I’ll admit it: it’s way too early to predict who will make the final roster and who will be on the outside looking in come September. It’s only the middle of week 2 in Bourbonnais.
But a few players have been making headlines at Bears camp for different reasons. Let’s take a look at who’s getting camp off on the right foot and who might be on the bubble after a poor start.
Stephen Paea, DT
Stephen Paea has been turning heads for all the right reasons. The former second round pick has been taking all the snaps with the first defensive team at nose tackle since August 2nd, leapfrogging incumbent Matt Toeaina.
Paea missed 5 games last year due to a knee injury, but now he claims to be in the best shape of his life. He’s been improving his speed off the line to pair with his brute strength.
With a record 49 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press at the 2011 NFL Combine, there’s no question Paea has the raw power to become a force. But defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been raving about Paea’s growth as an overall athlete and his versatility. While taking reps at both the nose tackle and 3-technique, Paea has shown to be a superior pass rusher than his competition. The key now is staying healthy.
Chauncey Davis, DE
7 year vet Chauncey Davis has been a pleasant surprise so far in camp just like his d-line mate Paea. He appeared in only 6 games for the Bears in 2011, but Davis has been quietly making his case to be in the rotation at defensive end.
Davis may not be getting a lot of attention from the media, but he has grabbed the attention of his coaches by jumping at every opportunity to play. He’s taken the majority of his reps alongside Corey Wootton and the second unit, but he’s also seen time with the first team when Julius Peppers needs a break.
During an interview with ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show”,Davis said he had no problem with the attention being diverted to his teammates. “That’s not going to stop me from going out there and doing what I have to do to get better,” said Davis.
Brian Price, DT
Rod Marinelli does have a lot to be happy with along the defensive line with Paea and Davis. But newcomer Brian Price has been a completely different story.
The Bears figured a change of scenery might benefit Price, a former 2nd round pick for the Buccaneers. He’s gone through surgical procedures on both hamstrings and has been dealing with the recent death of his sister Bridget this past May.
But even though Price claimed to be in a better place mentally when he arrived at Bears camp, his first practice on July 31st told a different story. Price appeared nervous as he committed multiple penalties. In each subsequent practice, Price has been underwhelming. He’s frequently been neutralized by the offensive line and was even shaken up on August 2nd.
Lovie Smith loves the challenge of developing players, but Price will have to make some major changes if he wants to make this opportunity work. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s learning a new defense while trying to get back into “football shape”. But Price has his work cut out for him this August.
Tyler Clutts, FB
Clutts hasn’t necessarily had a bad start to camp other than a few fumbles. But he seems to be a victim of circumstance. Clutts is the only fullback listed on the roster, but the fact that he only plays fullback may be his downfall. Rookie tight end Evan Rodriguez has been seeing snaps at fullback and BYU product Harvey Unga has been bouncing between halfback and fullback. Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice seems to look for versatility out of the backfield instead of a specialized player like Clutts.
What makes Clutts’ challenge even more daunting is his lack of experience at halfback and tight end. There’s no indication from camp that he’s been taking snaps from any other spot, and it would be hard pressed for him to learn and excel at an entirely new position in such a short amount of time. With Armando Allen and Harvey Unga both making strong pushes for the Bears to keep 4 running backs, Clutts might find himself as the odd man out.
Devin Thomas, WR
In a recent article I made a case for Devin Thomas making the roster as a backup wide receiver and a special teams contributor. Apparently Thomas didn’t feel the same way because he unexpectedly announced his retirement over Twitter on August 5th.
“I have decided to retire from the NFL,” was the message that showed up on Thomas’ Twitter page. In subsequent tweets, the 25 year old Super Bowl Champion cited personal reasons for calling it quits, explaining that he’s lived out his football dreams and wants to return to his hometown to be a mentor and give back to his community.
This is a decision Thomas has been contemplating for some time now, and the daily grind of training camp was the final straw. As a result, Eric Weems and Dane Sanzenbacher could now both make the roster as opposed to one or the other.
Millions in the bank, a Super Bowl Ring on your finger, and a 30 year head start on your retirement. Life must be pretty sweet for Mr. Thomas.