Bears general manager Phil Emery focused his Thursday press conference on next week’s draft, but did offer some insight into current Bears players at positions that could be targets to get a rookie.
On April 3, the team announced Chris Conte would miss 4-5 months following shoulder surgery. Emery explained how the decision came to be, considering Conte “signed out healthy” at the end of the season, and when the team hopes to get Conte back.
“He started training, and he just didn’t feel right. He had it examined, it went through a decision-making process, and he made a decision to go ahead and have it done,” Emery said. “[We’re] happy that he’ll be ready for camp and expect good things out of him.”
As far as a timeline goes, Emery said Conte may begin training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list, but the team’s best guess is that Conte is ready for the first preseason game.
By cutting Earl Bennett, the Bears opened the door to 2013 seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson to step up and take over as the team’s slot receiver. Still, that’s a role that Bennett played very well, and for more than 60 percent of the snaps. Josh Morgan and Domenik Hixon are part of the competition, and a rookie could be thrown in as well.
Wilson, to his credit, has impressed Emery and the Bears with his offseason, putting himself in position to make it his job to lose come training camp.
“Marquess has done very well during the offseason training. I think everybody saw the pictures of him and several of his teammates down training with Brandon [Marshall]. He’s put on a good amount of lean mass. You know, the weights that have been reported on him were always under what he actually was. He’s been in the 190s since he’s been here. He’s a little closer to 200 or over 200 now.
“His attitude has been fantastic. He’s training like a pro and he’s acting like a pro and I expect him to come out and show his best side, and we’ll see how it works out for him. But obviously, we’ve signed other receivers, and he’s going to have to compete for his job.”
Emery made it pretty clear that quarterback is not on the Bears’ list of draft needs, or, at least not very high, and that also means he’s comfortable with who they currently have behind Jay Cutler — Jordan Palmer and Jerrod Johnson.
“You look at Jordan and Jerrod, they’re both 6-5, they both have good arm strength, they’re both intelligent, they both work extremely hard at being a very positive part of the team,” Emery said. “To to me, both of those guys have developmental upside and Jay is working his tail off to get better at everything he does.”
Palmer has attempted only three regular-season NFL passes in his career, but Emery said the Bears are “absolutely” comfortable with him as the No. 2.
“And I told him that the other day — the same thing I told Josh: ‘Glad you’re here, looking forward to your contributions and we’re counting on you.’ And Jordan, since the time that he came last year has been nothing but a positive. He performed well in a preseason game and I understand that’s the fourth preseason game, normally that’s the second and thirds and the backend of the roster, but you still want people to show that they have upside and perform well.
“He has been a backup in the league, obviously in Cincinnati, so he knows what the weight of that position is and how to carry himself and how to contribute positively to the team in that role. And to get himself ready to go every week in case there was an injury.”
Many saw the before and after photos of McClellin, who is transforming his body to be a linebacker next season. The ‘before’ photo got notice because McClellin didn’t appear in game shape, but Emery explained the situation.
“Shea is a hard gainer in terms of putting weight on. And obviously we've put him in two different directions. Up and through the end of the season it was at D-end. And to his knowledge he was a D-end until we hired the rest of our defensive staff at the very last week of January, he was concentrating on being a D-end again. He left here. The last game he was weighed in that Wednesday or Thursday, he was weighed in at 253 pounds.
“So like most NFL players when they get a chance to relax a little bit and their activity level goes down, they all have a tendency to put on some weight. I don't think Shea is any different than that. Plus Shea probably felt like he had to get heavier because he was coming back as a D-end. The moment that we notified him that, hey, we're moving him to linebacker, he found the right person, he moved out to California and he attacked it with a vigor. And that's what I would have expected out of Shea. And the end result of what he looks like is because of his efforts.”
McClellin will compete with Jon Bostic as well as Khaseem Greene to play the strong-side linebacker position, and Emery reiterated that Lance Briggs is the only one who has a cemented starting job at linebacker. He will start on the weak side. “The rest of it is the best player wins,” Emery said.
The Bears actually had interest in Morgan last time he was a free agent, prior to signing a two-year deal with the Redskins. Emery said that contract was “beyond what we had in terms of resources … He’s a player that we’re very familiar with.”
Morgan will fit in the battle to be the team’s No. 3 or 4 wide receiver.
“He was looking for a new home and we were glad that he wanted to come to the Bears,” Emery said. “Competition is important and we think he’s going to provide good competition. As I told both himself and Domenik [Hixon], hey, best man wins the job. Come in here and earn it and they’re both excited about the process to do so.”
Many are projecting the Bears target a defensive tackle, specifically a three-technique, with one of their picks. They did re-sign Ratliff, who the Bears believe is good enough to play either interior spot.
“We can see him playing three-technique or nose tackle. I think he’s very interchangeable,” Emery said. “It will depend on what the best grouping of players is. Jeremiah has come in in great shape. He’s got a great attitude. Very excited to see him get on the field and compete.”