Chicago Bears OTA Journal: Week 3

As another week of OTAs continues on for the Chicago Bears, here are a couple stories coming out of the team’s offseason workouts that I found interesting:

Manny Ramirez retires

When teams start OTAs and training camps, moves like this aren’t always expected. Particularly in the case of Ramirez, who signed with the Bears this offseason, this move came as somewhat of a surprise, given that he was expected to possibly push Hroniss Grasu, Ted Larsen, and rookie Cody Whitehair for spots at center and guard.

Yet, as eventually becomes the case with every NFL player, especially on the wrong side of 30, the 33-year-old Ramirez wasn’t holding up physically the way he was accustomed. “It’s not a decision I made randomly. It’s something I have been dealing with and when it’s time, it’s time. When your body tells you something, you can’t really go against it…when your body doesn’t want to do what is required at this level, I wanted to play it smart.”

He didn’t note any specific injuries during workouts that may have driven him to this decision, mainly noting that the typical lineman trouble areas—knees, ankles, and lower back—were not re-acclimating to the daily grind as well as they used to.

In hindsight, this makes the Bears’ drafting of Whitehair look even smarter and further thrusts the spotlight on Grasu’s offseason improvements in the weight room and in regards to the playbook. I would not be surprised if the Bears added another body to the interior O-line mix just for competition’s sake, but I think now more than ever that Grasu will be given every chance to claim the center position in training camp, as will Whitehair at left guard.

Ramirez was likely going to be the first insurance policy for the Bears if last year’s third-round pick Grasu wasn’t up to the task, and based on what I’ve seen on Larsen, I’d rather that he never played a meaningful snap for the Bears. We’ll see what the true aftermath of this announcement is—if any—when the pads come on in training camp. For now, though, the Bears have to be hoping and praying that Grasu and Whitehair are ready to play right now.

Alshon Jeffery’s absence lingers

Since signing his $14+ million franchise tag tender in March, the Bears’ top receiver has been a no-show at Bears OTAs as expected, though he and his coach did make an appearance together with the Chicago Cubs recently.

That still hasn’t stymied reports coming out that Fox is privately upset at what he perceives as a lack of dedication by Jeffery to the Bears’ organization.

Jeffery has chosen to work out on his own for the time being while his contract situation with the Bears gets sorted—the two sides can negotiate until July 15, but it’s not looking like significant progress will be made before then—and that appears to be part of the problem. Fox is old school and expects his players to get with the program, and that includes letting the Bears staff have a say in how Jeffery prepares his body to cut down on the soft-tissue injuries that have been plaguing him at the start of his career.

Though team activities to this point have been voluntary and plenty of players—Matt Forte, for example—choose to work out on their own during this time, the Bears brass, while not outwardly coming out and saying it, don’t look at these as optional activities:

“I wish he was here,” Pace said. “It’s voluntary. It is what it is.” —Ryan Pace

“I’ve talked with Alshon, he understands how I feel.” —John Fox

That’s about as diplomatically as both guys can say “we expect you to be here working out with your team” as it gets.

As of this point, Jeffery has not given indications that he will not be at mandatory minicamp next week, but this ongoing conflict, should it exist, could further be raising the possibility of a departure from Chicago at season’s end. While it may be premature to go all-in with that notion—the Bears could reach a long-term deal with Jeffery tomorrow for all we know—look no further than Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett as recent examples of players viewed as distractions that got let go.

If Fox and Ryan Pace view Jeffery’s unhappiness with his contract or unwillingness to acquiesce to Fox as an on-going problem, he could be next.

Matt Blanchard runs out of time

After years of hanging around somewhere in the depths of the Bears’ quarterback room, Blanchard has been released by the team once again, even after they had signed him to a reserve/futures contract over the summer.

Coming into the offseason, Blanchard was at least marginally expected to compete for the backup quarterback position, but once Brian Hoyer was signed over draft weekend, that possibility evaporated quickly. Additionally, Blanchard has exhausted his practice squad eligibility (typically two seasons) and simply ran out of options.

To fill that void, the Bears brought in undrafted Darmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams, who impressed the team enough during his rookie minicamp audition that they say saw fit to offer him a bigger opportunity. If they like him enough, perhaps he could be the new third-string QB, though I think it’s probably more likely—far-too-early-prediction notwithstanding—that he ends up on the Bears practice squad himself as a developmental project if they release him and he clears waivers.

Ultimately, Williams might just end up running out of time with the Bears just as Blanchard did before they move on to a fresh, new undrafted third-string quarterback. Or maybe the Bears will sign someone else that makes him irrelevant and let him go before he gets a chance to stick. That’s life at the bottom of the depth chart for NFL quarterbacks.

It’s not a glamorous thing to think about for us fans or even something that contributes much to the team’s win-loss record in the end—barring injuries and sudden rises to fame—but it serves as somewhat of a reminder that life in the NFL for most players is fickle.

Other notes:

Third-round pick Jonathan Bullard finally signed his first NFL contract: a 4-year deal worth $3 million. With his signing, the Bears now have all of their draft picks from this year’s class officially in the fold. Truthfully, while I liked the Bears’ draft as a whole, if there’s only player I really can’t wait to see play, it’s Bullard. And if he can tame his technique and penetrate the backfield with more awareness, this could be an incredible draft steal by the Bears. Let’s get the pads on already!

Khari Thompson

I'm currently a graduate student studying biology at the University of Notre Dame that follows sports (especially the Bears and Bulls) less like a hobby and more like a second job. Also a fan of all things dinosaurs. And Tolkien. Twitter: @kdthompson5

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