By Jordan Gallup
Less than six weeks from the start of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, here’s a look at the Chicago Bears’ strengths and weaknesses in terms of position groups, ranked from best to worst:
1. WIDE RECEIVER
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the top receiving duo in the NFL and have been training Marquess Wilson all offseason. They should be able to do great things this year.
Kyle Long and Matt Slauson played great last year. Long made the pro bowl as a rookie, but Slauson actually had a better season and the Bears rewarded him with a contract extension.
Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller will all be on the field together a lot this year. Add in Kelvin Hayden and Isaiah Frey, who have a lot of game experience, and as long as they can stay healthy, cornerback should be a strength in 2014.
4. DEFENSIVE END
From Shea McClellin, Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers to Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, Phil Emery turned a weakness into a strength just like he has with the wide receiver position and the offensive line.
5. RUNNING BACK
Matt Forte is a durable, do-it-all running back. Throughout the years, his backups have been overpaid runners past their prime: Kevin Jones, Marion Barber and Michael Bush. The Bears finally used a draft pick on a No. 2 RB in Ka’Deem Carey, who had a great college career but not the fastest 40 time.
Another year with head coach Marc Trestman and all 10 other starters back on offense, Jay Cutler is primed to have his best season yet.
7. DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Henry Melton is gone, but Jeremiah Ratliff, Nate Collins and Stephen Paea are all back and should be healthy. Add in rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton and possibly Houston moving inside for passing downs. Defensive tackle should be much improved from last year.
8. OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Jermon Bushrod isn’t Joe Thomas, but he’s still an improvement from J’Marcus Webb and Frank Omiyale. Jordan Mills should play better and be more consistent this year. Eben Britton is nice to have as a swing tackle and backup as well.
9. TIGHT ENDS
Martellus Bennett is a very good player and should have a good season. He is huge mismatch and can take advantage of having Marshall and Jeffery on the outside. But after him, there are major questions.
Lance Briggs has slowed a little, but is still a good player and leader. MLB and SLB might be a problem, though. DJ Williams needs to stay healthy. McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene all have potential, but there are still a lot of questions. It will be interesting to see how Christian Jones does in training camp.
Roberto Garza has had a very solid career, but he is 35 years old. Brian de la Puente was a great signing. He’s 29 and has played for offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. This will be a camp battle to keep an eye on.
The Bears chose to spend most of the offseason money on the defensive line rather to splurge on Jairus Byrd, TJ Ward or Donte Whitner. Major Wright is gone, and the Bears signed Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and drafted Brock Vereen in the fourth round. Chris Conte and Craig Steltz are back, but both safety spots will be up for grabs at training camp.