Key Position Battles to Monitor
Aside from the Jay Cutler Circus taking place every time he drops back to pass during OTA’s, there are some other interesting position battles to keep an eye on as we go from Halas Hall to Bourbonnais for training camp.
Corey Graham vs Craig Steltz at Free Safety
Corey Graham began working out at Free Safety during OTA’s. That signals a couple of things. #1 – it shows that Nathan Vasher may be coming back healthwise and also gaining the confidence of the coaching staff once again. #2 – it may speak to some of the depth at the CB position between 2nd year man Zackary Bowman coming back after showing some flashes during an injury-shortened 2008 and the newly drafted D.J. Moore exuding confidence right out of the gate. I like the playmaker Graham to get the nod.
Caleb Hanie vs Brett Basanez for backup QB
This might be the most important position battle, but if either of these guys sees any significant time, we could be in trouble. If history is any indicator, the backup QB gets used way too often. Of course, with the addition of Cutler, we hope that’s not the case, but it’s best to be prepared. I liked what I saw in the preseason last year, but everyone can look like an All-Pro in the 4th quarter of mop up time in an exhibition game. I’m still surprised the Bears haven’t brought in a veteran backup (and Rex Grossman is still out there fans), but if they don’t, I suspect Hanie will get the edge here.
Hunter Hillenmeyer vs Nick Roach vs Pisa Tinoisamoa for Strong Side Linebacker
When I first started working on this piece, I didn’t even know who Pisa was, but just a short time later, he’s seems to be the frontrunner for the starting “Sam” linebacker spot over Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach. Roach unseated Hunter last season when Hillenmeyer went down with an injury. Hillenmeyer has struggled at times, especially in coverage. Tinoisamoa led the Rams in tackles in 4 of the last 6 seasons and played under Lovie and defensive linebackers coordinator Bob Babich in his rookie year. I give the starting nod to Pisa and Roach to secure the backup spot. I just think that the backup linebackers need to be able to contribute on special teams and Hillenmeyer just doesn’t have the speed to hang with the young guys and I’m afraid his days with the Beloved are numbered.
Frank Omiyale vs Josh Beekman at Left Guard
Beekman was the starter last season and probably exceeded expectations, but realistically is a bit undersized to hold down the starting left guard spot. Omiyale was brought in as a free agent to provide depth and versatility. I give the edge to Omiyale.
Chris Williams vs Kevin Shaffer at Right Tackle
His first season was pretty much lost to pre-season back surgery, so 2008’s 1st round pick Chris Williams has a lot to prove to help justify his lofty draft status. Shaffer comes from Cleveland in pretty much a swap for last season’s starting left tackle Jon St. Claire, who left via Free Agency to the Browns. I hear Shaffer has a bit of a mean streak and should put up a good fight, but you have to believe that the high draft pick wins this battle. Chris Williams by a whisker.
Michael Gaines vs Kellen Davis for #3 Tight End (Blocking TE)
With Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark cemented at the #1 and #2 tight end spots, the third TE spot would seem pretty meaningless, but if last year was any indication, it was clear that the Bears missed the blocking tight end in short yardage situations. Kellen Davis was brought in and struggled as a rookie, so the Bears brought in some competition in Michael Gaines from the Lions. Gaines is a big body that should give the running game a boost and may even be able to work at H-back a bit. I like Gaines to unseat Davis.
What do you think? Did I miss the boat? Hit the Comments with the key battles you’ll be monitoring.
As the Bears head to camp, we’ll keep a close eye on these and other positional battles that emerge with some of the rookie draft picks. In the meantime…