Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the wide receivers

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the wide receivers

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Wednesday's unit: the wide receivers.

1. Kevin White

Need we say more? Okay, we will. Or ... maybe not. You guys are already familiar with the career numbers for the 2015 seventh overall draft pick: Four games played. 28 games missed. 19 catches. 187 yards. Zero touchdowns. Two serious injuries and surgeries on his left fibula. Oh, and he’ll be working with three new quarterbacks and a third wide receivers coach in as many years. That. Is. A. Lot.

“It’s got to happen now,”  White said in June of a potential Bears career crossroads season. “I’ve got to turn it up. So to me, year three, it’s time.”

2. Who gets hot in the slot?

If Cam Meredith and White get through the preseason healthy (and with the Bears the past two seasons, a big “if”), the position battle turns to playing time in the slot, where Eddie Royal was supposed to be the answer in the Ryan Pace/John Fox regime. Ex-Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton was given the sweetest contract of a free agent trip (two years, $11 million, six million guaranteed) and has the most speed. Kendall Wright excelled with a 94-catch season with the Tennessee Titans under Dowell Loggains in 2013, until gradually sinking further into the doghouse. And Victor Cruz has the tape — two great seasons with the New York Giants. But the second of those was five years ago for the now-30-year-old, and he played a total of six games in injury-plagued 2014 and 2015 seasons. If this trio all proves something, and deserving of roster spots, that may only leave Josh Bellamy (who’s proven value on special teams) as the sixth receiver, along with White and Meredith.

"The more routes I run, the more I build a rapport with Mike [Glennon] and get myself out there learning the plays," Cruz said after his signing, "I think I have that potential to be the guy you saw a few years ago.

"We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity," said Wheaton. "A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove."

3. An unexpected, immediate-impact surprise?

Deonte Thompson had 22 catches when pressed into action last season, and has a history with new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni at Florida (2010), but now has competition after a year and a half as the primary kickoff returner. Rueben Randle had a 71-catch season three years ago with the Giants, helping them offset the loss of Cruz, but must overcome a “lazy” reputation after not hooking on with a team at all last season. Daniel Braverman was All-Bourbonnais a year ago, but the seventh-round rookie (and "future Wes Welker") got into only three December games, with zero catches. Wheaton-Warrenville South product Titus Davis (older brother of Titans' 2017 first-round pick Corey Davis) is only 24 and "retired" from New York Jets camp a year ago. A darkhorse (perhaps only for the practice squad) could be undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry, who has size (6-foot-2) and a catch radius after leading the NCAA with 49 deep target throws (22 receptions) from potential top 2018 draft pick Josh Allen at Wyoming last season.

Bears Training Camp Preview: 3 burning questions for the linebackers

Bears Training Camp Preview: 3 burning questions for the linebackers

With training camp starting later this month, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ units heading into Bourbonnais. Today’s group: The linebacking corps.

1. Can Floyd be Beasley 2.0?

At this time a year ago, Falcons fans were anxious that picking Vic Beasley eighth overall in 2015 was a mistake after a four-sack rookie season. Fifteen-and-a-half sacks later on Dan Quinn’s young, fast defense that improved as the season went on, they’re claiming they believed in him all along. There seems to be less doubt about the ninth overall pick from 2016 among Bears fans, but the anxiousness now revolves around Leonard Floyd’s ability to stay healthy for a full season after various aches and pains, topped off by two concussions in five weeks, from which he didn’t fully recover until February.

With approximately eight to 10 additional pounds on his frame, the first step is getting through Bourbonnais and three preseason games. If he can pull it off and miss minimal time, Beasley’s year two numbers might be a bit much, but there’s no reason to think Floyd can’t at least approach it.

“It’s like night and day compared to last season,” said Floyd.  “I’m doing a much better job this year with my weight compared to last year. I came in way, way lighter than I did this year.”

“It slows down, they understand it, they’re not thinking, they’re reacting,” said John Fox about the difference between a player’s rookie and sophomore season. “I expect that, and I’ve seen it already, even in the offseason. He’s a really good talent. I’d rather understate and let him over-produce, but both mentally and physically, he’s gonna take a step.”

[3 burning questions: Defensive line]

2. How much Pernell pacing in practice?

It’s an important year for Ryan Pace’s first big personnel decision. It’s become clear the Ravens chose not to re-sign Pernell McPhee two years ago because of fears about the wear and tear on his legs at the weight he was at. The first half of his first season, McPhee lived up to billing. Since then? Five sacks in 16 games. He seems now to be in the 270-pound range after starting his Bears career in the 280/285-pound range. He’s also coming off labrum surgery, an injury that slowed him once he finally came off the PUP list last season. The important thing will be having him full strength for the season-opening Murderer’s Row in a 19-day span of Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

“Dominate and destroy,” were the words that only McPhee can come up with when asked about the pass rush ceiling for the outside linebackers. “Every opponent that we face, and showing the world why we’ve got these guys in the room. That’s my focus. That’s what I wanna do and I think what we’re gonna do.”

3. “Kwit” a quick study?

It would be shocking if inside linebacker Danny Trevathan doesn’t begin the season on the same Physically Unable to Perform list McPhee started on a year ago after tearing the patellar tendon in his knee in November. Nick Kwiatkowski missed almost all of his rookie preseason with a hamstring pull, but started the last six weeks between Trevathan’s injury and Jerrell Freeman’s suspension. And he didn’t look overwhelmed. Now, potentially alongside Freeman’s standout play and guidance, Kwiatkowski must be ready to slide in and take the next step in a way Fox expressed confidence in all the second-year players.

“He’s trying to absorb a lot of things, trying to get his footwork better, his pass rush better, just like all of us strive to every day,” said Freeman.