Beyond kicker, expect few true position ‘battles' at the top of depth charts as Bears training camp '19 unfolds


One standard story line going into NFL training camps is where certain critical battles for positions lie and how those may play out. Some involve rookies vs. vets, others pitting free agents against incumbents. Some involve kickers (insert joke here).

These competitions are the high-interest side of training camp, bearing the weight of starting jobs and sometimes even roster spots.

Not so much this year.

(Other than the kicker situation, of course, which is and has been obvious, but we’ll leave that for its own story, which it is. “That’s going to be an emphasis and focus for us, the kicker position, and there’ll definitely be competition there,” GM Ryan Pace said in a spot of mild understatement as 2018 wrapped up.)

Obviously there will be “competition” – that happens every drill, every practice rep, every session, every camp. And some competitions for backup spots will be gain significance in camp and beyond because injuries thrust backups into bigger roles. Prince Amukamara, Taylor Gabriel, Kyle Long, Allen Robinson, Eddie Jackson, Khalil Mack, Mitchell Trubisky – none started 16 games last year. Amukamara, Long, Robinson, Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan – none played 16 games in 2017. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will open camp on PUP. At some point, No. 2’s will indeed matter, a great deal.

This year a developing offense will be trying to both do the requisite getting-better, and also establish that it belongs on the same field and deserves to be talked of in something close to the superlatives lavished on the defense.

“What I would say is that the 1’s vs. the 1’s is awesome with pads on in training camp,” said coach Matt Nagy. “As long as they stay the heck away from the quarterback, it doesn’t get any better.”

The big-picture pitfall: Complacency

One crucial “battle” for Nagy, coaching staff and a growing number of established stars may be to avoid complacency that can drag down a good team with a lot of secure jobs.

“Once we get to training camp and we put the pads on, we start creating our 2019 identity,” Nagy said, pointing out, “We’re 0-0 [again]. And I know there’s buzz right now around who we are and everything. And I get it. That’s part of it. But we haven’t done anything. And this is a new year.”

Excepting injury factors and a surprise emergence here or there, Bears ’19 position competitions fall generally into two categories: for playing time, rather than one player over another; and for backup jobs. This training camp, however, has next to no true competitions for positions at the top of the depth charts on both sides of the football, for multiple reasons:

  • A 12-4 season, playoff loss notwithstanding, brings with it the obvious fact that the 2019 Bears have many very, very good, young football players, more than a few of them expected to take next steps in their development. “From what we've seen,” Nagy said, “we feel really confident with that group, see a lot of high ceiling with these guys.”


  • The Bears’ starting 22 (23 counting nickel-corner) coming out of 2018 had virtually zero glaring holes, with the possible exception of running back and secondary, and those only by virtue of the fact that the Bears elected not to seriously stay the courses with Jordan Howard, Adrian Amos or Bryce Callahan. The signings of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Buster Skrine addressed the DB situations; more on the RB situation momentarily.


  • Based on what showed during OTA’s and the rest of the pre-camp offseason, a rookie like wideout Riley Ridley will push Taylor Gabriel; Duke Shelley will be in the discussion at nickel-corner where Skrine starts with a vet edge.

But those “competitions” may not come to full flower until much later; 2018 rookie fifth-round’er Bilal Nichols, for example, was down the depth chart at defensive tackle through preseason, was inactive for game one, but a starting defensive end by game seven.

  • The Bears, like much of the NFL, rely on rotations, some situational, some by design, some out of necessity (injury). Quarterback, offensive line, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety are the only positions involved in little to no situational rotations. Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks were the only down-D-linemen to start all 16 games in 2018. Khalil Mack, arriving in Chicago late via his trade, didn’t start week one, and with the exception of the Arizona game, didn’t start topping 90 percent of snaps played until game 10.

Consider running back: In Nagy’s final four seasons under Andy Reid in Kansas City, no ostensibly No. 1 running back garnered as much as 65 percent of the snaps – not Jamaal Charles (64.5 percent), not Charcandrick West (49.6), not Spencer Ware (53.2), not Kareem Hunt (64.8). Howard started 15 of 16 games last season, yet played barely 58 percent of Bears snaps.

