From defensive tackle to kick returner: 5 position battles to watch during Chicago Bears training camp

With training camp on the horizon, that means some jobs on the Chicago Bears are up for grabs at Halas Hall.

While there won't be as many as last season – some have won without even taking a camp snap like Caleb Williams – there are still a few that have to be decided ahead of a pivotal 2024 season in Chicago.

Here are five position battles to watch during training camp this summer, as the Bears aim to move from playoff hopeful to playoff contender.

Defensive Tackle

If you've heard it once, you're going to keep hearing it.

The 3-technique defensive tackle position is the most important position in Matt Eberflus' defense. That's what plenty have said since Eberflus was hired in 2022.

This year, Gervon Dexter is expected to be the player that fits what the Bears are looking for. He had 2.5 sacks as a rookie and was good enough to let Justin Jones walk in free agency.

But, that improvement needs to be consistent. 

Dexter is currently ahead of Byron Cowart, signed this offseason, and undrafted rookie Keith Randolph on the Bears' depth chart on ESPN. Fellow second-year player Zacch Pickens is also looking for more playing time and could get it with solid performances in camp.

However, Dexter is a player the Bears need to perform at a high level if the defense wants to take the next step from a top-15 defense to a top-10 or better unit.

Defensive End

This needs to come with a disclaimer: this position battle is for the defensive end position opposite Montez Sweat.

Sweat is a key piece to the Bears' defense. He led the team in sacks last season, even after arriving midway through the season via trade with the Washington Commanders.

Right now, DeMarcus Walker is slated as the starting defensive end opposite Sweat. That would make the most sense. However, that could ultimately change if the Bears decide to sign a free agent defense end before the season starts.

Chicago did that last offseason, adding Yannick Ngakoue before the start of the season. They could run that back, as Ngakoue is still a free agent and only played in 13 games before a broken ankle sidelined him before he could show what he could do opposite Sweat.

However, rookie Austin Booker could find a way to be effective in a rotational role, too. That could change who starts and who gets playing time.

Kick Returner

With the new kickoff return rules comes a new need.

Now, kickoff returners will be expected to get plenty of touches during a game as opposed to the last handful of seasons. That means returners have to be a mix of durable and explosive.

Durning mandatory minicamp, Velus Jones, Tyler Scott and Kahlil Herbert were seen returning kicks. With the Bears' receiver room now loaded, that's an opportunity for Jones or Scott to get playing time, especially if it means they'll have a chance to solidify their roster spot.

Jones has struggled to be a consistent part of the offense since joining the Bears in 2022, especially considering how he struggled with ball security returning punts early in his career.

All of that has to be taken into consideration with a rule change that could impact field position as much as it does the scoreboard.


Last season, Lucas Patrick and Cody Whitehair played at center, rotating due to injuries.

Both are no longer on the roster, and instead free agent signee Coleman Shelton and trade acquisition Ryan Bates will combine to be arguably the most important position battle in camp.

The Bears have struggled to find a long-term answer at center since 2021. Since then, the Bears have started Patrick, Whitehair and Sam Mustipher at center. This has included plenty of trial and error, with plenty of low snaps and other issues stemming from that.

Now, it will come down to Shelton and Bates. Shelton gets an edge as he was the starting center for the Rams last season, but Bates was acquired for a fifth-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. Giving up that kind of draft capital should signal Bates will see playing time in some capacity.

Training camp practices should tell us much more.

Left Tackle

This is a darkhorse competition, but it's certainly one to keep an eye on.

There was talk of the Bears using the No. 9 overall pick on an offensive lineman if the team decided it wanted to create competition on the line.

Namely, left tackle Braxton Jones could be a player the Bears could be watching if that were to be the case next offseason.

Behind Jones are Larry Borom and rookie Kiran Amegadije. If Jones struggles in training camp, that could open up a window for someone else to hop in and challenge for his spot. 

Or, it might mean the Bears could start planning on who they'll take next in the 2025 NFL Draft.


Chicago Bears training camp tickets open to public

Tickets to the Chicago Bears training camp practices were made available to the public Tuesday morning.