Closest Bears Camp Battle Might Be the Ugliest One

Gene Chamberlain

Although quarterback commands much of the attention of Bears fans, it's not the only starting battle to focus on Monday when they actually go on the practice field, or Aug. 17 when they put on pads.

If analysts like Pro Football Focus know anything, then the quarterback battle shouldn't be close, anyway. They've all been writing off Matt Trubisky for months.

"We have a nice little battle at corner," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "You're looking at the safety position. And then you've got inside on the offensive line there at guard with those guys."

Tight end isn't so much a battle as it is waiting to see what Cole Kmet is ready to do early.

The best Bears starting battle is not at safety because it's basically Deon Bush against Tashaun Gipson for that spot alongside Eddie Jackson. The Bears had Bush. If they wanted him to be the starter then they wouldn't have pursued a veteran like Gipson, who isn't too old to play at 30, and has 23 career interceptions.

It's obviously Gipson's spot to lose. It's Bush's fifth season and he's had opportunities each of the last four years to be a starter and never did it.

The right guard battle Nagy mentioned isn't much of battle, either. Germain Ifedi hasn't had much time at guard but has more starts at the position than his competition, Rashaad Coward, and has started six times as many games in his career, mostly at tackle where it's tougher to play.

So it's obvious the cornerback position is the closest battle of this Bears training camp.

It's a little like the Y tight end spot, where they're holding the spot for Kmet to be ready and have a some more experienced player who can do it for a while in Demetrius Harris.

The Bears really need rookie Jaylon Johnson to play well as quickly as possible because the alternative is either Artie Burns, a former starter who gave up six touchdown passes the last two years for Pittsburgh, or Kevin Toliver, who has played only 310 snaps on defense in a two-year career.

The chances are Johnson will not be ready to go on opening day as a starter because of the difficulty of playing cornerback in the NFL.

Last year there were 32 cornerbacks drafted and only four of them started on opening day -- and only two of those remained there the next week. The other two weren't ready for it.

The last time a Bears draft pick at cornerback was ready to be a starter on opening day, the coach was Dave Wannstedt. The cornerback was Walt Harris, whose agent on draft day passed out the T-shirts saying "Three-fifths of the world is covered by water. The rest is covered by Walt Harris."

Harris started on opening night in 1996 against the defending world champion Dallas Cowboys and had a nice six years in Chicago before going on to play seven more seasons for the Colts, Redskins and 49ers.

Johnson has great aspirations, as his comment shortly after the draft revealed: "...I want to be rookie defensive player of the year, and then (deleted) win a Super Bowl."

This is admirable. He seems talented from all scouts' reports. However, being ready to start on opening day is a real rarity in the NFL at cornerback and especially for the Bears. He simply may not be ready. 

It's part of the reason opening day looks like a daunting task for their defense when they face Matthew Stafford and his receivers at Ford Field.

The other options besides Johnson aren't great. 

This is one training camp battle where it might be close but not because of the high level of play by participants.

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