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Men of Intrigue at Bears Camp

Three Bears acquisitions have an aura of mystery about them because when they practice at training camp it will be the first time they've suited up in a Bears uniform and taken the field.

When the Bears report for training camp, they'll have three mystery men on the field.

All three will be on the defensive side of the ball.

They're mysteries because no one has seen them practicing for the Bears.

Because in two of these cases, the players were brought in this year and didn't practice, it begs the question of why wouldn't the Bears simply have kept the Larry Ogunjobi contract valid despite a failed physical, then waited until he was ready to play. He's apparently ready enough for the Steelers now.

The Bears have essentially had to do the same thing with two of these mystery men. 

Perhaps the answer to this would be apparent if they detailed why these players weren't available all offseason to practice, but they wouldn't explain it.

They could get benefits from these mystery players on defense and special teams if they're ready to play.

1. S Dane Cruikshank

The third safety for Tennessee last year, he saw his first extensive action on defense in his fourth year and provided some effective play as an extra defensive back in dime coverage schemes. He was particularly effective at covering tight ends last year but not so much he could find a way onto the field as a regular safety. He made his first four starts last season.

The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder was on the field on defense for 414 plays last year or 46% of the plays when he had had an active role on game day.

This is an athlete who could provide great versatility to the defense if his playing efficiency can match his measurables. Cruikshank actually ran 4.41 seconds in the 40, which is faster than former Bears third-down back Tarik Cohen. He had a 38.5-inch vertical leap, which was only half an inch shorter than Allen Robinson's. His outstanding 6.89-second effort in the three-cone drill would have put him in the top 10 this year at the combine for all players.

So, it's easy to see how a player like Cruikshank could help on special teams units even if he isn't a starter.

When the Titans used Cruikshank with Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker last year in a three-safety defense, he earned the tag of tight end eraser. His passer rating against last season when targeted was a solid 86.6. That's better than the 103.3 rating DeAndre Houston-Carson compiled in a similar role for the Bears last year, so it seems those two would be vying for playing time in the dime package.

Cruikshank did miss three games on injured reserve last year with a knee injury but returned and finished the season. It's unknown whether his absence all offseason had anything to do with that injury.

2. S Elijah Hicks

The only draft pick who hasn't really been part of practicing in the offseason, Hicks had an injury the Bears, again, did not want to discuss. So his abilities at this level of play are a total guessing game.

"With Elijah, when he's ready to go, he'll get back in there," Eberflus said. "I'm not going to put timetables on it and all that. He'll work through that."

Hicks was a cornerback who converted to safety when the team had a need there and found he was effective enough to draw NFL interest.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder made four of his five career interceptions while at safety his final two seasons. He also has six forced fumbles, four coming as a safety in his final year.

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'I'm always around the ball. I'm hungry—see ball, get ball," he said. "Whether it was out of the post, making plays sideline to sideline, getting interceptions or, rather, that was punching the ball out, stripping the ball."

How the Bears will try to use him remains to be seen. Is he a slot cornerback? Is he going to line up at deep safety or regular cornerback? Just because a player stood out at safety for two years doesn't mean scouts thought he was better playing that position. It was just a need spot and Hicks solved it.

When he's back, he'll return to a crowded secondary battle and try to squeeze onto the roster. It's never easy for seventh-round picks.

3. DE Al-Quadin Muhammad

Muhammad is no mystery in Indianapolis. He is in Chicago because he wasn't at offseason work until reporting at the end of OTAs, but then he didn't practice. He watched from the sideline.

Since he was on the Colts, Eberflus knows what to exect from him. Muhammad knows what to expect from Eberflus, too.

"If you're not playing at a fast pace, you're not running to the ball, punching at the ball, stripping at the ball, just 11 guys to the ball, you're not going to play," Muhammad said. "I bought into that immediately and I train that way during the offseason."

We'll see this when he must prove it at camp and he's no longer a mystery to Bears fans.

Whether he has been obtained as a possible starter or as a backup behind Trevs Gipson and Robert Quinn is the other mystery.

Muhammad became a starter last year, his fifth NFL season, after one with New Orleans and four with Eberflus' Colts. He made 20 more tackles (48) than in any season in his career and had a career-high six sacks but actually made more tackles for loss in 2019 as a sub (8) with just four starts than he had last year (7) starting in every game.

At 6-4, 250, Muhammad is built like Quinn, more than Gipson, who is 13 pounds heavier.

He seems like more of a rotational outside rush man rather than an every down defensive end, but this isn't known since he didn't practice.

Tune in after camp starts, just like with the other two mystery men.

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