Early look at 2017 Bears depth chart

Early look at 2017 Bears depth chart

After a 3-13 season, Bears GM Ryan Pace left no stone unturned trying to upgrade the franchise during this past offseason.

With an abundance new faces at several key positions, the Bears will head into training camp this summer with some key positional battles to keep an eye on.  

Here's an early look at the 2017 Bears depth chart in order of positional ranking:

OFFENSE

QB

Mike Glennon
Mark Sanchez
Mitch Trubisky
Connor Shaw

It would be shocking to see the Bears come out of the Soldier Field tunnel in Week 1 with anybody but Mike Glennon leading out the starters. Even after an impressive rookie minicamp, Mitch Trubisky is still a work in progress that the Bears coaching staff will need to handle with care if they want him to succeed in being the long-term quarterback of the future. Mark Sanchez's veteran presence gives him a leg up on Connor Shaw to make the final 53-man roster come September.

RB

Jordan Howard
Benny Cunningham
Jeremy Langford
Tarik Cohen
Ka'Deem Carey
Joel Bouagnon

Coming off a Pro Bowl rookie season, Howard is entrenched as the Bears' starter heading into the 2017 season. The Bears added a sorely needed speed dimension to the group with Darren Sproles clone in rookie running back Tarik Cohen. The Bears also brought in veteran Benny Cunningham who could unseat Jeremy Langford as Howard's backup. 

WR

Cameron Meredith
Kevin White
Markus Wheaton
Kendall Wright
Josh Bellamy
Deonte Thompson
Daniel Braverman
Rueben Randle
Tanner Gentry
Titus Davis
Jhajuan Seales

It won't be easy for the Bears to replace Alshon Jeffery's production, but Pace added depth to the group with the signings of Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton. If Kevin White can bounce back from injury and show flashed of why he was a Top 10 pick in 2015, and either Wheaton or Wright emerges as a solid No. 3, the Bears could have a formidable group behind last year's breakout star Cameron Meredith.

TE

Zach Miller
Dion Sims
Adam Shaheen
Daniel Brown
Ben Braunecker
MyCole Pruitt
Franko House

The Bears got much stronger at tight end with the signing of Dion Sims and the selection of "Baby Gronk" Adam Shaheen in the second round of last month's draft. It will be a crowded group in Bourbonnais, and if Zach Miller can stay healthy, the Bears have the personnel that can cause major mismatches for opposing defenses. 

FB 

Freddie Stevenson

Undrafted free agent Freddie Stevenson is the lone wolf at fullback after Paul Lasike was waived. Stevenson served as the lead blocker for All-American running back Dalvin Cook. He had 292 total yards and seven touchdowns with the Seminoles.

RT

Bobby Massie
Tom Compton
Mitchell Kirsch

RG

Kyle Long
Cyril Richardson

C

Cody Whitehair
Hroniss Grasu
Taylor Boggs

LG

Josh Sitton
Eric Kush
Jordan Morgan

LT

Charles Leno Jr.
Bradley Sowell
William Pohels
Joseph Dieugot

If the Bears are fortunate enough to make it through preseason without any key injuries, they will go into Week 1 with all but one — Cody Whithair took over for Ted Larsen in Week 4 — of the same starters that they began 2016 with against the Houston Texans. The Bears have reliable backups in Eric Kush, who could play both guard positions, and veteran Tom Compton. The wildcard on the offensive line is third-year pro and former third-round pick Hroniss Grasu who missed all of 2016 with a torn ACL.

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DEFENSE

DE

Akiem Hicks
Jaye Howard
Mitch Unrein
Jonathan Bullard
C.J. Wilson
Kapron Lewis-Moore
Rashaad Coward

If free agent signing Jaye Howard can rebound from a hip flexor injury that cut his 2016 season short, the Bears could have lethal end duo in Howard and Akiem Hicks (7 sacks in 2016). The Bears also have quality depth in veteran Mitch Unrein and 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard.

DT

Eddie Goldman
John Jenkins

When healthy, Goldman has been a dominating presence on the interior of the Bears defensive line. If Goldman were to miss any time, the Bears have mammoth nose tackle John Jenkins (6-foot-3, 359 pounds), lurking in the background. 

OLB

Pernell McPhee
Leonard Floyd
Willie Young
Lamarr Houston
Sam Acho
Dan Skuta
Roy Robertson-Harris
Hendrick Ekpe
Isaiah Irving

Injuries aside, Leonard Floyd looked every bit the part of a Top 10 pick with seven sacks in his rookie season. Health questions remain, but the Bears have a deep stable of outside linebackers behind Floyd in Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston. The final spot on the 53-man roster could come down to a three-way battle between veterans' Sam Acho and Dan Skuta, and second-year pro Roy Robertson-Harris.

