With the John Fox era about to get into high gear as the Bears report to training camp in Bourbonnais on Wednesday, here are five players I’ll be watching when the Bears hit the practice field at Olivet Nazarene University:
1. Shea McClellin
The 2012 first-round draft pick was a likely candidate to be the first of the Phil Emery errors cleaned out after three unimpressive seasons. But the new regime not only was willing to give McClellin an honest shot at finding a home in Vic Fangio’s defense, but coach John Fox seemed particularly enamored with McClellin’s potential as an inside or outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. “I think he’s got a bright future,” Fox said. McClellin is a great test case for one of the keys to success under Fox’s coaching staff: putting good athletes in the best position to succeed.
2. Jared Allen
Trying to re-invent a 33-year-old player coming off his least-productive season in 11 NFL seasons at a position he’s never played will be a interesting test for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. If it turns out to be a bad fit, will the coaching staff ignore his cap number and make room for a player better suited for the position? And how soon would they do it?
3. Martellus Bennett
The Pro Bowl tight end is used to going at his own pace — especially when returning to the huddle after a play in practice — but he might have to be more a team player under John Fox. Unhappy with his contract, but in the prime of his career, the loquacious Bennett could be a uniter or a divider in the Bears’ locker room.
4. Jon Bostic
The reputation of virtually every individual was tainted by being part of two of the worst defenses in franchise history the past two seasons. But Bostic — who always seemed misused or misplaced in Mel Tucker’s defense with Lance Briggs around — has the skills, instinct and versatility to be a breakout player in Fangio’s 3-4.
5. Kyle Long
Whether he plays guard or tackle is immaterial to me — he’ll be excellent at either position. But in his third NFL season, with a new coaching staff and several Lovie-era veterans out of the way, Long has a chance to step up and be the vocal, visible, likable leader this team desperately needs.
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