Chicago Bears Camp Battles to Watch

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Bears Camp Battles
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 23: Taylor Gabriel #18 of the Chicago Bears in action during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. The Bears defeated the 49ers 14-9. (Photo by Rob Leiter/Getty Images)

Training camp means Chicago Bears camp battles. Players will be fighting for starting jobs, roles in sub packages, and roster spots. The Chicago Bears are no different, despite having a 12-4 record and earning their first playoff berth since 2010 last season. There are not a lot of openings in the starting lineup, but the ones that exist are key. And there is one role that the entire city wants the team to get right that is still proving problematic.

Top Chicago Bears Camp Battles

Who Totes the Rock: Mike Davis vs. David Montgomery

As soon as Jordan Howard was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles it was clear the position would be a focal point. The Bears went out and signed former Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers back Mike Davis to a two-year deal. But they were not done, as they drafted David Montgomery out of Iowa State in the third round of the draft. So who will win the most notable of the Bears camp battles and be the lead back? Tarik Cohen is omnipresent in this offense, but the attention paid to the position likely means the majority of the carries will be split between Davis and Montgomery.

Mike Davis – Ht: 5’9” – Wt: 217 lb.

If anything is working in Davis’ favor, it is his listing as the top runner on unofficial depth charts. He will likely get the first crack at first-team reps and that is invaluable when fending off an incoming rookie. The fifth-year pro will look to build upon his mini-breakout with Seattle when he had 112/514/4 on the ground. He had an additional 214 yards and another score on 34 receptions, so he is no one-trick pony. Davis only started two games last year, however, and his career-high was six in 2017.

David Montgomery – Ht: 5’10” – Wt: 222 lb.

A third-round pick might not seem like a big deal. But when it is a team’s first selection in the draft, and they trade up to make it, it certainly is. Montgomery is a tackle-breaking machine who led the FBS in forced missed tackles in back-to-back seasons. He racked up 515/2362/24 on the ground and 58 catches for 453 yards over his final two college seasons. Detractors questioned whether his lack of top speed is why he needed to break so many tackles, but his 4.63 40 nearly mirrors that of Kareem Hunt (4.62) whom Matt Nagy got pretty good use out of.

Predicted Winner: Montgomery

Both backs will contribute heavily regardless of who starts. Still, Nagy’s history suggests they prefer a lead dog. Davis and Montgomery are similarly built backs and there is no real change-of-pace when subbing the two. One thing to consider, Davis has shown the ability to come in cold off the bench and produce. When you add in the draft capital spent and the early praise Montgomery has received, look for the rook to supplant the career-backup as co-starter with Cohen at some point, possibly by the opener.

Catching On: Taylor Gabriel vs. Riley Ridley

Of all the Bears camp battles, this is the one we did not know we needed. Allen Robinson is the number one wideout in this offense and Anthony Miller will look to build off a rookie season that saw him score seven times. Both battled injuries. Miller is most effective in the slot, meaning the perimeter spot opposite Robinson should be hotly contested in camp between the incumbent Taylor Gabriel and rookie Riley Ridley. They are polar opposites in terms of style so it could mean somewhat of a rotation after this. Clearly, the Bears want more out of this group.

 

Taylor Gabriel – Ht: 5’8” – Wt: 165 lb.

The diminutive speedster turned his most productive season in 2018 hauling in 67 catches (93 targets, 72% catch rate) for 688 yards and two scores. He had more touchdowns (6) and a higher yards-per-reception average (16.5) in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons, but his role was less diverse then. Gabriel cracked the century mark twice last year, going 7/104 in week four against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 5/110 against the Miami Dolphins for an encore in week five. Outside of those two outbursts (he also scored both touchdowns against the Bucs) Gabriel was rather unimpressive.

Riley Ridley – Ht: 6’1” – Wt: 199 lb.

