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Bears Who Could Pull Off Upsets in Starting Battles

These Bears rated in order could have the strongest chances to emerge as surprise winners for opening day in starting battles, although there's a good reason each is still an underdog

When players arrive for July 28 training camp at Halas Hall, the dynamic has changed.

All the offseason assumption and speculation ends when competition on the field begins and quite often the depth chart board gets altered. Players who figured as depth make moves and suddenly are in place to start.

The Bears have several players who have either been discounted or buried on the offseason unofficial depth charts of the presumptive. These are the fans, the fantasy players, the media and anyone who project anything.

Anticipate competition to lead to surprises with the Bears, and here are five players rated in order who have the best chance to emerge in a starting role by opening day.

1. Deon Bush

He gave up the winning touchdown to Jimmy Graham against the Packers in the season opener and has been a backup for four seasons, and the acquisition of Tashaun Gipson had everyone assuming the job was the former Houston safety's to take.

Bush, overall, wasn't bad as a replacement when a safety had to leave or when he played more very early in his career.

In 2018 he had to replace Eddie Jackson in the final two regular-season games and the playoff game because of the injury Jackson suffered while returning his division-clinching interception of Aaron Rodgers.

Bush's Pro Football Focus grade for 2018 was an excellent 76.6 for 152 defensive snaps. Last year it was even better at 81.1 for only 58 snaps, including the TD he gave up to Graham.

As a rookie in 2016, Bush struggled in six starts and 11 games played. Rookie seasons can go that way.

Considering Gipson will be 30 when the season begins, his unfamiliarity with the Bears' defensive system and where he left off with the Texans willing to eat $3.75 million of dead money to get rid of him, it's no guarantee Gipson starts. Gipson is also coming off a transverse process fracture in his spine and a broken wrist, as well.

Gipson missed 13.6% of his tackle attempts last year, which was up over the previous year. Eddie Jackson missed on 15.5%. Neither are good numbers. Although his play was limited, Bush missed no tackles in 2018 or 2019.

"Deon's done great over the last couple years, to be honest," Bears safeties coach Sean Desai said. "And he knows, and Gipson knows and Eddie knows, and everybody in that safety room knows that this is a competition. We're all coming to training camp with that mindset."

2. Artie Burns

Jaylon Johnson has been talked up to the hilt, but Artie Burns has the most starting NFL experience of anyone competing for the starting right cornerback spot.

He has the kind of background story to suggest he's a bounce-back type. His father is in prison, mother died and he was entrusted with making sure his young brothers got through the last few years right. It was a difficult situation and may have affected his play.

Burns started more than half the games as a rookie and every game in 2017. When he started every game in 2017, he earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 70.5. On their scoring system, this is very solid. By comparison, Kyle Fuller's was just 62.5 last year and he made the Pro Bowl.

A fresh start might offer Burns what he needs to take advantage of the gap between the time Johnson can learn enough about the defense and how the NFL works to assume the starting role.

Burns also has to contend with Kevin Toliver II. Allowing 68.8% completions when targeted last year and a passer rating of 122.4 has put Toliver in position to prove something merely to keep his roster spot.

Burns is now working with a fellow former Steelers defensive back, Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend, who played for Burns' former Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

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"I did talk to Mike T about him," Townsend said. "Just looking at the tape and just knowing the history of the guy come out of Miami when he was coming out, you saw a long guy that could run, he would stick his nose in there in the run game. He's physical, he has man-to-man ability, and that's all we can look for.

"And then to be able to talk to guys over there to find out what was wrong, but those things are in the past. He's here now and it's my job to see if I can get him better to see if he can help us win."

And one other plus on Burns' side? His old college teammate and buddy is none other than Deon Bush, and having an ally never hurts.

3. Demetrius Harris

Expecting Cole Kmet to be a Day 1 starter is presumptuous. Tight end is a spot where players struggle in Year 1, more often than not.

Harris hasn't really been a starter but has been good enough both with Kansas City and Cleveland to be on the field for extended periods. He played more than half the downs last year at tight end and had six starts for the Browns. With Kansas City, he topped out at 47% and 45% of snaps in 2016-17.

Until Kmet has it figured out, the Bears need someone at the Y tight end while Jimmy Graham mans U tight end. Harris is the most likely answer, considering his five years in the Chiefs' offense, including four while coach Matt Nagy was with the Chiefs.

4. Mitchell Trubisky 

The battle everyone will talk about should be one-sided. 

Trubisky has looked good to players in off-field work, but he always is fine until the actual games begin. It's during pressure from the opposing rush when his feet start moving and passing mechanics break down. 

Trubisky has not proven he can read defenses better at this point, and this is something difficult to see until he's actually facing a live rush in a regular-season game. Opposing defenses rarely throw the book at a quarterback in preseason. 

The thing is, Trubisky has a decent chance to overcome all of this because he has time working on his side. No offseason work for Nick Foles in the offense will be a severe handicap whatever way you slice it.  

Starting camp July 28 allows Foles only one month to prove he is better. The final preseason game is irrelevant because no one uses starters then, and the decision will be made before then.

5. Rashaad Coward

Germain Ifedi has been assumed the starter at right guard from the time the Bears announced he had signed, but Rashaad Coward is actually the one who has this job until it is taken away.

New offensive line coach Juan Castillo talked up Ifedi to media but once coaches actually get on the field and work with players they'll know more.

Coward was pressed into a role he didn't know and struggled last year. It's entirely possible he makes strides after 10 starts last year in his debut.