Bears Camp Battles to Watch

After one week of training camp, the Chicago Bears' roster is no more settled than it was seven days ago. Bear Report looks at a number of the camp battles currently underway in Bourbonnais.

Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd isn't worried about the competition.

"I feel there is no competition," Hurd said. "I don't worry about competition. My biggest competition is myself. As long as I can go out there and beat myself, or at least try to beat myself, I'll be better every day."

The former-Dallas Cowboys wideout was impressive yesterday in only his third full practice with the team. In a red-zone version of 7-on-7 drills, Hurd made play after play against both the first- and second-team defenses. Many of his catches went for touchdowns. He's trying to separate himself from the rest of the pack.

"You never get enough balls in practice," said Hurd. "As you [can] see, I'm trying to get every ball. I'm [in] the huddle trying to get every ball."

Yet many of those passes have been thrown in the direction of camp star Dane Sanzenbacher. The former-Ohio State receiver isn't an impressive physical specimen (5-11, 182) but he's thoroughly outplayed all the other rookie pass catchers on the roster. Camp bodies Travis Cobb, Jimmy Young, Kris Adams and Andy Fantuz all are on the outside looking in, hoping desperately to somehow sneak onto the roster through special teams. Sanzenbacher has been so impressive in camp up to this point, that he might not only make the roster, he could be a contributor on offense.

Hurd has a tenuous grasp on the team's fifth receiver spot and if he falters at all, Sanzenbacher could possibly leapfrog the six-year veteran. The undrafted rookie has shown outstanding quickness, great route running and solid hands. I haven't seem him drop a catchable pass all camp. He said his biggest challenge has just been learning Mike Martz's offense.

"It's a lot to learn," Sanzenbacher said. "I feel like I'm grasping it more every day. That's all I can really hope to do at this point."

He's had some difficulties with press coverage, often getting stalled at the line by bigger defensive backs, but that's the only knock on Sanzenbacher so far. Hurd is known for his abilities on special teams, so for that reason, he'll most likely earn a roster spot ahead of the rookie.

It's possible, though, the team could decide to keep six receivers on the roster. Sanzenbacher, if he continues to play well, could essentially force the coaching staff into making that decision.


DE Corey Wootton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

-The Bears have two of the most potent defensive ends in the league in Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. Neither is any danger of losing his job.

Behind those two is clear-cut number three Corey Wootton. The second-year player has showed outstanding quickness off the ball, displaying more pass-rush moves than ever before. Wootton has been so impressive that the coaches have inserted him in the starting lineup on occasion.

Yet the fourth defensive ends spot is still up for grabs. Right now, recent-signee Vernon Gholston has been lining up with the second team. He's a quick player off the ball but once he reaches the opposing lineman, he typically becomes a non-factor. Against the run, he disappears. On a few pass rushes against the second team, he has displayed the athleticism that made him a first-round selection in 2008, but for the most part, his performance has been underwhelming.

Gholston is attempting to fend off the charge being made by third-year player Nick Reed. The 6-1, 248-pounder is about two inches shorter and 15 pound lighter than Gholsont. As such, he often has a hard time getting off his blocks once engaged. That said, his spin move might be one of the best in the league. His edge rush isn't all that powerful – he's not strong enough to overpower offensive tackles – but when he uses it to set up his spin move he almost always gets to the quarterback.

He's a bit of a one-trick pony, but that one trick is pretty deadly. If he can be a little more stout against the run, he'll be able to challenge Gholston for the fourth defensive end position.

-Johnny Knox sat out yesterday's practice with lower back stiffness. He's unsure when he'll return, but coach Lovie Smith said it shouldn't be more than a few days.

His absence has opened the door for veteran pass catcher Roy Williams, who had this to say about his competition with Knox for the starting split end position:

"I'm in it. I'm already in it," he said. "No disrespect to Johnny [Knox] or anything but I'm already in [the offense]. Same system, different day."

Williams' familiarity with Martz's system could propel him into the starting lineup. With Devin Hester playing out of his mind so far, and Earl Bennett eating up defenders on underneath routes, Knox would be wise to get on the field as soon as possible.

-Rookie Chris Conte took his first reps with the starters yesterday at free safety. Up to that point, Major Wright had been the only player to line up at deep safety with the first team.

Wright has been solid so far, rarely letting receivers get past him. Yet he has struggled on occasion, sometimes looking a little bit lost against four- and five-receiver sets. He has shown playmaking ability though, recently picking off quarterback Jay Cutler in 11-on-11s and taking it to the house.

"Lot of picks this year for me," Wright said. "Me just staying healthy and being coachable, I can do that."

Yet secondary coach Jon Hoke wouldn't have inserted Conte in with the ones if he wasn't at least curious to see what he can do. With the second team, Conte has been burned deep on a few occasions, but in run support, he's been outstanding. It's all the coaches can do to keep him from hitting people. You can tell he's chomping at the bit to start tackling.

Wright has a pretty secure hold on the starting free safety spot, but if he falters at all, expect the coaches to give Conte a long look.

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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.


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