X-Factors Who Could Be Bears Contributors

Players on Bears defensive side who could figure to not only challenge for roster spots but also earn playing time
Publish date:

One certainty about every training camp is the way some lightly regarded players step up and compete.

They can prove surprising and make it uncomfortable for reserves or even starters who may have taken their role with the team for granted.

It could be a young player figuring it out suddenly or a veteran trying to make a last stab at playing in the league, but the Bears can count on a few of these players stepping up at camp.

Here are players who could surprise as real X-factors when Bears training camp begins, and all are on defense.

In some cases, they've already started their attempt to catch the eye of coaches with the work they put in during minicamp and OTAs.

Edge Trevis Gipson

Buried on the depth chart last year after basically switching positions, Gipson has been present and accounted for at all the offseason work while almost all the veteran starters were absent. He had only 71 defensive snaps last year and three pressures, according to the NFL's stat partner Sportradar.

"A guy like Trevis played defensive end a lot in a three-down front in college so he was inside in a three-point (stance)," Bears outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey said. "So bringing him outside and playing him in a two-point stance, that was the first time that he did a lot of those things.

"Working with him last year, the important thing was that he was spending the extra time watching a guy like Khalil (Mack), Rob Quinn, Barkevious (Mingo) last year and James Vaughters, guys that have been around for a while, and looking at their approach to understand what it's going to take for him to make that transition to an outside linebacker."

Gipson is the perfect example of a player who might benefit greatly now from offseason reps he couldn't get during the pandemic, and from his first preseason games since they didn't get to play any last year.

"It's not going to be easy to take something from a walk-through to a drill and get it to show up in a game," Shuey said. "You need to rep that thing, you need to take the mental reps and you need to be diligent in that and I think Trevis is on the right path. But obviously he has a ways to go and he will tell you that."

ILB Austin Calitro

The Bears are his fourth team in four years and he didn't contribute anything on defense last year for Vic Fangio in Denver, but did play 29% of the defensive snaps with Seattle in 2018 and 22% with Jacksonville in 2019. He has nine starts to his credit and has played more defensive snaps in three seasons than backup inside linebackers Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Josh Woods combined.

Calitro's presence could lead to one of those two linebackers being off the roster, or on the practice squad.

S Marqui Christian

Jordan Lucas opted out last year and Christian participated, and it's possible one of those two will make the roster as a third backup safety behind Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson.

You'd have to like Christian's chances. While both he and Lucas are experienced special teams contributors, Lucas played only 42 defensive snaps with the 2019 world champion Chiefs, 25 with Miami in 2017 and his biggest season was 262 snaps or 22% with the Chiefs in 2018.

Christian, though, is 17 pounds heavier than the 190-pound Lucas and a stronger hitter. He played 34% of the Rams' defensive plays in both 2018 and 2019.  

Lucas actually played slot cornerback in some red zone defensive situations with backups at minicamp. 

Last year while Lucas sat, Christian became very familiar with the Bears scheme as he joined the team just before training camp, served a two-game league suspension before he could play, and was cut so he could be added to the  practice squad after Week 2. When he had a chance to be on the Jets roster, he terminated his Bears practice squad contract to sign on with New York's regular roster.  He was later cut by the Jets. 

The Bears liked him enough to bring him back to their practice squad.

CB Xavier Crawford

With Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley and Thomas Graham Jr. expected to vie for playing time at cornerback or the nickel, usually there is roster room for an extra cornerback or two who play special teams well.

Crawford spent much of last year on the practice squad but got activated and played in three games in the late season after he made a debut as an undrafted free agent with both Houston and Miami in 2019. He got on the field for 33 special teams snaps.

"Had some gunner reps and played well on the outside on punt return and even kickoff and really showed up," Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. "So that's very encouraging."

Crawford was heavily involved in a minicamp and OTAs in pass defense. 

The team has former NFL cornerbacks like Artie Burns and Tre' Roberson on the roster, but it's Crawford who has to rate a bit of an inside track for a roster spot based on what he did last year while Burns and Roberson were injured all season.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven