Four Bears position battles to monitor as offseason continues

Bryan Perez
NBC Sports Chicago

General manager Ryan Pace had an extremely busy offseason. It started in free agency where he spent big money on targets for Mitchell Trubisky and continued in the NFL draft where at least three new starters may have been found.

Pace's aggressive approach to the roster has several players from last year's squad on notice. Whether it's a starting job or key sub-package role, the competition for playing time will ratchet up as the offseason marches on.

Here are four position battles worth monitoring through OTAs and training camp.

WR: Kevin White vs. Anthony Miller

Miller was drafted in the second round to contribute right away. White was drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft to become a go-to-guy. Something's gotta give.

The smart money is on Miller winning this battle because White hasn't proven capable of staying healthy as a pro. Maybe it's bad luck. Maybe his body can't take what the NFL requires. Regardless, even when he's been healthy, White hasn't provided the Bears with any reason to feel confident he'll develop into the Dez Bryant-like player he was projected to be.

Miller, on the other hand, has the benefit of being the shiny new rookie with endless upside. He's not a sure-thing, however, and if he struggles with drops or NFL speed, White could pull a surprise upset. 

The best case scenario for the Bears is the competition brings out the best in both players. If that happens, the offense will be shockingly explosive.

TE: Dion Sims vs. Adam Shaheen

The duo of Sims and Shaheen started finding its groove late last season and it appeared tight end was one of the few spots on the roster that could be ignored this offseason. Then came the Trey Burton signing. 

Burton wasn't signed to sit on the bench, and the number of plays that will feature three tight ends will be minimal. Shaheen and Sims will battle for the primary in-line tight end role and both players represent a significant investment by Pace. Shaheen was a second-round pick in 2017 and Sims was signed last year to a three-year, $18 million deal. Pace may end up the biggest loser in this battle. 

Smart money is on Shaheen pairing with Burton as the primary tight ends in the offense. He offers a little more as a pass catcher and was building chemistry with Trubisky when he was healthy last year. Sims could end up a surprising cut when it's all said and done.

OLB: Aaron Lynch vs. Kylie Fitts

The NFC North is arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins representing six of the Bears' opposing passers in 2018. If the Bears don't have a productive pass rush this season, they're in big trouble. 

Lynch was signed to a one-year deal in free agency to contribute to that cause, but Fitts has drawn early praise from Matt Nagy and could work his way into a bigger role than was expected on draft day. The Bears may be willing to give Fitts an extended look because of his favorable rookie contract, too. Lynch should begin the year as a starter, but if Fitts makes some plays in the preseason, he could be a surprising first-teamer come Week 1.

RB: Ryan Nall vs. Benny Cunningham

This one's going to be a dogfight. Nall is a tough and physical runner who can make plays on the ground and through the air and will contribute to kick and punt coverage on special teams if he makes the roster. Cunningham proved last season he can spell Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen in the backfield and was a key contributor to the game's third phase. He was re-signed to a one-year deal.

The Bears won't keep both. They offer the same kind of skill set even if they're bringing different body-types and styles of play to the field. 

Cunningham should come out on top. Nall would be a great practice squad candidate if he doesn't make the cut, but don't count him out. He's an old-school football player and teams need those guys.

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