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Ask Hub: Christian Jones' chances, starting safeties and backup TEs

Chicago Bears linebacker Christian Jones (96) talks to media after a rookie football mini-camp in Lake Forest, Ill., on Friday, May 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Welcome to our first post-minicamp, pre-training camp edition of "Ask Hub," where Hub Arkush answers your Bears questions. Got anything on your mind? Tweet it @Hub_Arkush or @bears_insider for our next mailbag.

From @RRadulski: Your thoughts on FSU linebacker [Christian] Jones and his outlook with the Bears moving [forward]?

Christian Jones is a very good football player who projected somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft until he ran into some problems off the field following Florida State’s 2013 season. He is a physically imposing athlete who appears capable of playing any of the three linebacker spots in the Bears 4-3 schemes, but he is probably not a four-down player who would stay on the field in the nickel defense. Based strictly on his college performance he is as good a prospect as Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene were last year, but we haven’t seen him in pads or making plays yet since he arrived in Chicago. Talking to him, he seems bright enough and sincere in understanding that he messed up off the field and has to do better. Until we see him in his first preseason game actually playing football, he is very tough to project. If he isn’t ready to beat out Jordan Senn or Greene. I suspect the Bears will try hard to get him to the practice squad.

From @Real_Jeff_Chase: Any chance Will Sutton cracks the starting lineup or at least the prominent spot in the rotation? I know he missed most of [minicamp].

Based on his junior year at Arizona State, it is easy to see Will Sutton earning significant playing time as a rookie at the three-technique, probably in a rotation with Lamarr Houston. The problem is he was nowhere near the player as a senior that he was two years ago, and there is a lot for a rookie to learn at any position in the NFL. My best guess is he sees significant preseason action, may or may not dress his first few Sundays in the NFL, but does begin to dress and starts to get meaningful snaps in obvious passing situations somewhere between Week Four and midseason.

From @wtford54: Who can you foresee starting at the safeties?

The Bears seem committed to Brock Vereen and unless he messes the bed in training camp I suspect Phil Emery and Marc Trestman expect him to be this year’s version of Jordan Mills. The other safety spot is Ryan Mundy’s to lose and if Adrian Wilson is 80 percent or more of the player he was before he tore his Achilles last summer he will take that spot from Mundy. But if Wilson is done, Mundy is the best safety on the roster, and yes that includes Chris Conte who I don’t expect to be on the roster on opening day.

From @siwashmatt: Has Marquess Wilson's development [matched] his potential?

I keep hearing about Marquess Wilson's potential and development and I just haven’t seen it yet. He was an awful route runner as a rookie and not deemed good enough to dress for games until the last five weeks or so of the season. Once he did get to play he caught one pass – all year. Now we hear he’s been in Florida with Brandon Marshall and the fellas, and that’s great, but what does it really mean? He does appear to have put on a little bit of muscle but much like the rookie free agent linebacker Jones, until he does something in the exhibition games with the bullets really flying, we have no idea whether Wilson can contribute or not. Right now he’s just a seventh=round pick out of a less than mediocre program at Washington State and a longshot to be a difference-maker.

From @NextGenBoas: Can you form an opinion of Ego Ferguson's play even without pads?

We go to OTA’s and minicamps to lay eyes on new players and see how they look in relation to the other guys on the field and so far nothing has stood out about Ego Ferguson one way or the other. That’s not a negative; it just means there’s nothing unique or special about him as an athlete. He may be a monster when they start banging heads. A good example is that when you watch Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin in the same context as we’re talking about Ferguson, Bostic actually looks a lot more comfortable and seems to move a lot more fluidly than he did a year ago while McClellin quite frankly has looked a bit lost at linebacker. So in that case I can feel good about Bostic and worry about McClellin. But with Ferguson, we just need to see more and some real game action or at least live hitting before we can tell how he stacks up to NFL competition.

From @CanuckBoy670AM: Do you see an opportunity for James Brown to ever crack the starting lineup? Is he destined to be a backup?

James Brown made the Bears two years ago as an undrafted rookie free agent tackle who appeared to have the feet to possibly even play left tackle some day. He was forced to move to guard due to injuries, actually started several games at the end of 2012 and looked pretty good. With Matt Slauson and Kyle Long both coming in last season as complete unknowns it was assumed Brown would have a chance to compete for playing time at guard. Unfortunately for him, Slauson and Long turned out to be the two best offensive linemen on the team and the Bears now appear set at guard for the foreseeable future. Brown’s best hope now is to establish himself as the swing tackle who can play on the right or left side, still step in at guard if there’s an injury and maybe eventually get a chance to compete with Mills for the right tackle spot. At the end of the day, it’s extremely unlikely he gets a chance to “win” a starting spot, but he could make himself very valuable as a sixth or seventh offensive lineman along with Eben Britton.

From @illinisoldier: Linebacker spots worry me. How do you feel about their depth? [And] think they will pick up another pass catching TE?

Let’s take the easy part first. Marc Trestman doesn’t want another “pass-catching” tight end. He loves the versatility of Martellus Bennett and believes both he and Matt Forte give him tremendous flexibility in his passing game. He and Aaron Kromer want all of their backup tight ends to be run blockers and pass protectors first and pass catchers second. Zach Miller is actually a pretty good receiver when he gets a chance to run routes, but he may not be a good enough in-line blocker to play the position for Trestman.

Linebacker scares me. Lance Briggs will turn 34 and D.J. Williams will be 32. If both can play 14-to-16 games and are still 100 percent the Bears will be fine. With McClellin, Bostic, Greene and the rookie Jones all competing for time at the 'Sam' and in the nickel that’s plenty of depth. But if any of those four has to spend significant time starting in place of Briggs or Williams the Bears are in trouble. If Briggs and Williams were both to miss meaningful time it could be Katie bar the door all over again.

From @RambyBlakes: Can the Bears still win the Super Bowl after the Pat Mannelly retirement???

Okay, I’m sure you’re enjoying being a bit of a wise guy but you’ve actually touched on a very scary area for the Bears. Patrick Mannelly has been the best long snapper in the league for at least a decade or so and also an important leader in the lockerroom. But, while he will be sorely missed in both areas, I’m sure the Bears will find an adequate snapper and someone will fill the leadership void.

But the fact is the Bears have won a lot of games with special teams over the last decade and of the four key components, placekicker, punter, snapper and return specialists the Bears are replacing three.

I like the O’Donnell kid and think he will be an upgrade at punter over Adam Podlesh, and could be the Bears punter for the next decade or more. But Devin Hester is the greatest return specialist in the history of the game and they currently have no answer to replace him. The combination of the loss of Mannelly and Hester could be the difference between making the playoffs or not, or winning playoff games if they get there.

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