Bears Mail: D-line rotation, No. 2 RB competition

Chicago Bears' defensive end Jared Allen (69) leaves the field with teammates Willie Young (97), and Jeremiah Ratlif (90) after the team's NFL mini-camp football practice Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in Lake Forest, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In this 4th of July edition of our Bears Mail, our Bears beat writer Kevin Fishbain answers your questions about the Bears’ roster heading into training camp. If you have any Bears questions, tweet them at @bears_insider during the week.

From @theandrewjacobs: What are our rotations on the d-line gonna be? Who is gonna be our starting linebackers week 1?

From what we saw in OTAs and minicamp, the starting base defensive line will be Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen at defensive end, with Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff inside. We didn’t see much of any other combination as the first team, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see several situations involving Willie Young at end and Houston at three-technique. Look for Young to get a healthy amount of snaps when the season gets going, kind of like Shea McClellin or Corey Wootton would when they split time in past seasons. Rookies Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson, along with Nate Collins, figure to be part of the rotation at D-tackle, while there will be a stiff competition to be the fourth defensive end.  

Linebacker is a bit more confusing. To focus on your question, let’s say the Bears open in the nickel to start their Week One game against the Bills, which is expected considering Buffalo spreads things out a bit, and that means two linebackers will start. In minicamp, Jon Bostic was alongside Lance Briggs with the first-team nickel. If he maintains that edge through training camp, he’s your guy. If it’s a base defense, it will be two of Bostic, McClellin and D.J. Williams, and that remains a mystery, but in minicamp it was McClellin and Williams.

From @randywedo57: Are David Bass and Cornelius Washington going to make this team?

They’re certainly on the bubble. Bass got more game experience last season (29.9 percent of defensive snaps by my count, 23 tackles and four for a loss), while Washington has the intriguing physique, but didn’t show it on the field at all last year. Those two also will be competing with Trevor Scott, Austen Lane and rookie Jamil Merrell. Training camp and preseason games will be crucial for Bass and Washington. If I had to pick right now, Bass is in, Washington is out. 

From @Kennyb8Ken: Has any RB stood out as a clear #2? 

 

Not entirely, at least based on reps with different groups. I like what I’ve seen from Ka’Deem Carey as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s a jitterbug in the open field. Michael Ford has special-teams value and a year experience knowing the offense, but like Carey, he doesn’t have a regular-season carry. This will become clearer in Bourbonnais, but I expect Carey to win the No. 2 job, and Ford to fight to make the roster as the No. 3 back.

From @HalasBearReport: Why didn’t the Bears make an offer to [Devin Hester]? He was still a very effective returner. Why not at least make him an offer? 

 

I would have thought these questions had been put to rest, but maybe the fact that no return man/Hester replacement has been chosen yet is freaking out Bears fans? (By the way, colleague Arthur Arkush wrote a nice breakdown of the 5-man competition, and why it’s a different situation considering how good the offense is).

Yes, Hester had his moments last season, and certainly will go down as arguably the best return man in history, but the Falcons gave him a three-year, $9 million contract. $9 million!! An average salary of $3 million would rank 13th on this current Bears team. You can’t convince me Hester would have been worth that to a Bears team that needed to spend its money revamping the defense and keeping the stars on offense around. I’m sure the front office knew what Hester was looking for and was perfectly comfortable paying more than $2 million less for a different returner, and I don’t blame them.

From @Blackhawks1963: Is McClellin doing anything at LB to suggest there is hope he isn’t a total bust?

Well, he got his body in pretty good shape, and he got plenty of first-team reps in minicamp, so those are positive developments. However, we really won’t know if he can truly make an impact at a new position to shed the “bust” label until the pads come on, and then when the games begin.

From @thehojo: How soon does S Brock Vereen break into the starting lineup?

This is an interesting question. The answer could be Week One; it could also be 2016 for all we know. Vereen got very valuable first-team reps throughout the offseason practices with Chris Conte sidelined, and that will be one of the main position battles to watch in Bourbonnais. If Conte returns and wins the job, Vereen could just be a special-teamer all year, unless Conte or Ryan Mundy (or Adrian Wilson or M.D. Jennings) gets hurt. What if Conte has a great season, then signs an extension? I know it sounds ridiculous to Bears fans, but it could happen, and that would keep Vereen as a top reserve. If the rookie looks good when the pads come on and in the preseason and beats out Conte, then he should be starting Week One.

From @CMGattuso: The OL played well last year. With [free agency], we didn’t hear much about them. What is their next step for 2014? 

It’s a good sign that you didn’t hear much about the offensive line. Once Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson were re-signed, the Bears got to bring the entire group back, a rarity in the NFL, and certainly in Chicago. Heading into training camp, keep a close eye on Slauson and Jordan Mills, who are coming off injuries — Slauson missed all of OTA’s and minicamp with a shoulder injury. Mills had surgery on his foot in the offseason but did participate in some of the OTA’s. Kyle Long also missed some time. Brian de la Puente could be an interesting player to watch as a former starter for the Saints, and potentially the starting center after Garza. This group had a very solid 2013 campaign and the hope is that along with the rest of the offense, it gets even better with a full offseason in Trestman’s offense.

From @kodymcbanks: Chances Bears get either Melo or James? 

 

Great question. With a hole at No. 2 tight end, James could certainly be an option, but I don’t think the Bears have the cap space.

As for Melo, well, if he decides to join the Bulls, then maybe the Bears can “get” him to come out for a coin toss as an honorary captain one day. Would that count?

Happy 4th of July, everyone.

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