Photos from the Bears’ OTA practice at Halas Hall on May 30, 2017.
The Tribune’s Brad Biggs answers your questions weekly.
Which training camp battles will be the best? Wide receivers, running backs or tight ends? — @brandonmoss587
There will be two types of training camp battles going on as I see it. There will be a couple battles for starting positions and then there will be battles at the bottom of the roster for positions on the 53-man roster. I’m not blown away by the Bears’ collection of wide receivers at this point. It looks like there will be some competition and adding a veteran like Victor Cruz creates an interesting scenario in the slot where Kendall Wright figures to compete. Both of those players have lined up on the outside but people I talk to believe they’re both best on the inside. I don’t know that a battle between running backs like Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and perhaps guys like Benny Cunningham and Joel Bouagnon is something to get really excited about. The Bears didn’t use their No. 2 back a lot last year. The tight end situation is a little intriguing. I think one of the most interesting battles will be for the nickel cornerback slot between Cre’Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan. Both have experience playing for the coaching staff and are ideally best suited for a role on the inside.
Do you think the Bears are a sleeper to be a playoff contender ? — @Greatnxss
From the context that I don’t think anyone seriously considers them to be a postseason contender, I suppose you could make the case they are a sleeper. You see new playoff teams emerge from nowhere almost every season in the NFL and I think you could make a case the Falcons were a team along those lines last year when they went from 8-8 in 2015 to the Super Bowl this past season. The Bears have been backtracking the last few years and the 3-13 finish in 2016 was their worst record in a 16-game season. To make the playoffs, they will likely have to be seven games better than that. You’re talking about a huge jump for a team that has a new quarterback and one that inevitably will probably lose playing time at some point to first-round draft pick Mitch Trubisky. I have questions about their ability to rush the passer on a consistent basis. I’m not sure who is going to be the go-to player in the red zone for an offense that has struggled to get into the end zone. The Bears have lacked big play ability in special teams as well. The schedule for the first month of the season looks daunting. If John Fox can guide this team to the playoffs, it will make for a heck of a story and be as or more surprising as the turnaround the Bears had in 2001 under Dick Jauron when he was viewed as a lame duck coach and the team went 13-3 and won the NFC Central.
We read a lot about 40 times during the pre-draft process but nothing after. I’m sure teams continue to time 40s. Do you ever get info about whether a guy is slowing down? For example, does Kevin White still run a 4.3? — @whaas17
I have never heard of teams using the stop watch to time players in the 40-yard dash after they have been acquired. The only time it happens, from what I have heard, is when a team brings a player in for a workout. If a player has been injured or if there is concern he could be out of shape, the team may ask him to complete a timed run as part of the evaluation. Former Tribune contributor Matt Bowen once told me the only time he ran a 40-yard dash after he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams (one pick ahead of Tom Brady in the 1999 draft) was when the Packers brought him in for a workout after he’d been released. Later in his career, after the Redskins had released him, Bowen’s agent told him he had a standing offer from the Raiders. If Bowen went to Oakland and ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, the Raiders would sign him without a workout. That never happened. The Bills hired some coaches that Bowen had a relationship with and he wound up going to Buffalo. White’s timed speed isn’t an issue. It’s about functional playing speed and that comes down to precise route running. When it comes to defensive backs like Bowen, it’s not about timed speed when they’re in the NFL. It’s about the ability to turn and run and cover.
So last season Ryan Pace waives a fullback and then brings him back. Think this one will be a keeper? He’s only 25? — @R4one
The Bears moved fullback Paul Lasike, a former New Zealand rugby star, back and forth between the 53-man roster and practice squad last season and eventually decided to table that experiment when they parted ways with him after the season. The team claimed Michael Burton off waivers from the Lions on Wednesday and he’s now the second fullback on the 90-man roster along with Freddie Stevenson, an undrafted rookie free agent from Florida State. Burton was drafted in the fifth round out of Rutgers in 2015 but the Lions slowly phased out the position in the offense last year. Burton was a pretty good blocker as a rookie and was a fit for what the team wanted to do under offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. After Lombardi was fired, Burton was still used by new play caller Jim Bob Cooter but Burton’s playing time dwindled in the second half of last season and he got only six offensive snaps in the final six games. Detroit waived him to make room for former Vikings running back Matt Asiata. Burton is a solid blocker and if he’s on the 46-man game day roster, he will certainly have a role on special teams. If the Bears are intent on keeping a fullback this season, I think Burton has a real shot at sticking. Let’s see what unfolds during training camp.