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J’Marcus Webb should win Bears’ mock battle at left tackle

Safety Major Wright can be an impact player but injuries mistakes have held him back. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Safety Major Wright can be an impact player, but injuries and mistakes have held him back. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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BEARS CAMP WATCH

SHOW TIME

It didn’t take long for Brandon Marshall to put his first practice with the Bears in the rear-view mirror. He looked dominant in the team’s first practice in full pads Saturday night. Marshall was hurt early in practice but returned to put on a show. “Brandon Marshall is a scholarship player,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. “I think we’ll all agree with that. He made some big plays.’’

CROWD CONTROL

Bears fans obviously are buying into the hype. The Saturday night practice brought 12,000 fans to Bourbonnais, making it a great dress rehearsal, according to Smith. The Bears play five night games this season. “The crowd was into it, and we like that,’’ Smith said. “We’re going to play a lot of prime-time games, and our guys need to be able to play in an environment where they hear fans talking to them.’’

FILM ROOM

Smith said he liked what he saw from the defensive line Saturday but wouldn’t discuss individual play until he watched the film later. More to come Sunday.

Joe Cowley

FUTURE PRACTICES

Sunday: 2 p.m.

Monday: No practice

Tuesday: 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday: 2:30 p.m.

Thursday: 2:30 p.m.

EXHIBITIONS

Aug. 9 vs. Broncos 7:30

Aug. 18 vs. Redskins 7

Aug. 24 at Giants 7

Aug. 30 at Browns 6:30

SEASON OPENER

The Bears open the season against the Colts at noon Sept. 9.

Updated: August 30, 2012 6:34AM



BOURBONNAIS — Position battles are overrated.

They’re sometimes a charade, a ploy by the coaching staff to motivate an underachieving player — a very real possibility in the J’Marcus Webb-Chris Williams ‘‘showdown’’ at left tackle. And when they’re legit, they usually have a defined ceiling. Whether Tim Jennings or Kelvin Hayden starts at cornerback for the Bears isn’t going to make or break the season, but the position is open for a reason.

The Bears are looking for upgrades, and that’s why it would be a surprise — and a disappointment — if Webb doesn’t beat out Williams at left tackle. Based on past performance, Webb has the bigger upside.

The ‘‘battle’’ seems a little overhyped. Webb showed enough at left tackle last season to warrant a second year if the Bears weren’t going to get a replacement in the draft or free agency. And offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s insistence that it’s not Webb’s job to lose (‘‘If he thinks so, he’s wrong. It’s going to be a dogfight for those two guys.’’) smacks of a coach trying to light a fire under the butt of a player he expects to win the job.

We tried to define general manager Phil Emery’s guideline for a decision on Lovie Smith’s fate in simple terms — Do the Bears have to make the playoffs for Smith to keep his job? But Emery made it clear he’s looking at a bigger picture.

‘‘I want to know what the direction of our team is daily and weekly toward attaining our goals,’’ he said.

Player development surely fits under that umbrella. So as the Bears practiced in pads for the first time Saturday night at Olivet Nazarene, the positions to watch are the ones the Bears can upgrade from within. Emery can’t trade for Brandon Marshall every year.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of those key positions to watch:

Right tackle

Regardless of the winner at left tackle, Gabe Carimi can provide a bigger upgrade at right tackle. If Carimi picks up where he left off last season and stays healthy, he could be playing at a Pro Bowl level by the end of the season, or earlier.

Defensive tackle

After a slow start, Stephen Paea made an impact as a rookie, and while he didn’t do enough to erase doubts about his long-term prospects in the NFL, he showed enough to maintain faith that defensive line guru Rod Marinelli can make something out of him.

Free safety

Rookie Chris Conte provided a semblance of stability out of a chaotic situation at both safety positions last season. Others have hit the wall after initial success. Conte has the size and speed to take the next step with this supporting cast.

Strong safety

Major Wright has become a star-crossed enigma after two seasons. He has obvious impact-player ability. But injuries and misplays prevent him from establishing any consistency. Though Smith supports him, Wright could be on a shorter leash this season.

Wide receiver

Rookies often struggle to make an impact at wide receiver — and the Bears’ reputation at this position precedes them. But second-round draft pick Alshon Jeffery at least looks like he has the potential to ride the coattails of an offense that could make a quantum leap in 2012.

Defensive end

On paper, it looks like first-round pick Shea McClellin would be doing well if he’s just a situational pass rusher as a rookie. But with his speed and quickness and with Marinelli as a tutor, you can’t discount him making a bigger impact.



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