Ridley is not as fast (4.58 40) as his brother Calvin (4.43), of the Atlanta Falcons, but he does share his route-running ability and strong hands. His college production leaves much to be desired (69/1015/13 in three seasons) but his junior season he had more catches (43), yards (559), and touchdowns (9) than the previous two seasons combined (26/456/4). It is not a lot but it shows growth and the potential to be a solid, chain-moving weapon on the outside. His career 14.7 YPC also shows he can do at least a little more than just catch the ball and fall down.

Predicted Winner: Gabriel (initially)

Beyond both having two first names, these two have nothing in common. Well, style-wise that is. Again, there could be some kind of rotation here. Ridley is a fourth-round rookie so it could take time for him to fully absorb the playbook. And Gabriel is still the Bears best deep-threat, though perhaps an eye should be kept on UDFA Emanuel Hall out of Mizzou. Even if Taylor earns the nod to start, look for the former Georgia Bulldog to build off his impressive rookie camp through the summer and preseason into 2019. The Bears did use a premium (for them) pick to bring him to Chicago.

In the Nick(el) of Time: Buster Skrine vs. Duke Shelley

Chicago lost Bryce Callahan to former defensive boss Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos. That left a gaping hole in what is essentially a starting spot considering the amount of sub-packages teams play. Well, their first move was to sign Buster Skrine. Perhaps uncomfortable relying on a Cleveland Browns and New York Jets castoff, the Bears drafted Duke Shelley out of Kansas State. This could prove to be one of the better Bears camp battles to watch over the summer.

Buster Skrine – Ht: 5’9” – Wt: 185 lb.

Nagy might be the only person to heap praise on Skrine so that makes it noteworthy. The 30-year old had 52 solo tackles, one forced and one recovered fumble but no picks in 2018. He earned a 57.1 grade from Pro Football Focus, good for 103rd at his position. Skrine was given a three-year deal with $8.5 million in guaranteed money in a move that is a major step down from his predecessor. For his career, he has a total of nine interceptions, but four of those came in 2014.

Duke Shelley – Ht: 5’9” – Wt: 180 lb.

Shelley has a high football IQ and character. Concerns about his lack of height pigeonholing him as a slot-only player like slid him just of the fifth (maybe even fourth) round and into Halas Hall. Built almost identically to Skrine, Shelley is also a feisty, competitive player plays bigger than his size. Better pressure in the pros should offset concerns about his playing speed.

Predicted Winner: Shelley

There a couple of dark horse candidates in the battle. Sherrick McManis and Kevin Toliver loom (maybe not large but still) as potential surprise winners. McManus is more valuable as a special teamer and reserve. And the 6’2” Toliver does not necessarily profile as a slot-type. Skrine will probably have the early lead, but his history does not evoke a ton of confidence. Apparently, the Bears felt the same way. They spent some of their limited draft capital on a player that is a younger, souped-up version of him.

Kicked to the Curb: Elliott Fry vs. Chris Blewitt vs. Eddie Pineiro

This is beginning to become worrisome. Not because they had eight legs at rookie camp. Not is it because they will have three legs (with zero NFL experience) in camp this summer. Even this is not the reason Instead, it is the very real notion that this could end their season prematurely. Again. We all saw it and, even with all the changes, kicker is still sticking out like a sore thumb as a deficiency. The unknown about the kickers is overshadowed by the known of how much of an impact getting this wrong can have. Especially in this city.

Predicted Winner: ????

Elliott Fry, Chris Blewitt, and Eddie Pineiro will all have their chance to win over the coaches, ownership, the fans, the city…you get it. If there is an early favorite of this the most ominous of the Bears camp battles? It might be Pineiro by virtue of the team trading for him. But it is probably unlikely that is enough to carry extra weight during this camp battle. The others might be more exciting to watch over the course of the summer. This might still be the most important. If you don’t believe it just rewatch the video of Parkey’s miss and look at the faces of Nagy and Akiem Hicks.

Summer Time Fun

There will be no shortage of storylines to follow throughout the dog days of summer. Whether you think these are the ones to watch or have some under the radar Bears camp battles ( backup pass-rusher, anyone?) in mind, there is much to be sorted out by the time the Bears face the Green Bay Packers in week one. If nothing else the competition is always a welcomed necessity. After all, iron sharpens iron.

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