The Chicago Bears convene one last time before taking a break as they await the start of training camp in July with Tuesday's beginning of a three-day minicamp at Halas Hall.
Here are some storylines to keep an eye on at minicamp:
Palmer's injury situation: Jordan Palmer strained a pectoral muscle on his throwing side during organized team activities, calling it "a nothing injury," while saying it's "more frustrating than anything." Still, the injury resulted in the team taking a cautious approach with Palmer during OTAs. The quarterback should be out on the field Tuesday taking repetitions at minicamp, which is important considering Palmer is in the beginning stages of what should turn out to be an interesting competition for the primary backup gig behind Jay Cutler.
Palmer came into the offseason as the favorite to win the job because, while not impossible, it's not likely that rookie David Fales would unseat the veteran for the No. 2 job. Chicago's signing of veteran Jimmy Clausen, however, adds intrigue and increased competition to the situation. So Palmer needs to heal in order to be 100 percent ready for perhaps the most important competition of his NFL career. He's got to be cautious, however, and not rush back into action. After minicamp concludes, Palmer will have plenty of time to heal up. So if Palmer feels any discomfort in that strained pectoral muscle, he shouldn't hesitate to shut it down.
Clausen's repetitions/performance: If Clausen gains a level of command with Chicago's playbook, he'll be a formidable competitor to Palmer, Fales, and Jerrod Johnson for the primary backup job. Clausen basically took a crash course in the team's system during organized team activities. But Clausen should be well-versed enough in the offense by now to really be able to show what he can do. It's likely the staff gives Clausen plenty of reps throughout this three-day minicamp, and he needs to make the most of them.
The Bears signed Clausen because they liked his experience, football smarts, and mental toughness. During Clausen's workout for the team, he threw an accurate ball with plenty of spin on it. Now, he'll need to show those attributes consistently enough to give the staff confidence that he can be a legitimate contender for the No. 2 job.
With five quarterbacks already on the roster, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Bears let one go after minicamp.
Cutler's command of the offense: Cutler is expected to speak to the media after Tuesday's session, and we should be able to get a feel for how comfortable he's become operating Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer's offense. Cutler performed well last season, which marked his first year playing in that system. So in Year 2, Cutler should be pretty much an expert at executing the scheme. In addition to the experience gained in 2013, Cutler worked diligently throughout the offseason with his teammates on offense to sharpen execution. Cutler has also worked hand in hand with Trestman and Kromer to further develop the playbook based on what he's comfortable doing, and what the offense as a whole does well. That should translate into more efficient execution.
So how Cutler operates during minicamp will be watched closely; especially competitive the periods of practice, which pit the starters on offense and defense against one another.
Brock Vereen: A fourth-round pick from Minnesota, Vereen made the most of his reps during OTAs as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz were sidelined with injuries. Vereen took all the first-team reps at free safety opposite free-agent acquisition Ryan Mundy during the club's last OTA open to the media, with M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray taking the second-team reps.
"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [about taking reps with the starters], but I know nothing is set," he said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it. It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now, I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."
That bodes well for him. Vereen played almost every position in the secondary at Minnesota, but the Bears believe he's best suited to play free safety in the NFL. The club likes Vereen's versatility, and believes he's got the acumen, desire and football intelligence to quickly become a viable contributor.
Revamped front seven: The additions of Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, and Willie Young in free agency, the selections of Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, and Shea McClellin's switch from defensive end to linebacker means there's quite a few moving parts in Chicago's revamped front seven. How it all meshes will be a major factor in the success of the entire defense.
Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea figure to be the team's starters at defensive tackle in minicamp with Houston and Allen manning the end spots. The starters at linebacker will likely be D.J. Williams in the middle with Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic playing the outside spots. More than likely, the Bears will go into the 2014 season with aforementioned as the starters in the front seven.
But players such as Ferguson, Sutton, Young and McClellin will take on key roles as rotational and situational contributors. McClellin is currently competing with Bostic for the starting job at Sam linebacker, but has also taken reps in the middle. If he's unable to win a starting job at linebacker, he'll still likely be used quite a bit as a pass-rusher in sub packages, as will Young. Ferguson and Sutton probably won't start, but they'll be counted on to take almost as many reps as Ratliff and Paea.
It will be interesting at minicamp to watch how the chemistry develops with all the new players in the front seven, as well as how the staff deploys them.