and the process of developing that takeaway-focused mentality began during the offseason program. For the new players and the holdovers from last year, learning everyone’s strengths and weaknesses now will help get this group on solid footing heading into training camp in July. 
— JJ Stankevitz

6. The “baby” Bear       

So Cam Meredith and Zach Miller have injuries they’re working their way back from, Kevin White still has to prove himself going into Year 3, and the last thing you want to do is put Jordan Howard through any more work than needed before Sept.10. Now’s a good time to start seeing how 5-foot-6 waterbug Tarik Cohen can be utilized, whether it’s coming out of the backfield, split out wide or in the slot. This offense needs weapons and diversity even when everyone is healthy. Cohen has the potential to supply that, provided he can evade and outrun defenses at the NFL level like he did at North Carolina A&T.  (And by the way, he wouldn’t like being called baby Bear. It’s used for these title purposes only. He’s used his size as a chip on his shoulder to become a fourth-round draft pick.) 
— Chris Boden

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

No doubt, there are doubts about the makeup of this 2017 Bears wide receiver corps. But as the departed Alshon Jeffery created doubts, health-wise, the past two years about whether he could stay on the field to prove himself worthy of a big payday (which he didn’t even get from the Eagles), Ryan Pace brought in a handful of replacements who’ve flashed in this league before. But recent history’s shown each of them has something to prove as well.

From Rueben Randle to fellow former Giant Victor Cruz. From former first rounders Kendall Wright to Kevin White, taking a third swing at making it though an entire NFL season.

Then there’s Markus Wheaton, the only free agent signee at the position this season to receive a two-year deal ($11 million total, with $6 million guaranteed). Like the rest of the group, though, he’s at a career crossroads. Following seasons with 53 and 44 catches in Pittsburgh in 2014 and 2015 (with a 17-yard average in the latter), the quick-twitch former Steeler was limited to three games a year ago before eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in January.

“Everyone’s new, so we don’t know what it’s gonna be,” he said of the group at the team’s recent minicamp in Lake Forest. “In Pittsburgh you kind of have a clue `cause they’ve done it for so long. Everybody’s new, everybody’s trying to find their niche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anything’s possible. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity. A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove. Anything’s possible. Anyone can come out on top. The ultimate goal is to win games and I’m sure the coaches will put us in position to do that.”

The former third-round pick out of Oregon State (where he’s the Beavers’ all-time career leader in receptions, one ahead of Brandin Cooks) played all three receiver positions in Pittsburgh at various times, and while he seems most natural in the slot, is working to make himself as versatile as possible here. But that comes with some risk as a quarterback room that’s also gone through its share of turnover tries to get on the same page with all the targets. But Wheaton is more than confident the results will come from within this group.

“I think we definitely are underrated," Wheaton said. "We’ve come in and worked to get to where we wanna be. We will get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

The incumbents in the room include Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Cam Meredith, and, of course, White. Wheaton can see the potential in the ex-seventh overall draft pick.

“I couldn’t imagine all the stuff he’s been through, all the pressure that’s been put on him," Wheaton said. "But he’s a down-to-earth guy who works extremely hard, so I think he’s gonna get his. He’s a big-time playmaker, so I’m excited to see him play.

“They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody’s down to earth, been easy to talk to so when I have questions, I’ve been getting answers, so it’s been real easy for me.”

That surgically-repaired shoulder was cleared for full participation just in time for minicamp two weeks ago. And Wheaton won’t allow himself to become hesitant physically as he aims to conquer what hesitation he could have within the offense, working with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.

“I really don’t think there’s time for that. When you’re ready to go, you just go,” Wheaton told us. “You come in, you work, you rehab. And for me personally I had to rehab a lot to get back to where I wanted to be. There’s a level I want to be at. I’ve been just working to get there, so there’s no time for that.”

That last statement comes even if some observers hesitate to call Wheaton and these wideouts “underrated.” They’ll start attempting to prove that when the Bears report to Bourbonnais exactly one month from Monday.

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Rookie Deiondre' Hall flashed in the preseason a year ago, leading the Bears coaching staff and fans to believe they found something amidst their trio of 2016 fourth round draft picks. 

He’s hoping to do the same this August after overcoming one physical hurdle, while waiting to see if he can get past a legal hurdle he created for himself.

Let’s start on the field, where, just days after his first NFL interception in the fourth game last season, he sustained an ankle injury in practice, sidelining him for two months. Once his walking boot and scooter were finally put away, he was active for the final four games. But what progress he’d been making on the field was difficult to recapture.

“Just coming off the injury, there was a little rust here and there, but the training staff here’s great and I had to push through it,” Hall said at last week’s minicamp in Lake Forest after he was one of numerous Bears hit by the injury bug, but not one of the 19 who wound up on Injured Reserve. “(I was) getting comfortable with the defense and in myself playing with those guys out there, getting the opportunity in the red zone and making plays. But the injury kinda sucked because I haven’t really had an opportunity to play since Week 5, so I’m not necessarily starting fresh.”

As the offseason unfolded, Hall was informed the coaching staff was going to try him at safety, if not permanently, then as an option for the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Northern Iowa product. 

But Hall’s not totally foreign to the position. He was a free safety his first year in college, then transitioned to outside linebacker/nickel as a sophomore, moved to cornerback as a junior before breaking his hand his senior year, playing through it back where he started at safety. So the decision wasn’t a big deal, especially if it enhances his chances to get on the field. But his preference?

“Defense. Opportunity,” Hall responded. “You get in where you fit in and the more you can do, the better it is for the team. If opportunity presents itself at corner, then I’m at corner. But right now at safety, I’m making strides (there) and keep pushing for that.”

“We’re gonna float him back and forth,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last month, after the Bears signed free agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the off-season, while Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc are expected to battle for slot duty and former first-rounder Kyle Fuller and veterans Johnthan Banks and B.W. Webb hope to impress. “He (Hall) had some experience there in college. When it comes down to picking your team and you’re taking nine or 10 DBs, if someone’s got versatility to play both of those spots, that helps, so we’re gonna see if he’s one of those guys.”

But before Hall gets back to work in Bourbonnais, he’ll find out if he has some other dues to pay. Hall was back at his alma mater’s Cedar Falls campus March 26th when he and a former UNI teammate were arrested outside a bar called Sharky’s. Police had responded to a call, and by the time all was said and done, Hall needed to be tased before being arrested on charges of public intoxication, interference (with an arrest), and disorderly conduct. 

The case was continued late last month and Hall’s jury trial is scheduled for July 11th. Pending the outcome, he could face disciplinary action from the team and the NFL. He’s told his side of the story to Bears management and while expressing remorse for putting himself in the situation, Hall says it wasn’t in character and feels confident in what the outcome will be.

“People make mistakes and the truth always comes out,” the 23-year-old said, adding the situation isn’t weighing on his mind or affected his preparation in off-season workouts. “You gotta let people make their own mistakes. I won’t shed light but the truth always comes out, and (I’ve learned) just don’t take anything for granted.”

“My main focus is football and keep pushing to make strides to become good, and great.”