We’ve almost made it Bears fans. With training camp officially starting this weekend, we are just a few short weeks away from facing off against the Packers to open the season.
This training camp will be a little different than years past. For the first time in a long time, the Bears are coming off of a double-digit win season and expectations are high. With most of the starters already set, the position battles will mostly be for the final few spots on the roster.
That being said, every year there are training camp heroes …
To this day I still believe Fendi Onobun could still crack the roster if given the opportunity. So who stands the best chance at being this year’s training camp hero?
Let’s take a look.
The Undrafted Free Agent: TE Dax Raymond
Every year every Bears fan falls in love with (at least) one undrafted free agent. Raymond appears to be that guy this season. This was a tough choice based on how well the Bears did in undrafted free agency this offseason. I considered guys like Emmanuel Hall and Mat Betts; however, they are buried on the depth chart and won’t get nearly as many opportunities as Raymond.
Raymond’s skill set is also suited perfectly for the less physical nature of camp. His size and athleticism should allow him to shine in shorts and make plays in the deep passing game while his physical limitations should be well hidden in non-contact drills.
Trey Burton is recovering from off-season hernia surgery. Ryan Pace mentioned he’ll be ready or training camp, but given his injury history in the past, the Bears would be wise to keep his workload light. Because of this, Raymond might even get some time with the first-team offense. He is already a fan favorite and could cement himself as a training camp darling with a strong showing.
Runner Up: OLB Mat Betts
The Drafted Rookie: RB/KR Kerrith Whyte
This was another tough one with David Montgomery, Riley Ridley and Duke Shelley all holding the tools and skillset to dominate training camp.
Speed is what gave the edge to Whyte.
With the first practice already being announced as noncontact, speed is what stands out in training camp. And Whyte has plenty of it running a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
It wasn’t that long ago that another undersized Bears running back was making a name for himself in training camp: Tarik Cohen. I am not saying Whyte is going to become Cohen, but his athleticism and, especially his speed, should allow him to stand out.
The other rookies might have better seasons and careers, but I expect Whyte to make a name for himself in camp.
Whyte has an uphill battle to make the final 53-man roster. He is solidly behind Montgomery, Cohen and newcomer Mike Davis. However, if he shines in training camp, especially as a receiver, he could force the Bears hand to keep four running backs heading into the season.
Runner Up: CB Duke Shelley
The Second Year Pro Who Can Take the Next Step: DL Bilal Nichols
The Bears 2018 draft class is already looking like one of the better draft classes in recent memory. Roquan Smith proved to be every bit as advertised as a rookie, James Daniels had a solid first season, and Anthony Miller led the Bears in touchdown receptions. All three have already “broken out” even if their best football is still ahead of them.
Nichols had a solid rookie season as well but was buried on the depth chart, especially early on. In 2018, Nichols appeared in 14 games with 6 starts. By the end of the year, he was the primary backup at both 3-technique and nose tackle.
Coming from a small school such as Delaware, Nichols faced a lot of challenges transitioning to the pros. Now he’s had an entire year in an NFL strength and conditioning program. Training camp is an opportunity for him to show the strides he made in the offseason and potentially earn even more playing time. His size and athleticism should allow him to stand out in the next couple weeks even if trench play isn’t usually highlighted in camp.
Runner Up: LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe
The Veteran Ready for a Breakout: OLB Leonard Floyd
It seems like Floyd is on lists like these every season. When Floyd was drafted, everyone knew he was a raw prospect with loads of potential who needed to get stronger to allow for his athleticism to shine. And so, every year around this time the articles of Floyd bulking up begin to pop up. Like this one. Or this one.
Maybe I’ve fallen into the trap again, but I believe this is the year Floyd puts it all together. Despite a career-low four sacks – in a career-high 16 games – Floyd had one of his better seasons as his added strength finally started to materialize in games.
The Bears picked up his fifth-year option earlier this offseason. They clearly believe his production is about to take off. A solid season should put Floyd in a position to potentially sign a long-term extension next offseason. I am excited to see how different he looks in training camp.
Runner Up: OL Rashad Coward
The Free Agent Acquisition: WR/RB/KR Cordarrelle Patterson
Most Bears fans will be familiar with the players who were on the roster last season. It’s the shiny new toys that will get Bears fans most excited. None of them have a better chance of endearing themselves to the fanbase than Patterson.
Patterson’s combination of size, speed and athleticism make him hard to miss on and off the field. He should thrive in a format that is conducive to offensive performance.
Matt Nagy has to be licking his chops thinking of all the ways he is going to use Patterson. We should see him lined up all over the field. At the same time, I bet they have some interesting wrinkles they will save for the closed practices.
Runner Up: RB Mike Davis
The Kicker: Any of Them
Whether it be Elliot Fry, Eddy Pineiro or someone not yet on the roster, one of the kickers in camp needs to step up. With all eyes on the position entering camp, a good showing by one of these guys would make them an instant fan favorite.
At this point, if any one of them doesn’t completely embarrass themselves, they’ll be the best Bears kicker since Robbie Gould.
These are the players that I believe have a chance to become the next great training camp hero.
Who do you think is going to be the star of training camp?