3 interestin­g Battle scenes

Scrim­mage Satur­day at Sol­dier Field will fea­ture po­si­tion Du­els at run­ning back, cor­ner­back, safety

Chicago Sun-Times - - BEARS BEAT - BY PATRICK FIN­LEY | pfin­ley@sun­times.com | @patrick­fin­ley

Three po­si­tion bat­tles — not count­ing quar­ter­back — we’ll be watch­ing when the Bears scrim­mage at Sol­dier Field on Satur­day:

Run­ning back: Ryan Nall vs. Artavis Pierce

David Mont­gomery’s groin in­jury is ex­pected to cost him weeks, not months. That might elim­i­nate the need for a sign­ing — and the at­trac­tion level for a po­ten­tial free agent. If the Bears carry their four healthy run­ning backs into Week 1, then Pierce or Nall could be in line for car­ries. Tarik Co­hen has car­ried the ball more than nine times only once un­der coach Matt Nagy, and Cor­dar­relle Pat­ter­son, a re­ceiver by trade, has never had more than 11 rushes in a game. More than any­one on the ros­ter, Nall is hurt by the lack of pre­sea­son games. In nine ex­hi­bi­tion games in his three sea­sons with the team, he has run 56 times for 358 yards and caught 14 passes for 80 more. Still, that earned him only two reg­u­larsea­son car­ries, both last year. Last week, run­ning backs coach Charles Lon­don praised Nall’s ver­sa­til­ity, say­ing he played “a lit­tle Hback/tight end type role in col­lege, he played full­back, he played run­ning back.” The Bears might have a sim­i­lar role in mind for him this year. Pierce — an­other Ore­gon State alum — matches Mont­gomery’s ver­sa­til­ity bet­ter than any­one else in the run­ning backs room. The 5-11, 208-pound un­drafted free agent led the Beavers with 873 rush­ing yards last sea­son, av­er­ag­ing six yards per carry, and caught 23 passes for 169 yards.

This likely will be the most game­like ac­tion for him in more than seven months, dat­ing to his ap­pear­ance in the NFLPA Col­le­giate Bowl all-star game in Jan­uary.

Cor­ner­back: Jaylon John­son vs. Buster Skrine

The Bears drafted John­son to start at out­side cor­ner­back for at least the next four years. As John­son ramps up his re­turn from shoul­der surgery in March, it’s fair to won­der whether it will hap­pen in Week 1.

If not, Skrine, who was the team’s nickel cor­ner­back last year, could start at the out­side cor­ner­back spot op­po­site Kyle Fuller. He said he has been tak­ing reps there dur­ing camp.

“If they want me to play cor­ner, I’ll play cor­ner,” Skrine said. “They want me to play nickel? I’ll play nickel.”

Or he could play both. Skrine could play out­side when the team needs only two cor­ners and move inside to the slot — with John­son tak­ing the field to play out­side cor­ner­back — in nickel cov­er­age. Skrine said he did ex­actly that in his third sea­sons with the Browns and Jets.

John­son seems to have the edge over Kevin To­liver. The two started camp in a three­man com­pe­ti­tion, only for cor­ner­back Ar­tie Burns to tear his knee in the first week of padded prac­tice.

Skrine said John­son, a rookie sec­on­dround pick, is ap­proach­ing the game the right way.

“He does things be­fore prac­tice, af­ter prac­tice,” he said. “I mean, he’s at­ten­tive in meet­ings. And ev­ery time he’s out there,

he’s mak­ing plays on the ball, so he’s do­ing a good job with the reps that he’s get­ting.”

Safety: Deon Bush vs. Tashaun Gip­son

There’s no more in­trigu­ing start­ing com­pe­ti­tion than at strong safety, where the Bears are pit­ting the in­cum­bent Bush against Gip­son, who has 23 ca­reer in­ter­cep­tions but has been cut by his team the last two off­sea­sons.

Safety is a po­si­tion best judged dur­ing game play. Satur­day will be as close as the Bears get to that feel­ing be­fore Week 1 against the Lions.

“I ab­so­lutely be­lieve that I’m still a start­ing safety in this league, that I’m a pro­duc­tive starter in this league,” Gip­son said. “So I would like to al­ways bet on my­self vs. any­body, no mat­ter who I’m in com­pe­ti­tion with.

“And I’m sure if you ask Deon the same thing, he should say the same thing,. So ob­vi­ously it’s what you do out there. I could sit and tell you all day, but it’s [de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor] Chuck [Pagano] and coach Nagy — those guys are the guys that make those de­ci­sions. So what we do out there is ob­vi­ously go­ing to de­ter­mine that.” ✶

Ryan Nall

Artavis Pierce

Buster Skrine Jaylon John­son

Tashaun Gip­son

Deon Bush

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