10 big plot lines ahead for Bears

Written By BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter Posted: 06/23/2014, 11:25am
Array Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller (front) has been burned at times and needs the receivers to test him in camp. | Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Coach Marc Trestman wrapped up the Bears’ mandatory minicamp by wishing everyone a wonderful summer and was quickly asked if a vacation was in his future.

‘‘No,’’ he said, ‘‘but I’ll be taking a break.’’

That may change with a month available to suntan and golf before the Bears report to Bourbonnais for training camp. But Trestman’s parting message is one he’ll surely live by himself.

‘‘It’s time to get away the next few weeks until training camp, but it’s not a vacation,’’ he said. ‘‘They have to have a plan to get ready to go, to optimize their strength and conditioning and to continue to develop their skills.’’

With that in mind, here are 10 things gleaned during the Bears’ offseason work that will bear watching once camp opens.

1. All linebackers will play

D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin may be competing for starting spots, but there should be enough roles for all in coordinator Mel Tucker’s defense. Bostic may start in the nickel package and Williams in the middle of the base defense while McClellin becomes the blitzing linebacker/situational rusher that Tucker envisions.

2. Mending the cracks

Having every starter back on the offensive line is one thing. Keeping them there is another. Maintenance plans are in order, especially for guard Matt Slauson (offseason shoulder surgery) and second-year tackle Jordan Mills (foot surgery after an injury in Week 17).

3. Jimmy’s second chance

Now that’s he’s booked for Bourbonnais, can former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen become the next Josh McCown? ‘‘The right place at the right time, and that’s not just football,’’ Clausen said. It wasn’t his limited practice work that resonated with the Bears but what he added to the quarterbacks room the last two weeks. So look out, Jordan Palmer.

4. Salty with spice

The chemistry developing among the defensive linemen — especially starters Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea — might be the most exciting thing brewing for the Bears, especially after the unit was last in sacks in 2013.

5. Some special openings

Returner Devin Hester (with the Atlanta Falcons) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (retired) leave significant holes. Neither Eric Weems nor Chris Williams has emerged as the favorite at returner. Long snappers Chad Rempel and Brandon Hartson, meanwhile, know there’s a definite roster spot to be won.

6. Marquess Wilson’s rise

Earl Bennett who? Wilson has had a strong offseason, gaining weight and strength and noticeably becoming a better receiver with the guidance of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But will the lack of strong competition hurt him at camp?

7. A safety battle looms

The fight for free safety is just beginning. Rookie Brock Vereen has the lead, but Chris Conte (offseason shoulder surgery) is expected back in the preseason. Tucker expressed excitement over it. Conte has started 40 games over the last three seasons.

8. More work for Fuller

Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller had his good moments during the offseason workouts but also some less-mentioned bad ones, including getting beaten badly in man coverage by Wilson and Jeffery during minicamp. He’s going to play plenty in 2014, and a training camp spent combating the Bears’ receivers will help.

9. Better roster battles

A year ago, veteran defensive lineman Israel Idonije would have been a lock for the Bears. Now he’s looking for work after being cut after an uneventful minicamp spent mostly with third- and fourth-teamers. His departure is a sign of the improved competition.

10. Jay Cutler’s success

Everything is looking up for Cutler with his growing family and situation at Halas Hall. So what does Year 2 of absolute happiness bring?

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns

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