Chicago Bears 2012 training camp is less than a month away. The first practice will take place Thursday, July 26, exactly 28 days from now.
This year's three-week session will feature numerous roster battles, more so than in a typical year for a couple of reasons.
First, this is truly a win-or-go-home season for coach Lovie Smith. He not only needs to make the playoffs in 2012 – something he's accomplished just once since the team made the Super Bowl in 2006 – but he'll need to fare well in the postseason if he's going to be around next year. As such, he'll want to make sure he has the absolute best 53 players on his roster, regardless of their history with the team.
The second reason is because of new GM Phil Emery, who has no ties to any of the players on the current roster, outside of the six he just drafted. Other than that, Emery is looking at this team with fresh eyes and won't be afraid to make any necessary cuts.
The vast majority of Emery's offseason acquisitions were signed for just one year, meaning most of the players on this team will have to play their way into a long-term deal. Emery is keeping his options open and could completely overhaul the roster next year. So training camp this year will be crucial for those players hoping to be around in 2013 and beyond.
DE Corey Wootton
For those reasons, there should be heated battles taking place on the practice fields throughout the club's time in Bourbonnais. Bear Report offers the first in our "camp competition" series, breaking down the upcoming battle between defensive ends Corey Wootton and Chauncey Davis for the fourth and final DE spot on the 2012 roster.
The case for Wootton
As he neared the end of his junior season at Northwestern, folks were talking about Wootton as a potential first-round selection in the 2009 draft. He subsequently tore up his knee in the Alamo Bowl that year, an injury from which it took him more than a year to recover.
The Bears snagged him in the fourth round in 2010, hoping he could move past the knee ailment and reach his potential. During camp last offseason, it appeared Wootton had turned the corner and was as explosive as any edge rusher on the team. Yet he again busted up his knee in the first preseason game and, when he returned six weeks later, immediately broke his hand.
Wootton's entire career has been marred by injury. If he can stay healthy, his natural talents could take over and allow him to be the player many feel he can be, which is a potential force off the edge as a pass rusher. Wootton told Bear Report he currently feels 100 percent, as healthy as he's been since 2008. The kid deserves one more full season to prove his value to this organization.
The case for Davis
The Atlanta Falcons released Davis in early 2011, the team for which he was drafted and where he spent his first six years in the NFL. He sat at home until Week 11, when the Bears signed him. He played well down the stretch in a part-time role, picking up nine tackles and a sack over the club's final six contests.
Davis does not provide consistent pressure off the edge and has earned more than one sack in a single season just twice during his career. In his six and a half years in the NFL, he has just 11.0 total sacks. Expecting him to be a formidable pass rusher at this point in his career is asking too much.
Yet Davis is very strong against the run. He can definitely fill the role of a situational run stopper off the edge. On top of that, he's never missed a game in his career, so durability is not an issue. Although he's unspectacular, he's an experienced, reliable defensive end who will make a solid addition to the defensive-line rotation.
Predicting the winner
This battle will come down to Wootton's health. First and foremost, the Bears want a defensive end than can get pressure on the quarterback. When he's healthy, Wootton can fill that role. Yet he does the team no good standing on the sidelines in street clothes. If he stays 100 percent, and performs as well as he did during last year's camp, he'll easily beat out Davis.
Yet Davis has value. If Wootton's knee injuries have sapped him of his explosiveness, or if he again gets injured, Davis will end up on the 53-man roster. Considering his litany of past ailments, it's hard to be on Wootton staying healthy.
Winner: Chauncey Davis
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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.