For more than a month now the Chicago Bears have been conducting their offseason activities. It started with rookie minicamp, was followed by organized team activities (OTAs) and finished this week with three straight days of veteran minicamp.
In the past five weeks, Bear Report has been privy to nine practices, giving us a firm grasp on the roster as it currently stands. We're just six weeks away from training camp, which leads into the preseason and then the regular season. In the blink of an eye, 2012 NFL football will be upon us.
For now though, let's take a look at the winners and losers for the Bears during the recent offseason practices.
CB Tim Jennings
CB Tim Jennings
Jennings, a starting cornerback for the club the past two seasons, was informed before the start of OTAs that he'll once again have to earn his job this year. He's competing with veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite, as well as rookies Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy. Apparently, that has lit a fire under Jennings, who was outstanding the past three days. He made a number of very impressive defensive plays, including a pair of picks off Jay Cutler during Wednesday's session. Jennings obviously isn't ready to hand over his starting role and was the MVP of veteran minicamp.
WR Eric Weems
Weems was signed this offseason mainly for his ability as a return man. Yet he did very well the past few weeks as a wide receiver and has a firm grasp on the No. 4 receiver spot. Currently, he's the first player to rotate in with the starters. He excels out of the slot, where he can take full advantage of his quickness. Weems has just 25 career receptions in his five years in the NFL, so he's not going to set the world on fire as a pass catcher, but he should be a contributor this year on offense, as well as on special teams.
LB Dom DeCicco
A former strong safety in college, DeCicco is still learning the linebacker position, but he's catching on quickly. The former undrafted free agent took numerous reps with the first time at middle linebacker in place of the injured Brian Urlacher. DeCicco is also a member of every special teams unit. As he develops into his position, gaining valuable experience in the process, his role on this team will continue to grow. His athleticism and intelligence could keep him in a Bears uniform for many years to come.
CB Greg McCoy
McCoy, the team's seventh round draft choice this year, has been working with the second team at cornerback alongside Kelvin Hayden. Typically, Jonathan Wilhite runs with the twos, but he missed all of minicamp with a leg injury. As such, McCoy – and not Isaiah Frey, the team's sixth rounder this season – has been elevated to primary backup. McCoy is also an accomplished kick returner, which will go a long way toward his chances of making the 53-man roster this year.
WR Alshon Jeffery
WR Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery practiced only briefly during Wednesday's session and was seen limping afterward. Otherwise, he hasn't practiced since the second week of OTAs. Rookie receivers in general take a while to transition from college to the NFL. Jeffery spending the majority of this offseason so far on the sidelines is setting him back and has buried him on the depth chart. He'll have to be outstanding in training camp if he's to challenge for significant playing time this year.
QB Jason Campbell
GM Phil Emery touted Campbell's arm strength after signing him as a free agent this offseason. Yet Campbell has yet to show any zip on his passes. More concerning is his tendency toward the check down pass, and even more troubling is his inaccuracy downfield. Campbell is working his way into a brand new system, so we'll give him a pass for his poor performances the past five weeks. But if this carries over into camp, it'll be cause for concern.
WR Dane Sanzenbacher
At times, Sanzenbacher can look like one of the best receivers on the team. Yet those occasions are few and far between. He runs good routes and knows how to get open but his inconsistent hands are maddening. It does no good to create separation from defenders if you can't hang on to the ball. He'll need to vastly improve over the next few months if he's going to make the team this season.
The draft picks
McCoy was the only Bears draft pick this week to make any noise in regard to the depth chart. The remaining five selections are all buried on the depth chart. First-round defensive end Shea McClellin took occasional reps with the backups but spent most of his time with the third team. Third-round safety Brandon Hardin is the primary backup at free safety but mainly because the team has no other options. Fourth-round tight end Evan Rodriguez has demonstrated great hands but he's currently the team's No. 4 tight end. And sixth rounder Isaiah Frey has been leapfrogged by McCoy at cornerback. The coaches obviously are going to make each of these rookies earn their playing time.
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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.