-Throughout the offseason, there was a lot of talk regarding the Chicago Bears' needs at the wide receiver position. Most fans, analysts and experts believed the club needed a big pass catcher to serve as the No. 1 wideout. Coach Lovie Smith stated as much during the offseason. The front office obviously agreed, signing former Cowboys receiver Roy Williams within the first few days of free agency.
Yet after seven days of practices, Devin Hester has outshined all other receivers on the team. He is the fastest player on the field at all times and he looks extremely fluid in and out of his cuts. Starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have been burned repeatedly by Hester during 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. He's making the routine catches, the catches in traffic and the spectacular, diving grabs.
There is still the chance the team will limit his offensive reps during games, to save him a bit for his duties as a punt returner. Yet it's going to be hard to keep him off the field if he continues at his current pace. After four years as a wide receiver in the NFL, he seems to have figured out what it takes to succeed at the position. Even in a reduced role, it looks like he'll be as deadly a weapon as he's ever been on offense.
-The offensive line still has a long way to go. Rookie Gabe Carimi was inserted at right tackle on Day 2, where he's stayed since. Carimi played left tackle his four seasons at Wisconsin and his transition to the right side has been rough. Defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije have worked him over consistently. It's going to take some time for him to learn the new position, but he's slowly getting better. The opportunity to play against two of the best in practice every day will serve him well come game time.
J'Marcus Webb, last year's starter at right tackle, was shifted to left tackle, where he played in college. He's performed respectably so far in 11-on-11 drills, holding his own on most plays against the edge rushers. Webb stated during the offseason he wanted to play the left side. After the former seventh-round pick was thrown into the fire as a rookie, he doesn't look intimidated by his new duty as Jay Cutler's blindside protector.
Roberto Garza has taken almost every snap with the first team at center. He's been serviceable at the position, yet can be overpowered in the middle. His transition time from snap to defender needs to be quicker or he'll continue to get pushed around. That said, it's likely he'll shift back to right guard, where he's started the last six seasons, once recent-addition Chris Spencer gets up to speed with the team. The six-year veteran, and former first-round pick, was brought in to replace the departed Olin Kreutz and will most likely be inserted in the middle of the line sometime this week.
Lance Louis has served as the right guard and has performed well over the first week. During team drills, line coach Mike Tice has consistently sung his praises. If Garza is shifted to right guard, Louis may swing to left guard, where Chris Williams has been miserable. His technique at guard is very inconsistent and he often loses leverage to shorter defensive tackles. He's built more like an offensive tackle and lacks the adequate upper-body strength to fend off bull rushers. On more than one occasion, he's been dropped flat on his back by one of the defensive tackles. He'll need to quickly figure things out if he's going to be relied on to protect Cutler in the passing game.
-Chester Taylor has a tenuous grasp on a roster spot right now. After the team gave him a hefty contract last offseason, he rewarded them with rushing average of 2.4 yards – the lowest of any NFL running back with more than 100 carries since the merger. He has looked decent so far in practice but Matt Forte looks outstanding. Taylor won't supplant the incumbent.
The front office brought in former Cowboys running back Marion Barber from free agency this week, adding more speculation as to Taylor's future with the team. In just one practice, Barber showed his value to the club as a short-yardage back. In 9-on-7 drills – basically just full-contact running drills – Barber was exploding into people, buckling the legs of defensive end Vernon Gholston on one play. Last season, the Bears were miserable around the goal line. With Barber on the roster, that shouldn't be a problem.
-The two starting defensive tackle spots are up for grabs. Before free agents were allowed to practice, Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina were running with the first team, backed up by Tank Tyler and rookie Stephen Paea. Yet on Thursday, Anthony Adams and Amobi Okoye were thrown into the mix.
Adams and Melton were paired as starters. The duos of Toeaina and Paea, and Tyler and Okoye, rotated in with the second team.
Melton packed on 15 pounds over the offseason yet still shows all the explosiveness he did as a slimmer defensive end last year. He's first in line for the starting three-technique spot. Paea doesn't get a lot of penetration when rushing the passer but he's almost impossible to move, which means he's probably better suited to play the nose tackle. Tyler has been very impressive so far, showing a good blend of interior power and quickness. He's likely the first player out right now but he's practice-squad material at the very least, and could perform well if called into duty.
-The backend of the defensive secondary has been sharp so far. Chris Harris has switched back to strong safety, where he's more comfortable and has more experience, after manning the free safety position last year. That spot is currently occupied by second-year player Major Wright, who has been solid up to this point. He's been beat a couple times deep but has also showed good awareness and seems comfortable covering the deep half. Wright breaks hard on balls, which could prove costly with receivers who use double moves, but his aggressiveness did earn him a pick-six off of Cutler in 11-on-11s.
The starting cornerback position opposite stalwart Charles Tillman is still up for grabs, but no one seems to want it. Last year's starter Tim Jennings is running with the first team but he's been eaten up by Hester and Johnny Knox all camp. Behind him, neither Joshua Moore nor Zack Bowman, who are both athletically superior, has showed enough to supplant Jennings. D.J. Moore is the starting nickelback but has been inconsistent as well. One of these players needs to step up and claim the starting position if the Bears are going to have any chance against the passing attack of the Green Bay Packers.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.