No significant or final depth-chart decisions were expected to be made during the three-day minicamp at Halas Hall the final weekend in May, but competition officially began at several positions.
The marquee matchups are at quarterback, between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton; and at running back, between Cedric Benson and rookie Matt Forte. But the left guard spot is up for grabs, the entire wide receiver position is unsettled and there are several contenders at safety. For now, left tackle is being manned by veteran John St. Clair, but rookie Chris Williams is expected to win the job.
Because of Benson's arrest the first weekend in May for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest, more attention has been paid to the impending battle between him and Forte. The Tulane standout was impressing coaches at the rookie minicamp the same weekend Benson was, according to him and some observers, being mistreated by officers on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas.
Both players say they're looking forward to competing.
"I'm just here to create competition," Forte said after the rookie minicamp. "We're a team, so it's not like we're one against another person. I'm just trying to make everybody better as well as myself."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo went into the draft adamant about creating more competition for Benson.
"Until somebody proves that they're the guy," Angelo said, "we have to make sure that we create as much competition at that position. I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team."
RB Matt Forte
Warren Wimmer Photography
Benson has yet to live up to his draft status as the fourth-overall pick from 2005, and he might have to perform better than he ever has in his first three seasons in order to keep his job. Last week, during the first batch of organized team activities, Benson looked better than expected following last season's fractured ankle and appeared quicker after having dropped 10 pounds – the result of a healthier diet.
"Nobody wants to be given anything," he said of the battle for a featured role in the run game. "It makes it more fun and more exciting when you've got a challenge going. I'm just going to be me and make plays."
Benson has the advantage of three years in the system, but he's coming off the worst of three unimpressive seasons. Forte has had four weeks to learn a system similar to the one he played in last year, when he rushed for 2,127 yards.
"I've been playing football my whole life, so I just have to get used to the speed of the game when everybody gets here," he said at the rookie minicamp. "I'll take my playbook with me, keep learning it, keep going over the plays and also stay in good shape so when I come out here I can run play after play after play."
NEWS & NOTESMiddle linebacker Brian Urlacher has boycotted all voluntary offseason activities to get more money than the $18 million the Bears have already offered in a renegotiation of his nine-year, $56.65 contract that still has four years remaining. He was also not expected to attend this weekend's activities, which are mandatory and could result in a fine of $8,000.
"I would bet I wouldn't be there," Urlacher told Yahoo! Sports two weeks ago.
"He's not going to be there," Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs told ESPN on Tuesday.
But according to the Chicago Tribune, Urlacher will now be in attendance for the three-day session at Halas Hall. If the former Defensive Player of the Year had indeed missed the mandatory minicamp, he would have been in violation of his contract and the team could have then attempted to recover a pro-rated portion of the $13 million signing bonus he received back in 2003. Urlacher will also avoid a fine of $8,165 – the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.
Grossman and Orton, who are both competing for the Bears' No. 1 quarterback job, have directed the No. 1 offense on alternate days during the organized team activities, and they are expected to alternate with the first team throughout this weekend's minicamp.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner will be looking for specific attributes from the quarterbacks, but a decision might not be made until well into the preseason.
"I think the No. 1 thing is decision making," Turner said. "Obviously, they have to have the physical talent to make all the throws, but decision making, accuracy and athletic ability."
Shortly after rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee, Bears' fifth-round draft pick Zack Bowman suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee midway through spring practice before his senior season at Nebraska.
CB Zack Bowman
Warren Wimmer Photography
"With the second knee injury, you start questioning yourself like, 'What did I do? Is it me?'" Bowman said. "But I realized that there was nothing I could do about it. When I hurt both my knees, I was going 100 percent, playing hard and they just happened."
Because of the severity of the injuries and a senior season that didn't live up to his earlier performances, Bowman plummeted from a possible first-round pick to the 142nd player drafted. But starting with this weekend's minicamp, Bowman is hoping to prove that he has recaptured his previous performance level. Before the knee surgeries, Bowman was running sub-4.4 40s.
"I'm getting back to that point," he said. "I feel great. I feel like I felt in 2005. My knees are healthy. It's just about getting them stronger and getting my body to work as one again."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"For a receiver, I just have to be where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be there and catch the ball for them. It really doesn't matter who is throwing the ball." – WR Brandon Lloyd on the quarterback competition between Grossman and Orton.
BEAR REPORT: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.