Makeup of 53, practice tinkering and potential Whitehair extension bear watching as training camp opens

There were other interesting topics covered by Bears GM Ryan Pace, HC Matt Nagy at pre-camp presser Sunday

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PFW already brought you the news on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix headed to the PUP list and shared our analysis of what Bears brass had to say on Mitch Trubisky, Leonard Floyd and the revamped backfield and run game.

But what else is worth revisiting?

53-man roster construction will require heavier lifting than most think

The Bears are poised to hold their most competitive camp since perhaps the 2007 season, when they were coming off a Super Bowl appearance. That’s the level of talent Pace and Nagy have assembled. But don’t assume the roster is already set — and likewise don’t assume the team’s mind is set on how many players they’ll keep at each position.

For instance, the WR battles are widely considered to be as heated as any in Bourbonnais, but just because keeping seven at that spot is unconventional, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

“Matt and I were just talking to [WR] coach [Mike] Furrey about that this morning. I think it’s a good challenge to have that much competition at that position. Obviously we’re going to be watching it close and letting them battle out. I think sometimes we can get caught up in, ‘oh, we have to keep this many number’ — we’ll be flexible with that. Our goal is to keep the best players. If it means going a little heavy at a position, we’ll go heavy there. It’s exciting to watch that right now because, you’re right, we have kind of flipped that position. It’s tons of competition, they’re all a little different, and that’s why every rep they take in practice, in the games is all going to be closely evaluated by us — because we got to get that right.”

There will be less time to evaluate UDFA Emanuel Hall after he missed the duration of the offseason following sports hernia surgery, but he can absolutely grain ground in a flash. Javon Wims has maximized everyone of his opportunities since being selected in the seventh round last season. Marvin Hall's speed and special-teams prowess shouldn't be ignored. But with fourth-rounder Riley Ridley a virtual lock and the only question on Cordarrelle Patterson perhaps what position he'll be considered, there will be at least one odd man out.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Bears kept six receivers on their initial 53-man roster last season, but they also had five tight ends and a fullback. There’s no fullback expected in the mix a year later, and the TE room has more questions with Dion Sims and Daniel Brown exiting and Bradley Sowell converting from offensive tackle.

In addition to receiver and tight end, we’re especially intrigued by the numbers games in both backfields. The nickel position is thin on known quantities behind Buster Skrine, and at corner, Stephen Denmark faces a significant uphill battle with Kevin Toliver, who's coming off a quietly productive UDFA campaign and subsequent offseason.

Does sixth-rounder Kerrith Whyte stick as the fourth back? His speed and athleticism could prove tougher to stash on the practice squad than the sushi-raw Denmark’s. The closest thing we heard Sunday to a hint on the eventual establishing of the 53 was the news that QB3 Tyler Bray still has remaining practice-squad exemption. In other words, barring injury, it’ll be Trubisky and Chase Daniel, same as last season.

Nagy is tinkering with the camp schedule

Nagy's Bears again will continue to practice primarily beginning at 8:15 in Bourbonnais, but there will be a different format.

“We have a slight change to our installation times,” he said. “You're always trying to adapt and take feedback from players and coaches on how we do things. First year, last year, I stuck to a schedule that I knew for a lot of years. So we'll have some slight changes to how we're installing a little bit earlier and flipping our walk-through, which will be a little bit later. And then the other thing, too, we'll shut down about an hour earlier, which I think will be crucial to the guys to be together and get more sleep.”

We were already interested in seeing whether the practice tone and timing shifts at all with an almost entirely new defensive staff. Meantime, we know the order of business will change a bit. Nagy wouldn't reveal for sure whether his plan to basically stash and preserve his starters during the preseason will carry over from last summer, when the Bears had extra practice time and a fifth preseason game. But this response on the subject felt telling.

“We’ve discussed it. There’s a plan," he said. "For a lot of us, we really care about what happens Week 1, and not Week 2 of the preseason, or Week 3. At least that’s the way I think, but maybe I’m wrong. But we have a plan.”

Whitehair extension likely in works

This isn’t a fait accompli — and Pace, like every general manager, always keeps things tight to the vest with contract negotiations — but reading between the lines, it sure sounds like the Pro Bowl alternate blocker could have some new paper before Week 1.

“Obviously, Cody is an important player for us,” Pace said. “When we talk about our culture and we talk about unselfish and great teammates, Cody embodies all those things. But you guys know as we get into these extensions, they remain internal. But Cody’s an important part of this.”

Pace was asked something that we’ve written on repeatedly this offseason — how the position switch potentially affects negotiations. In short, it’s not unworkable.

We’ll leave the contract projections to the salary-cap experts but leave our readers with this on the subject: Pace is on a hot streak with extending his own. Akiem Hicks, Charles Leno and Eddie Goldman all played their best football after getting paid, an illustration not only of their outstanding football character but Pace’s ability to identify that quality. They all look like bargains now because that's what happens when smart teams reward the right players early in a league where the salary cap rises by an average of $10 millon annually. But even with that growth, the Bears' decisions will become more complicated as early as next offseason, when Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and Mitch Trubisky all become first eligible for raises.

Whitehair has epitomized selflessness and steadiness over the majority of his Bears tenure. Expect his turn to be next, and, the Bears expect, his production to keep climbing at his new position.

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