Last summer, the Bears had position battles at almost every position during training camp. That's the reality of a rebuilding team ahead of a teardown campaign.
But things are much different this go around. Head coach Matt Eberflus has been clear that the large injection of talent this offseason has given the Bears a lot of roster clarity heading into training camp. Most of the training camp battles will take place at the backend of the Bears' roster.
However, there are three notable position battles taking place at Halas Hall during training camp. With the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, here's a brief check-in on where those battles stand after 11 training camp practices.
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Tyrique Stevenson vs. Terell Smith
This is a competition we didn't really see coming. Smith missed all of the offseason program with an injury while Stevenson quickly rose up the "reps chart" to take the second boundary corner snaps opposite Jaylon Johnson.
But when asked about Stevenson at the end of mandatory minicamp, Eberflus started talking about Smith, who he wanted to see more of during training camp.
Smith and Stevenson have split first-team reps throughout the first two weeks of camp. Both rookies have good and bad on their ledger through 11 practices.
Stevenson has taken a lot of reps against wide receiver DJ Moore in individual work and held his own against the Bears' top target. Smith, meanwhile, has found himself matched up against Moore in individuals while getting a lot of time against Chase Claypool in team drills.
Both Stevenson and Smith have been around the ball a ton and turned the ball over.
At the moment, I will give the slight edge to Smith because I think his man coverage has been stickier, and he has seemed more comfortable in zone coverage.
I think Stevenson has been more up and down than Smith.
Tuesday's practice was a great example. With Smith not participating due to a minor injury, Stevenson got all the first-team reps. He made a terrific leaping interception on a pass to Claypool along the left sideline. The coverage was impeccable, and he did an excellent job boxing Claypool out and high-pointing the ball.
But Stevenson also gave up a third-and-18 in the "win the game" drill at the end and surrendered several catches to Moore.
While I think Smith has a 51-49 edge right now, availability is important. If Smith continues to miss practice, Stevenson will secure the job.
Edge: Even (lean Smith)
Khalil Herbert vs. D'Onta Foreman
We talked a lot about this being a three-horse race during the summer, with rookie Roschon Johnson also factoring into the equation. But Johnson has missed a few practices and has run almost exclusively with the second-team offense during team drills.
It has been an even 50-50 split between Herbert and Foreman with the first team.
While Herbert has been solid through 11 practices, Foreman has been noticeably more effective in the run and pass game.
Foreman runs with great physicality, vision, and wiggle. Since the pads have come on, the Bears' ground attack has been more explosive when Foreman is in the backfield. More importantly, Foreman has been very good as a pass-catcher in the screen game and on swing and sneak routes. The Bears want their running backs to be reliable targets for quarterback Justin Fields, and Foreman has exceeded expectations in that regard.
The Bears will give Herbert every chance to win the job, but their offense might be in a better spot with Foreman leading the way and Herbert serving as a change-of-pace back with home-run potential.
Jack Sanborn vs. Noah Sewell
Eberflus said the starting SAM linebacker job would be Jack Sanborn's to lose in training camp. The Bears wanted to see if Sewell, a fifth-round draft pick out of Oregon, could push the second-year linebacker.
Unfortunately for Sanborn, he has missed a chunk of camp after leaving the first padded practice with what looked to be an ankle injury. Sanborn went on IR at the end of last season with an ankle injury.
Sanborn returned to practice Tuesday but was limited.
Sewell, meanwhile, has vacuumed up all the first-team reps. The physical, explosive downhill backer has impressed T.J. Edwards with his quick growth in the system.
“He’s a physical dude," Edwards said of Sewell on Tuesday. "He’s a big dude. He’s very athletic as well. Just kind of working with him. He understands the game, he understands what his responsibilities are in the plays, and a guy who is just a football player, man. He finds the ball. He’s powerful.
“Understanding the playbook is one thing when you’re doing it on paper," Edwards said later of Sewell. "It’s a little bit easier. But once you get out there and the bullets are flying, that’s when it gets difficult, and the biggest thing you see with him is just trusting it — him having the confidence in what he’s doing to go out there and execute and make plays, man. He’s making a lot of plays right now."
Sanborn is an intelligent linebacker who is a tackling machine. But he doesn't have the elite athleticism or blitzing ability that Sewell does. The Oregon product has shown great instincts against the run and the pass. He has been effective as a blitzer and has not been a liability in pass coverage.
With Sanborn still working his way back, Sewell appears to have at least pulled even, if not ahead, in the battle for the starting SAM spot.