ILB

Jerrell Freeman
Danny Trevathan
Nick Kwiatkoski
Christian Jones
Jonathan Anderson
John Timu
Alex Scearce

Jerrell Freeman, and his No. 1 Pro Football Focus grade, return to anchor the Bears' inside linebacker group. Danny Trevathan's ruptured patellar tendon could cause result in missing the start of training camp. If Trevathan misses any time during the regular season, he'll be replaced in the starting lineup by Nick Kwiatkoski who showed promise in his rookie season. Christian Jones has the edge for a roster spot over Jonathan Anderson and John Timu due to his ability to impact the game on special teams.

CB

Prince Amukamara
Marcus Cooper
​Cre'Von LeBlanc
Kyle Fuller
Bryce Callahan
Sherrick McManis
Johnthan Banks
Rashaad Reynolds
B.W. Webb

The Bears will likely have two new starting cornerbacks in 2017 with free agent acquisitions' Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Both Cre'Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan showed growth in 2016 and could battle it out for the starting nickel corner job. Unless he has a big preseason, former Phil Emery first round pick Kyle Fuller could be the odd man out in the secondary.

FS

Adrian Amos
Eddie Jackson
Deiondre' Hall
DeAndre Houston-Carson

Adrian Amos took a step back in 2016 and will be challenged by fourth-round pick Eddie Jackson for the team's starting free safety position. One intriguing player to watch will be Deiondre' Hall, who is expected to make the switch to safety after playing cornerback during his four years at Northern Iowa and in his rookie season with the Bears.

SS

Quintin Demps
Harold Jones-Quartey
Chris Prosinski
Deon Bush

Free agent signing Quintin Demps will provide a dose of veteran leadership in the Bears secondary. Demps, who turns 32 later this summer, should serve as a stopgap until the Bears find a long-term solution at strong safety. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

K

Andy Phillips
Connor Barth

P

Pat O'Donnell

LS

Patrick Scales

Connor Barth recovered after a shaky start to his Bears career in 2016, but he'll be challenged in camp by undrafted free agent kicker Andy Phillips. A former member of the United States National Ski Team, Phillips converted 84 percent of field goals and missed just one extra point during his time at Utah. If he performs well in preseason, there's a good chance he'll dethrone Barth as the Bears starting kicker due to his age and contract status. As of now, neither Pat O'Donnell nor Patrick Scales have any roster competition to worry about. 

Multiple routes for Mitch Trubisky to Bears starting QB

Multiple routes for Mitch Trubisky to Bears starting QB

Rookie minicamp ended Sunday for the Bears but now a measure of franchise intrigue around Mitch Trubisky starts to build behind the curtain of closed practices. Because the ultimate question about the rookie quarterback now shifts from “how’d he look?” to, with apologies to Mark Sanchez, “who’s better, Mike Glennon or The Kid?” And since all but a few OTA sessions are closed, the answer to any of that is weeks off, maybe months, and it may not be known until starting lineups are actually set.

The Bears are adjusting elements of their quarterback coaching plan for Trubisky, apparent if for no other reason than coaches don’t want to discuss details of whatever. The fact is that over much of the next month or so, Trubisky could astound and even surpass the presumed starter. It’s happened before, although “surprise” wouldn’t quite cover it in this case.

“Really it’s going to start tomorrow,” said coach John Fox on Sunday, the “it” really referring to the bigger picture that Fox is focusing, not just on rookie development. “We’ll spend a little more time with the rookies early in meetings and then we’ll kind of inject them into Phase II of what we’re doing. Obviously we’re not practicing against each other; we can’t do that until Phase III of the OTAs, but there is classroom settings as well as some field time not going against each other.”

The Bears have named Glennon the starter. More than once. But Fox has stated repeatedly what somebody has to be “the starter” at this or any point. He’s demonstrated that depth charts are the definition of “fluid.” Glennon may ultimately be the starter. He and the Bears are certainly planning on it, with Trubisky getting a redshirt year.

But Fox is old school with respect to who plays: not the guy who’ll be better down the road, but the guy who’s better. Present tense. Period. And a core reality here is that Glennon, besides having on-field experience, also knows exactly how the NFL ultimately works – if the coaches think the other guy is better, he plays. If Glennon has a problem with that, you don’t want him anyway.

Trubisky uses the word “competition” even if no one else wants to right now. “We know Mike’s the starter, but competition brings out the best in everyone,” Trubisky said on Friday. “I’m going to come out here and compete. But we know Mike is the starter, so it’s my job to support him and make sure everything I do I can help him as well.”

The NFL, however, is too replete with examples of depth charts being scrambled by rookies. The Bears have been involved in some of those.

Case study: Leonard Floyd

Consider how 2016 unfolded for the Bears and No. 1 pick Leonard Floyd. Not the same position as Trubisky, obviously, but the scenario offered insight into how the Fox staff operates.

Floyd didn’t start until the normally throwaway fourth preseason game but played more than half of Cleveland’s snaps in the game, finishing with three tackles and a quarterback hit. The next time the Bears took the field, Floyd was a starting outside linebacker opposite Willie Young against the Houston Texans on opening day.

