Throughout the offseason it became clear coach Matt Eberflus took a different view of how players need to be developed than previous Bears regimes did.
The Bears practiced with first team, second team and third teams on the field at various times but occasionally had players mixed in with different groups. They'd play a first-team receiver against second or third teams in order to observe how a younger defensive back might perform guarding a more advanced receiver. Or they played an undrafted receiver against first-team defensive backs to measure their ability. He's promised it's something he'll be doing at training camp, as well.
"It's not just roll the ball out there, Ones against Ones, Twos against Twos," Eberflus said. "No. Let's match these players up so we can see them because a lot of times what happens is if you have for example you have a rookie that was playing with the Twos and he's going against the second group of receivers or even some of the Thirds, he doesn't get that exposure. You know, he needs to get that exposure to see where he's at and in the end really to gain his game and make it better and better by going against a better talent."
Along the way, it became apparent some undrafted players might have better shots to make the roster than others.
Because of roster turnover and the salary cap in the first year of a rebuild, there could be more undrafted free agents make the final roster than at any time in recent memory.
Here are three offensive undrafted free agents who stepped up to show they might be among those with real shots at making the 53-man roster. Because linemen and linebackers have better chances to make impressions at training camp when physical play is allowed, it could turn out these players who stood out in the offseason get moved into the background while undrafted pass rushers or defensive tackles emerge as more likely roster spot winners.
Although he's not the taller type cornerback the Bears seem to like for this zone, Jones' pedigree as an SEC player seemed to stand out in practices. While the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder was at Mississippi he played in six seasons and 50 games so he is very experienced and is already 24 years old. He made 19 career pass breakups and handled coverages at Bears practices without being embarrassed. Whether Jones has slot cornerback capability isn't known, but if he continues to impress it would seem likely they'll give him a look all over the secondary.
It's easier for measurables to show up in OTAs and minicamps because they are not obscured by the physicality found in games or in padded, contact practices. Albright is taller than most Bears linebackers at 6-foot-2. With a 4.6 40 time the former Ball State player is faster than free agent inside linebacker Jack Sanborn (4.73) and he was versatile at Ball State as they blitzed him or played him in coverage. He made 13 sacks and two pass breakups. He looks like an ideal size/speed type for special teams coverage units. Expect Chicago area native Sanborn to make a push, too, when practices start because his ability to hit in college couldn't be used in OTAs. The Bears lost a practice day in OTAs for being too physical but it won't happen at training camp.
An intriguing player because of his size. A safety for Kansas State and Charlotte, Alexander is 6-2, 217 pounds. The Bears have a starting linebacker who came into the league about that size in Nicholas Morrow and he also played safety in college. This is a player who easily could be converted to a linebacker spot like Morrow if he continues to display the same athletic ability when hitting is allowed. Having a bigger safety isn't necessarily a thing for this defensive scheme but moving bigger safeties to off-ball linebacker spots is something done at times by teams playing the Tampa-2 style like the Bears will. It's even more inviting if he can hit like a linebacker.
BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Bears full time for various publications, news services and websites over 30 years, including several years collaborating on weekly NFL/Bears columns with Mike Ditka and Walter Payton for the Copley Newspaper Chain.