Thanks to Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears went over a decade without worrying about who would start at middle linebacker. Entering the second year of the post-Urlacher era, however, it looks as though the team has a position battle on its hands.
D.J. Williams, the incumbent starter from a season ago, is being pushed in OTAs by 2013 second-round draft pick Jon Bostic. Bostic has been splitting time with Williams at middle linebacker on the first team defense and has "significantly raised the stakes" of the competition, according to John Mullin of CSNChicago.com.
Coming into the summer, Bostic was expected to be more of threat to Shea McClellin at the starting strong side spot.
The 32-year-old Williams, who signed a one-year extension in March, missed the final 10 games of last season with a torn muscle. Bostic was inconsistent as his replacement and particularly struggled against the run. Pro Football Focus attributed eight missed tackles to him and graded him as the fifth worst inside backer against the run in 2013.
Greg Hardy misses Panthers workouts
Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy wasn't on the field for OTAs Wednesday. Head coach Ron Rivera told The Charlotte Observer the absence was a result of "maintenance" on the defensive star's leg.
Rivera gave no additional information about what the treatment was for, but did stress that it was minor in nature.
"There's no surgery, no major injury or anything," Rivera said of Hardy. "He should be on the field tomorrow."
Carolina slapped the franchise tag on Hardy earlier this offseason. Unless the two sides come to a long-term agreement in July, Hardy will play the 2014 season under a one-year, $13.116 million contract.
Cowboys taking committee approach to slot receiver
With Miles Austin gone, the Dallas Cowboys are trying to figure out who will play the slot in three-wide sets in 2014. So far, just about every receiver on the roster is a candidate.
Cole Beasley has taken most of the snaps in the slot during the Cowboys workouts, but wide receivers coach Derek Dooley said Beasley will be called to play outside as well. Rookie Devin Street spent a lot of time in the slot in college and Dwayne Harris will take snaps at the position once he returns from injury. Even tight end Gavin Escobar could see some time there.
Chiefs facing depth issues at cornerback
With the Kansas City Chiefs' top three cornerback options restricted for various reasons, the team's depth at the position is looking shaky. At the latest practice, the Chiefs were forced to lean on second-year man Marcus Cooper as their top cornerback, veteran journeyman Ron Parker as the No. 2 starter and developmental player Malcolm Bronson as the nickel back.
It's not clear when the team's top options will return. No. 1 starter Brandon Flowers hasn't shown up to OTAs amid rumors of contract disputes and trade talks. The other starter, Sean Smith, has been demoted to second-team after a DUI arrest and is expected to be suspended by the NFL. The normal nickel option, Chris Owens, is out with an injury.
Bills take Airsoft break
Nothing says team building like shooting each other with plastic pellets, right? Looking to give his team a break on Wednesday, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone canceled OTAs and instead bussed his players out to an Airsoft range.
NFL rules expanded the allowable number of practices from three to four this week, but Marrone told ESPN that he didn't want his players going over three.
The real lesson we've learned from this? Anthony Dixon looks terrifying with a gun in his hands.