Floyd had quietly moved past Sam Acho and Lamarr Houston, who had started in the preseason, at outside linebacker. And while an apparent factor could have been that Pernell McPhee was still in knee rehab, the fact was that Floyd would eventually start five games in which McPhee was active.

So no matter what Fox, GM Ryan Pace, O-coordinator Dowell Loggains or anyone else says at this moment, Trubisky is competing with a chance to become the starter.

Case study: Jack Del Rio-Zach Thomas

Jimmy Johnson in 1996 signed veteran linebacker Jack Del Rio to a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins; that was in early June, more than six weeks after the Dolphins had drafted Zach Thomas in that year’s fifth round. Del Rio had been a Pro-Bowler two years earlier.

One day after the first preseason game, Johnson cut Del Rio, who’d started for Johnson earlier in his career. Asked why the call to go with the rookie, Johnson said simply, “Zach’s better.”

Any more questions? There were none.

Case study: Brian Urlacher

The day after the 2000 draft, then-coach Dick Jauron announced that Brian Urlacher, the team’s No. 1 pick, ninth-overall, was the starting strongside linebacker. It was a decision the staff had to reverse when Urlacher lost the job to a supremely motivated Rosevelt Colvin after just two preseason games. Jauron acknowledged that giving a job to an unproven anybody was a mistake. Opportunity finally came for Urlacher when Barry Minter was injured in a blowout loss at Tampa. Urlacher stepped in at middle linebacker and all went as it should have.

Urlacher hadn’t beaten out Minter when the change came. Players do not lose jobs because of injury. They lose them because the individual who fills in for them turns out to be better than they are. Urlacher made his first start the following week and started a streak with 6 sacks over the next five games.

Case study: Mike Glennon-Jameis Winston

Glennon was the Tampa Bay starter when the Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston No. 1 overall in 2015. At this point of the 2015 offseason, Glennon was still the Tampa Bay starter. Winston was taking No. 2 reps in OTA’s, which for the Bears this year start later this month. Those culminated with the three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

At that point, the Lovie Smith staff had seen what they needed and wanted to: Winston was named the starter going into training camp. A light parallel in Philadelphia last year:

As training camp and preseason were winding along, No. 2-overall pick Carson Wentz was third on the Philadelphia depth chart, behind both Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. The Eagles traded starter Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings and leap-frogged Wentz over Daniel into the No. 1 slot. Who knew?

A qualifier in Winston’s case, besides him being an exceptional student of the game, which there is no reason to suspect that Trubisky is not, was that he also had 27 starts in pro-style offense under coach Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, vs. 13 starts in a spread offense for Trubisky. Wentz’s experience similarly dwarfs Trubisky’s.

No expectation exists that Trubisky will be the Bears’ starting quarterback at any point this season, other than perhaps the starter for the fourth preseason game, which incidentally will be in Soldier Field.

Good seats still available.

Bears looking beyond rookies for defensive boost

Bears looking beyond rookies for defensive boost

With only one 2017 draft choice spent on defense, and that player — Alabama safety Eddie Jackson, fourth round — being held out as part of rehab from a broken leg suffered last October, the defensive report on this weekend’s rookie minicamp would be ... well ... maybe later.

More to the bigger Bears point than the influx of rookies is the virtual tsunami of veteran players that point to likely no fewer than six new starters from the lineup that finished the 2016 season.

The number might have been as high as seven but middle linebacker Danny Trevathan’s return from a ruptured patellar tendon, suffered in the Nov. 27 loss to the Tennessee Titans, is problematic at this point.

“I think that's in question whether he'll be ready [by training camp] at that point,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.

But the defense, which stumbled badly when nose tackle Eddie Goldman was out with an ankle injury, has added two starting cornerbacks – Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper — plus a starting safety – Quintin Demps — and added mass on the defensive line with Jaye Howard and John Jenkins.

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The key, however, projects to be Leonard Floyd, whose otherwise standout rookie season (7 sacks) was hampered by two concussions and a total of four missed games.

“He’s got a foundation of a year behind him, and he was only available about half the time last year,” Fangio said. “He had a bunch of those little injuries that interrupted his progress throughout the season. Hopefully with the year under his belt, getting in better shape, better condition, and take off. If he stays healthy, I feel good about him.

“He had a nice stretch there. I don’t remember the exact games, maybe it was like Game 9-12 where he was practicing and playing and you could see him coming. Then he got dinged twice in the last two games, or the last four games and it interrupted again.”

The Bears did not pick up the fifth-year option on cornerback Kyle Fuller, a distinct longshot after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury and clearly not a favorite of this coaching staff. But Fangio is declaring “competition,” which could give Fuller a shot at restarting a career that has faltered badly.

“Absolutely, I mean, it's wide open,” Fangio said. “I hope to see Kyle healthy and out there running around. Moving like he's 100 percent, and we'll go from there.”