NFL clubs always want to have competitive situations in training camp at each position group. That makes each group better, as the players involved have to work that much harder in order to make the 53-man roster.
Clubs almost always go into camp with a thought of who may be part of their final 53, but that almost always changes as player competitions develop and with injuries to players who were thought to have a good chance of making the roster. Rosters seldom turn out to be the way decision makers thought they would be in July.
That all being said, there are a few position groups within the Bears roster that should include particularly interesting camp battles. One thing to remember, though, is it’s not always about who the best five or six players are as far as playing the position. Other things are taken into consideration — including special teams play, practice habits and how the player can learn and retain in the classroom. We often don’t know the answer to many of these things, as we aren’t privy to what goes on in the weight room or meeting room.
Looking at the roster now, I can see a few positions where the battles for a place on the squad will be hotly contested.
As the roster now stands, there are currently 12 players competing for what should be six roster spots: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Tanner Gentry, Cyril Grayson, Marvin Hall, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Riley Ridley and undrafted free agents Thomas Ives and Emanuel Hall.
Right off the bat we know that Robinson, Gabriel, Miller, Patterson and Ridley will be part of the team. That’s five players, likely leaving seven more to compete for one spot. That could change a little as Patterson is a “gadget player” who can also play running back and is one of the NFL's better kickoff returners.
Javon Wims had a strong preseason last year and looked good when used in the later part of his 2018 rookie campaign. He had four receptions in the final game of the 2018 regular season, when the starters were rested. Now in his second year on the roster, Wims should show great improvement in his play. What hurts him is, to date, he hasn’t shown that he can be a special teams contributor.
Marvin Hall was signed as an unrestricted free agent in March. He has great speed but hasn’t had much production as a receiver. Where he shines is as a cover guy on special teams. If he continues that strong special teams play this coming preseason, he will be difficult to cut.
Undrafted free agent Emanuel Hall might be the Bears fastest receiver, having timed 4.39 at the Combine. Hall is a legitimate deep threat but didn’t show a consistent toughness at Missouri. If he wants to earn a spot on this roster, Hall must become a tougher, more physical player and show the coaches that he can contribute on special teams. If he can’t, he is destined to be on the practice squad.
Following the 2018 season the Bears signed Jordan WIlliams-Lambert, who played his college football at Ball State. He spent 2018 in the Canadian League, where the big, physical receiver (6’3 – 225) had 62 receptions and four touchdowns and performed on special teams. He can’t be looked at as a “camp body,” as he is serious contender for a roster spot.
What it means is that Wims, Hall, Emanuel and Williams-Lambert could all be competing for the final WR roster spot in a battle could be among the highlights of training camp.
Like with wide receiver, the Bears could keep as many as six corners on the final roster. At minimum it would be five, so the sixth spot has to be a player who can perform on teams.
Right now, we know the fixtures are Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara as the starting outside players. The slot corner will be UFA signee Buster Skrine. After that it will get interesting. Sherrick McManis has been a mainstay on the roster for several years because of his special teams play. He also held his own when he had to play as the slot corner last year after Bryce Callahan went down with an injury. For someone to beat out McManis, that player has to prove his worth in several ways.
Kevin Toliver made the Bears roster last year as an undrafted free agent and showed upside. He has ideal size at 6’2 – 195, as well as speed and quickness. He started one game when Amukamara was hurt — and played well — so that speaks well for his future.
Another undrafted free agent last year was Michael Joseph from Division-III Dubuque College. Joseph played in the Senior Bowl a year ago, so he wasn’t exactly an unknown but was very raw. He flashed in training camp to the point where some felt he could make the roster. With a year to learn, he is now ready to compete and has the natural physical traits to be a competent corner in the NFL. He is 6’1 – 190 with 4.48 speed and a huge amount of natural athleticism, so he can’t be counted out.
This year the Bears drafted two corners late. Duke Shelley from Kansas State has excellent tape, but that he is 5085 – 173 means his play could be limited inside to the slot. He shows superb toughness on tape, so that should translate well to being a solid special teams player.
Stephen Denmark from Valdosta State has rare corner size (6024 – 220) with great speed and explosiveness. He is easily the rawest defender on the roster, but he showed on tape that he is a very physical player who is capable of making big hits. While he may be a year away from playing at corner, he looks like he can be a potential terror on special teams.
What it gets down to is four players competing for the final two spots. If someone is to beat out McManis, that player has to be outstanding on special teams, where he is one of the best in the League. Toliver, Joseph, Shelley and Denmark will all get their chance, but can they actually beat out McManis?