Veteran departures pave way for duo in Bears rookie camp
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Chicago Bears rookies Cody Whitehair and Deon Bush own cleaner paths to starting spots than most first-year NFL players, thanks to roster moves made shortly after the draft.
The duo takes nothing for granted.
''Football is a business,'' said Bush, a fourth-round pick out of Miami.
The Bears cut veteran safety Antrel Rolle shortly after drafting Bush, and did the same with veteran guard Matt Slauson after selecting Kansas State's Whitehair in the second round. The two draft picks are getting their first exposure to the NFL at rookie camp this weekend. Both signed contracts last week after the two veterans were cut.
''I really didn't pay much attention to that,'' Whitehair said of Slauson's departure. ''Even though I got drafted, it's not a guaranteed spot. I could get cut in the next days, too.''
In Bush's case, it was a particularly difficult situation since he had a past relationship with Rolle, another former Miami player. After the draft, he referred to Rolle as a mentor whom he looked forward to joining in Chicago.
''Antrel is still like a brother to me,'' Bush said. ''He still called me and helped me out. That's pretty much it. He just talked to me and still has my back through whatever. He said it's a good situation with the Bears.''
Slauson had been a key member of the offensive line as a guard and also an emergency center, and quickly signed with the San Diego Chargers. With his departure, the Bears will turn more to Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long for leadership. Long already offered a veteran's advice for Whitehair.
''You're trying to earn your job,'' Whitehair recalled Long saying. ''And just give it your all - be a real man.''
Bears coach John Fox called the veteran departures necessary but tough.
''Every decision we make is to improve and I've probably been more into understate/over-produce,'' he said. ''So we'll see what kind of improvements we've made.''
Former Indiana and UAB running back Jordan Howard is another rookie coming in after the departure of a veteran. Running back Matt Forte was allowed to leave in free agency in March.
Howard is under the gun to fit in, especially in the passing game where Forte always made an impact.
''I definitely feel like I have the skills to be an impact in the passing game,'' Howard said. ''In college, I wasn't very involved. That's just how our offense was set up. We had a lot of pass (protections), but we didn't have, like, as many responsibilities as we have here.''
Bears coaches are taking a look at 64 players, including 33 rookies and unattached veterans who are receiving a three-day tryout as the team enters the second year of a rebuilding project under Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. Among the group was defensive lineman Marquis Jackson, twin brother of defensive tackle Malik Jackson, one of Fox's former players while with the Denver Broncos.
''I've met him before. That's a big reason why we brought him in,'' Fox said.
The question is whether Marquis Jackson can play like his brother, who started every game for the Super Bowl champions last year.
''That's why he is here,'' Fox said. ''I guess we'll see.''