Minicamp Minute: Players to Watch

The Chicago Bears will all be back at Halas Hall for the first time since a crushing loss to end the 2008 regular season. There are myriad players that need to be watched closely during the three-day veteran minicamp, but these five youngsters are at the top of Bear Report's list. Who are they?

Nathan Vasher

The Monsters of the Midway were ranked just 30th in the league this past season defending the pass, and Vasher, a former Pro Bowler, may be the biggest question mark of all the defensive backs right now.

Since signing a five-year, $28 million contract extension in the summer of 2007, Vasher has played in only 12 of 32 games because of various injuries. And even when he was healthy enough to suit up, he hasn't been nearly as effective as he was earlier in career – "The Interceptor" has only picked off two passes since the loss in Super Bowl XLI. Vasher is already being pushed for the starting job by the bigger and stronger Corey Graham, and cutting him or trading him isn't in the cards since that would result in a $4.77 million salary-cap charge.

Charles Tillman should be fine at the other cornerback position assuming he recovers fully from the bum shoulders that bothered him for most of 2008, but Vasher needs to resurrect his career unless he wants to take a permanent seat on the bench behind Graham and Zack Bowman.

OT Chris Williams
Warren Wimmer Photography

Chris Williams

The Bears thought they had solved their left tackle dilemma for the next decade when they selected Williams with the 14th pick in Round 1 last April, but instead they opened themselves to all kinds of criticism once the former Vanderbilt Commodore went down with a bad back in training camp.

Williams eventually had surgery to repair a herniated disc, although he was limited to special teams work upon his midseason return and only played sparingly on offense in blowout situations. However, he's 100 percent healthy and ready to go, as he'll enter minicamp atop – and apparently unchallenged – the depth chart at the left tackle position. Some teams didn't like what they saw on Williams' medical report and crossed him off their list, but Chicago can't be overly criticized for calling his name on draft weekend since he didn't miss one start in his final three years in Nashville.

While this team was much better up front this past year than they were in 2007, there is still a lot of room for improvement if the Bears want to put more points on the board next season.

Marcus Harrison

Tommie Harris is still the straw that stirs the drink for this defensive line, but he's only going to get back to Pro-Bowl form if his partner in crime at nose tackle steps up his game significantly.

Dusty Dvoracek simply can't be counted on anymore since he's played in a grand total of 13 games in three NFL seasons, ending all three of them on injured reserve – not to mention the fact that he's already 28 years old. And while Anthony Adams is steady as they come defending the run and brings a lot of energy to the huddle, he's a limited player with what he can do and offers no help whatsoever in passing situations. Harrison, on the other hand, offers tremendous size to go along with outstanding athletic ability, flashing first-round talent as a third-round pick at times his rookie season and could be on the verge of a breakout campaign.

It's possible that Harris has a body 10 years older than his birth certificate says it should be, meaning he can't do it by himself anymore along the interior.

WR Earl Bennett
Warren Wimmer Photography

Earl Bennett

Even if Angelo takes a wide receiver some time on Day 1 of the NFL Draft, rookie pass catchers almost always take some time to develop and usually aren't ready to go straight from college to the pros.

Just ask Bennett, who came to Chicago as the leading receiver in SEC history despite playing only three seasons at Vanderbilt but didn't haul in a single pass his first year with the Bears. Marty Booker was sent packing and Brandon Lloyd won't be back, so it's time for Bennett to make his presence felt offensively and maybe even start opposite Devin Hester. Assuming Bennett proves capable of being on the field for the majority of the snaps, Rashied Davis can get back to the role where he's been most effective – working out of the slot in three-receiver sets – and won't be miscast anymore lining up out wide.

It's nice to have a pair of playmaking tight ends in Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen, but this passing game isn't going to step forward until Kyle Orton has some more reliable weapons on the outside.

Josh Bullocks

For the first time in about a decade, the Bears won't have Mike Brown barking in the secondary from either of the two safety positions.

Asking the newcomer Bullocks to be as good as Brown would be irresponsible, but he does bring classic free safety skills to the table and could benefit from a change of scenery – especially since he played with some terrible corners in New Orleans that made his job much tougher than it needed to be. Assuming Bullocks wins the starting job over Craig Steltz, then Kevin Payne can comfortably settle in at his natural position, strong safety, and be a force around the line of scrimmage instead of wasting his big-hitting nature deep downfield in coverage. And Danieal Manning is going to continue as the nickel defender and kickoff returner, so don't expect him to be in the mix at free safety unless there is an injury situation.

Bullocks is at his best when operating in a center-field capacity, which is what he'll be doing a lot assuming the Bears employ as much Cover 2 and Cover 3 as they did a year ago.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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