So now, in Nagy’s second camp and beyond, it will be less rookie tailback David Montgomery OR Mike Davis than it will be Montgomery AND Davis, with measures of Tarik Cohen mixed in. The “competition” will be more for carries, not a classic starting job.

“When [Montgomery] gets the chance to get that football, he sprints through that hole, he makes some cuts, makes some moves and he’s gone,” Nagy said. “So working protections, working some free releases for him in the backfield, he’s got really good hands, which we knew. We’ll be excited. It’s like you’ve got to contain yourself until you get to training camp when you’re really rolling.”

  • The Bears did not have first- or second-round draft choices, the ones typically bringing in immediate-impact additions or at least major competition for incumbents. Leonard Floyd (1), Eddie Goldman (2), Roquan Smith (1), Cody Whitehair (2) – all were starting by game two of their rookie seasons. Anthony Miller (2) played more than half the snaps opening day.

Camps typically do produce a surprise or two, and, repeating, injuries can scramble the best laid plans for rosters and depth charts. And position changes could create competition, with an edge linebacker like Aaron Lynch perhaps moving to a defensive-end spot and vying with Nichols, Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, for instance.

A selected history of significant camp competitions

All of that said, position competitions have developed, with very significant ripple effects for the immediate season and beyond:

Year Pos.          The Contestants


2018 LG             Eric Kush vs. James Daniels

Resolution: Kush went through camp as the starter, and Daniels, the first of two No. 2 Bears draftees, was unable to unseat him in the course of switching from center at Iowa to guard in the NFL. After the loss at New England, Daniels was elevated to starting and the Bears won nine of their next 10.


2018 ILB            Nick Kwiatkoski vs. Roquan Smith

 Resolution: Smith, the eighth-overall pick of the draft, effectively missed most of camp and all of preseason. Kwiatkoski performed well and kept the job through week one but Smith flashed coming off the bench and earned the job alongside Danny Trevathan.


2017 QB            Mike Glennon vs. Mitch Trubisky

Resolution: Glennon was handed the No. 1 spot along with his guaranteed $18.5 million. Trubisky made it a competition when he outplayed Glennon through camp and preseason, beginning with 10 straight completions the first time he stepped on an NFL field (in preseason). The tossup decision on opening-day starter was to stay with Glennon, but four games into the season, Trubisky claimed the job.


2017 NCB Bryce Callahan vs. Cre’Von LeBlanc

Resolution: The Bears need both in ’16 but added Prince Amurkamara in ’17 besides anticipating a healthy Kyle Fuller. Callahan edged LeBlanc in the battle for No. 3 corner and played his way into a major free-agent deal last offseason.

And looking a bit further back at some epic camp competitions:


2006 RB            Cedric Benson vs. Thomas Jones

Resolution: A contentious situation, exacerbated by Benson’ protracted rookie-contract impasse, ended with Jones being the featured back in ’05 and was pushed to the best year of his first nine seasons. Jones then held out for a trade pre-’06, made a conditional agreement to stay, and held off Benson through camp and the season, then getting his exit visa via trade to the Jets.


2000 SLB          Rosevelt Colvin vs. Brian Urlacher

Resolution: Urlacher was announced on draft day as Colvin’s replacement as the strong-side starter. By mid-preseason the mistake was apparent and Colvin was returned to his rightful spot. Urlacher dropped in as Barry Minter’s MLB understudy, stepped in when Minter injured his back in week two, and did OK.


1999 C               Olin Kreutz vs. Casey Wiegmann

Resolution: A competition that the players detested because each knew they both were good enough to start in the NFL. After a quirky preseason with the two alternating by quarter, Kreutz emerged as the starter. Wiegmann would start 10 games in ’00 either at guard or center when Kreutz was out injured. Wiegmann went on to a distinguished career, including a Pro Bowl selection, with Kansas City and Denver.

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