Just weeks away from the start of training camp, the Chicago Bears have an all-new look. Multiple changes have swept through a franchise that desperately needed a facelift in just one short year.
Those changes started with new general manager Ryan Pace but a new coaching staff highlighted by head coach John Fox, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Adam Gase are the focal point to the casual eye.
Fox will look to switch the philosophy back to the defensive side of the ball and the addition of Fangio, one of the best defensive minds in the league, will help greatly.
Fangio brings something with him this franchise has never implemented: a two-gap, 3-4 defensive front.
After the Bears passed the ball more than 63 percent of all offensive snaps last year under former head coach Marc Trestman, Adam Gase looks to bring back a run-heavy offense, while keeping former OC Aaron Kromer’s roots of a zone-blocking scheme.
Another facelift came in the personnel department. The team’s top free-agent additions included pass rusher Pernell McPhee, veteran safety Antrel Rolle, a much-needed slot receiver in Eddie Royal and hard-hitting linebacker Mason Foster.
While the Bears added multiple players through free agency and the draft, they also traded the cornerstone of their offense in receiver Brandon Marshall, for whom they received a fifth-round pick. The addition of Royal helped dull the sting of Marshall’s loss but Pace went a step further and added freakish wideout Kevin White with the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft.
The Bears will be fielding three new starters on offense and potentially six on the defensive side of the ball. The roster got younger and, most importantly, added more competitive talent to the 90-man roster heading into camp.
Here are five players to keep an eye on when Bears 2015 Training Camp opens in Bourbonnais later this month:
1. DL Ego Ferguson
Last year’s surprise second-round pick, Ferguson saw just 318 total defensive snaps his rookie season as a nose tackle and had 2.0 sacks and nine total pressures, per Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Last year’s starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea departed for Washington and with another year of pass-rushing development and his weight cut to 300 pounds, Ferguson looks ready to slide into a more prominent role as a defensive end in Fangio’s 3-4 front.
In terms of his weight loss, not only does Ferguson look slimmer but also his muscle tone is more apparent and his movement has improved.
With the recent release of Ray McDonald, the defensive line is a wide-open competition and with more consistency and a more developed pass rush, the former second-round pick could be a key piece to a quick defensive turnaround.
2. CB Sherrick McManis
Acquired from the Houston Texans back in 2012 for Tyler Clutts, McManis has been a special-teams standout with the ability for much more. Still just 27-years-old, the former Northwestern product is working on his second impressive off-season in a row.
Boasting good size at 6-1, 190, McManis’ special-teams experience is a testament to his tackling ability. The biggest question remains: how good are his coverage skills? If last year’s preseason performances are any indication, McManis could end up winning a starting job in nickel packages.
In three preseason games in 2014 (80 total snaps), he accumulated two pass deflections, one interception, a 50.6 passer rating against and a +4.4 PFF grade.
Going into last season he was fourth on the depth chart behind Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman and Kyle Fuller, but that quickly faded with a lingering injury that cost him four full games and additional playing time.
Barring health, McManis will have a prime opportunity to compete for playing time against Alan Ball and Tracy Porter at the third cornerback position. Overall, he carries strong similarities of former Bears special-teams-ace-turned-starter Corey Graham.
3. S Brock Vereen
The second member of the 2014 draft class makes his appearance on the list. Vereen was essentially thrown to the fire in his rookie year after a rash of injuries and poor play.
Of his 513 snaps, all but 18 of those were taken at free safety, where Vereen tallied impressive, albeit inconsistent results in a broken defense.
Although Vereen had seven missed tackles in 2014, a more limited role in coverage and Rolle’s leadership has significantly helped the sophomore safety so far this off-season.
It remains to be seen if Vereen can show enough in the preseason to overtake Ryan Mundy for the starting strong safety role but one thing is for sure, both positions will be vastly improved in 2015.
4. ILB Christian Jones
One of the more surprising undrafted free agents from the 2014 draft class, Jones flew quietly under the radar last season with a league-worst unit. The merry-go-round of starting linebackers from week to week gave fans a glimpse of Jones’ potential.
In 443 snaps as an outside linebacker, he totaled 69 tackles, 21 stops, five pressures, 2.0 sacks and one interception. His best game came in week 16 against the Lions where he tallied 11 tackles, six stops and a sack.
As expected, Jones had an up and down year but showed bright flashes at the tail end of the season with substantially more playing time.
This year, Jones is expected to compete with Shea McClellin for starting time as the Jack linebacker and although McClellin may have the early leg up, Jones could impress in game situations and eventually earn the starting role.
5. OLB David Bass
Going into the off-season, Bass was considered a roster-bubble candidate and projected to be on the outside looking in. Yet during OTAs and minicamp, Bass has caught the attention of the coaching staff and was receiving starting reps with both Lamarr Houston (ACL) and Willie Young (Achilles) still not participating.
Although there is a long way to go in the preseason process, Bass seems to be reaping the reward of the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker. He beat multiple offensive linemen around the outside and made a couple of outstanding interceptions.
Bass still must climb a steep hill to earn playing time this year but if his emergence is impending, he could end up the final piece a very deep arsenal of pass rushers.
- Camp Preview: Outside Linebacker
- Camp Preview: Defensive Line
- Camp Battle: Mundy vs. Vereen
- Camp Preview: Offensive Line
- Camp Battle: Ball vs. McManis
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.