At Bears camp, Brandon, Brown, Collins, Frey and Golden have turned heads
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org August 3, 2012 11:18PM
Bears defensive corner back Isaiah Frey returns from downfield after defending a pass during open practice at Bear Family Fest at Soldier Field, August 3, 2012. | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times
Updated: September 5, 2012 3:48PM
At training camp, you expect to see Brandon Marshall make one-handed catches in the end zone, Matt Forte burst through holes, Charles Tillman intercept passes and Robbie Gould drill long field goals.
They’re Pro Bowl-caliber players who are locks to make the 53-man roster.
But through eight practices, some young players fighting for roster spots have made quick impressions. Second-year defensive tackle Stephen Paea elevating his play and rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery flashing his immense potential can’t be deemed surprises because both were second-round picks. But several unheralded players are turning some heads and making some noise.
Here’s a closer look at five who’ve sparkled:
1. OT Cory Brandon, 6-7, 324 pounds, Oklahoma, second NFL season — Entering the 2010 college season, Brandon was on the Outland Trophy watch list. But he plummeted to third team on the depth chart and went undrafted in 2011. His only NFL experience was spending the preseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But since joining the Bears, he has showcased his tantalizing combination of size and athleticism at right tackle.
“Everyone is now seeing what’ll happen when confidence meets ability,” his agent, Mark Magazu, said. “That’s really the difference.”
If Brandon continues his development, he might threaten the job security of Chris Williams, a former first-round pick who is set to make $1 million if he makes the 53-man roster. After initially competing with J’Marcus Webb to start at left tackle, Williams has spent the last few days backing up Gabe Carimi on the right side.
2. OT James Brown, 6-4, 306 pounds, Troy, rookie — A two-year starter at Troy, Brown went undrafted but had at least five teams interested in him. Brown made a decision as soon as he heard from the Bears.
“I was born in Chicago, so this has been my favorite team since Day 1,” Brown said. “This has been a gift from God.”
Born at St. Bernard Hospital on the South Side, Brown’s family moved to Mississippi when he was 5. In 2005, he was a state weightlifting champion.
Brown has fared well against Bears first-round pick Shea McClellin in one-on-one drills, and he has plenty of upside. On Wednesday, he worked as the backup to Webb at left tackle with Williams sliding over to the right side.
“That was a very big surprise,” Brown said. “I found out right before we came out here on the field. I’m feeling pretty good. I’m learning more and more every day.”
3. DT Nate Collins, 6-2, 296 pounds, Virginia, third NFL season — An undrafted free agent, Collins started his career with the New York Giants on their practice squad but landed a roster spot with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he played in 13 games over two seasons. This offseason, more than a half-dozen teams were interested in him, but he signed a one-year deal with the Bears.
On July 20, the NFL announced that Collins had been suspended one game without pay for violating the league’s substance-abuse program.
Collins, though, has shown explosiveness and power, athletic traits that shouldn’t come as a surprise because he played fullback, tailback, tight end, wide receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker and quarterback in high school. Collins also lettered in basketball and baseball.
4. CB Isaiah Frey, 6-0, 190 pounds, Nevada, rookie — Although he’s a draft pick, Frey wasn’t taken until the sixth round, which means he’s far from a shoo-in to secure a roster spot. A three-year starter at Nevada, Frey has distinguished himself with his ferocity. He uses his size well and seems to pick his spots wisely when trying to make a big hit or a big play. As a senior, Frey had 16 pass break-ups and picked off five passes. There seems to be plenty of competition for cornerback spots after Tillman, Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore. Veteran Kelvin Hayden has fared well, and Jonathan Wilhite has had his share of highs and lows.
5. WR Brittan Golden, 5-11, 186 pounds, West Texas A&M, rookie — There are a lot of players ahead of him on the depth chart, but Golden hasn’t been deterred, making his share of highlight catches in camp. He lacks blazing speed but has excellent hands and a knack for making difficult catches in traffic. At West Texas A&M, he finished second in school history with 3,007 receiving yards and scored 33 touchdowns.
Golden also has a great attitude.
“I try to come in every day with the mind-set that I can compete at this level and try to disregard the fact that I’m playing with guys I’ve looked up to my entire life,” he said. “You just got to let that go and realize that you’re here to play, too.”
His goal? “Just have to make an impression and hope the coaches notice,” he said.