OTAs Preview: Developing Stories

The Chicago Bears looked good on both sides of the ball in minicamp, but that is when every team looks good. Wednesday is the first of four OTAs open to the media. Be on the lookout for ...

Is the receiving corps as good as it looked throughout minicamp?
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz went out of his way to say how impressed he was with his new crop of receivers before minicamp opened last month, which surprised a lot of people because that position has been considered a weakness by most of the national pundits. But starters Devin Hester and Johnny Knox both ran precise routes and caught the ball consistently all three practices, plus Devin Aromashodu lined up all over the field as the No. 3 and put together a pretty impressive highlight reel of his own. While they didn't get as many reps with the first stringers, even Rashied Davis and Juaquin Iglesias – remember, Earl Bennett was held out of team drills coming back from a knee scope – were solid and seemed like they belonged.

It remains to be seen if a go-to guy can emerge and threaten the 1,000-yard barrier, but, if given the choice, Martz would rather have a veteran backup quarterback behind Jay Cutler than another weapon in the passing game.

Are we any closer to knowing who will be where at D-end?
We know free-agent acquisition Julius Peppers is going to be one of the starting defensive ends, and while he has said on numerous occasions he doesn't care where he lines up, we were given no indication in minicamp if he'll be on the right side or the left side. The five-time Pro Bowler spent just as much time on one side as he did the other, flip-flopping with Mark Anderson – surprisingly, Israel Idonije didn't get very many reps with the starters – almost on a snap-to-snap basis and worked his way past both right tackle Frank Omiyale and left tackle Chris Williams regularly. But when coach Lovie Smith was asked if Peppers and Anderson are going to switch it up that often during the regular season, he assured everyone his plan was to have a definitive "right" and "left" end by Week 1.

Prepare for Peppers getting plenty of action at either spot in OTAs, just as he did in minicamp, but if he starts to break the huddle more often on one side than the other, we may have our answer.

Will there just as much movement along the interior O-line?
With Olin Kreutz still recovering from Achilles surgery and unable to participate in team drills until training camp next month, guards Josh Beekman and Roberto Garza were forced to play center in minicamp. As a result, Beekman, Garza, Kevin Shaffer, Lance Louis and Johan Asiata all saw time with the starters at either guard position, while Omiyale and Williams stayed at right and left tackle, respectively. If the coaching staff really wants to see five different players at the left guard position, which is the only one on the offensive line in question right now, that might mean there is no front runner and it is anyone's job to win.

S Danieal Manning
AP Images: Marcio Jose Sanchez

On the other hand, the more Beekman snaps the football between his legs in Kreutz's stead during OTAs, less likely he is to be the starter at left guard and a veteran like Shaffer – or a youngster like Louis – may be the new leader in the clubhouse prior to training camp.

When will the coaching staff give up on Manning at safety?
The Bears made radical moves at both safety spots this offseason, first taking Major Wright in the third round of the draft – general manager Jerry Angelo's primary selection – and then re-acquiring Chris Harris in a trade with Carolina. Chicago hopes that's enough to upgrade a safety depth chart Danieal Manning couldn't even crack last year, yet there he was again getting every first-team rep at strong safety and never once lining up at the position he has proven he can play a little bit: nickel back. Harris did well for himself with the Panthers playing strong safety, not free safety, which is where he was throughout minicamp because Manning simply can't be trusted there down to down.

Yes, he offers a tremendous combination of speed and power and should be a perfect safety in this system, but the coaches need to realize that one plus one is not equaling two with Manning.

Which of the rookies plans to step up and be noticed?
Assuming the aforementioned Wright learns the system and improves enough to get some run with the starters, Manning may be no longer necessary at safety and he can go back to being a nickel back and kick returner – Harris can switch to strong safety, too. Corey Wootton has a chance to challenge for time in the defensive end rotation, especially with Idonije not mounting a threat to Anderson right now. As for the rest of the draft class, Joshua Moore would be wise to concentrate on special-teams work, Dan LeFevour has a clipboard with his name on it and J'Marcus Webb is just a second-team left tackle at this point.

Since none of the rookies really took the bull by the horns in minicamp, it's time to see if any of them can force the issue in OTAs.

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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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