Many starting spots up for grabs as Bears open camp

Matt Trowbridge

The battle for Chicago’s starting quarterback is so “dead even” that coach Lovie Smith doesn’t even want to put one ahead of the other in a sentence.

“It will be a great competition between Rex and Kyle, or Kyle and Rex, however you want to say it,” Smith said Tuesday when the Bears arrived at Olivet Nazarene University for the start of training camp.

“The guy who ends up winning the position, we feel real good about him leading us where we want to go.”

The celebrated battle between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton won’t monopolize headlines during the three weeks of training camp, because Chicago is unusually unsettled on offense. While the Bears return all their key players from the defense that led them to the Super Bowl two years ago, Smith said there will be an open competition at quarterback, running back, both wide receiver spots, left tackle and left guard.

The two offensive line openings are somewhat tied together: John St. Clair is one of three contenders at guard, but is currently No. 1 on the depth chart at tackle and would start there if first-round draft pick Chris Williams doesn’t sign.

“It’s tough, very tough,” St. Clair said. “But I’m not worried about it. I just want a starting position. Everything else will fall into place.”

Many things fell into place the past few months when Chicago avoided potential problems by re-signing defensive stars Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris and Lance Briggs to long-term deals.

“That’s big,” Smith said. “In the offseason, you take care of contract problems. Once it’s training camp, it’s time to play football.”

That leaves Williams as Chicago’s only off-the-field issue. Only six of this year’s first-round draft picks had signed as of Tuesday morning, but that didn’t cut Williams any slack with Smith. He expects Chicago to sign Williams before today’s 3 p.m. opening practice. Smith said the left tackle from Vanderbilt would be making a mistake if he didn’t sign by then.

“If you are a rookie, history tells you that you need to be here in camp the first day,” Smith said. “You want to blend in that first day. You don’t want to come out and stick out, being the only story that’s happening that day.”

Kevin Jones, a former 1,000-yard rusher for the Lions who is coming off January knee surgery, expects to challenge rookie Matt Forte for the starting running back spot, but said team trainers would probably limit him to no-contact drills the first few days of practice.

“Everybody knows my talent and my ability,” Jones said. “When healthy, I get it done. And I’m healthy, so I’ll get it done.”

Even if Jones is healthy, it won’t be easy to beat out Forte, but at least he’ll have a shot. Just like the two quarterbacks, four offensive linemen and five receivers.

“You want to have a lot of competition in training camp,” Smith said. “We will have that at a lot of different positions.”

Rockford Register Star assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or