Tomorrow afternoon, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., the Chicago Bears will conduct practice under the glaring eyes of the media. Bear Report will be front and center on the sidelines of the practice fields at Halas Hall. Here are five questions we'll be looking to answer.
Last week, Brian Urlacher, Johnny Knox, Kellen Davis, Gabe Carimi, Kelvin Hayden and Patrick Mannelly were held out due to injury. Besides Knox, all are expected to be ready to go come training camp, yet time off now could affect how the roster shakes out down the line.
This is especially so for Hayden, a veteran cornerback that is being challenged by fellow veteran Jonathan Wilhite, and the two rookie corners Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy, for a roster spot. Frey has been fairly impressive throughout offseason activities so far. Hayden, recovering from an ankle injury, needs to get back on the field as soon as possible if he's going to secure a role on this team.
Has the left-tackle situation changed?
Last week, J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams rotated evenly at left tackle. During walkthroughs and 11-on-11 drills, Webb started out with the first team for a few plays before being replaced by Williams. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice then switched the guys back and forth every three-or-so plays.
It appeared Webb was the starter, with Williams challenging. If Williams comes out with the first team to start the drills, it could signal a changing of the guard.
WR Alshon Jefferybr>Jerry Lai/US Presswire/font>
We'll be watching Tice closely as he evaluates the competition currently underway at left tackle, to see if we can glean anything from his on-field time with the two players.
Will Alshon Jeffery stand out?
Last week, rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery was fairly non-existent throughout the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice. He's working with the second team right now but got quite a few reps with the ones as well. Chicago's coaches want Jeffery to be a starter opposite Brandon Marshall but aren't not willing to hand the youngster the position.
Instead, Jeffery must beat out incumbent starter Devin Hester. As usual, Hester looked great in shorts last week, while Jeffery struggled. It was only the first week of practice but if Jeffery is going to crack the starting lineup this year, he'll need to quickly refine his route running and be a playmaker in the active portions of practice.
Who has stepped up at linebacker?
It's unlikely Urlacher will be practicing before the start of training camp. Last week, in his place, Dom DeCicco got the majority of first-team reps. Patrick Trahan also saw time at MLB with the ones.
DeCicco put on weight this offseason and has an opportunity to claim a backup role this year. He's a former collegiate strong safety, so this is only his second year learning his new position. Right now is his time to further his grasp of Chicago's defense.
To be fair, if Urlacher misses time this year, the Bears will likely slide Nick Roach inside and start Geno Hayes on the strong side. Yet DeCicco, if he continues to improve, could end up being a long-term option at the position.
Has the secondary improved?
Last week, the offense torched the defense during 7-on-7s for most of the afternoon. Typically, Chicago's defense has the leg up early in camp, as they basically run the same system year after year.
Yet the passing offense, which is undergoing a transition under Tice, consistently beat out the secondary. D.J. Moore was excused last week for personal reasons, which forced Tim Jennings inside on nickel downs. Jennings struggled some in the slot, where he's not accustomed to playing. Getting Moore back should help shore up the cornerback play.
The safeties were also mistake prone last Wednesday. Starters Major Wright and Chris Conte both allowed a number of deep passes down the middle of the field. With the second team, rookie Brandon Hardin is still getting comfortable with his new role at free safety, playing alongside Craig Steltz.
In 2011, the weakness of the defense was in the secondary. Last week's session did nothing to make me believe those issues have been resolved.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and 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.