Before I go on this comes with the disclaimer that this can change as other teams make cuts and the Bears may possibly pick up some of those cuts in favor of what they have at the end of their roster. Maybe even a well-known cap casualty veteran like they did last year with Josh Sitton may be in play. Bears have plenty of cap space to make that happen. I’m going to be watching what the Wide Receiver cuts will be in particular given that Cam Meredith is out for the season with a torn ACL.
However, I can’t predict other teams cuts and what interest the Bears may have in them. Only with this roster at current. Training camp, the 2017 version is essentially over as is the first 3 games of the preseason with the fourth giving the guys they want to cut a chance to put more on tape to get opportunities elsewhere. At this point, all roster decisions have been pretty much made. The Bears may have a guy or two at the bottom of the roster that the Bears may want to evaluate in game 4 of the preseason, but any player of consequence has either made the team or has not by now. So I feel that now is the right time to give you my predictions on who the Bears will keep and who they won’t.
Quarterback: Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky, Mark Sanchez: This is probably the easiest one to predict. I know Bears nation loves them some Connor Shaw, but he will not beat out Mark Sanchez for the 3rd string spot. The Bears love what he gives them in the “Quarterback room” especially with a veteran starter who is searching for confidence and hasn’t had a ton of snaps in his career and a rookie signal caller. They want him to be there to mentor Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky along as well as being that experienced guy who can handle adverse situations as he’s seen what the NFL has to offer. Shaw fans, chin up. I’ll tell you why later in the article.
As for how the depth chart will look and where it will progress to and when with the most important position in football for this team, stay tuned. At current, the depth chart will slot Glennon, Trubisky, and Mark Sanchez, but if the Bears hope to soar with the big birds they will have to pull the trigger on Trubisky as I feel at this point he gives you the best chance to soar with the Eagles and not be their prey in the role of sparrows. The sooner he is inserted, in my opinion, the sooner we’ll see if the Bears are ready to contend or not. With Glennon, they are a one hundred percent not!
Wide Receivers: Kevin White, Marcus Wheatley, Kendall Wright, Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Tanner Gentry: You will see some pretty big names missing from this final list. Cameron Meredith, we know why, but some people will be shocked by the missing name of Victor Cruz on my cut list. I’m not really sure why if you follow this team, but it’s pretty obvious with the way things are going he will not be on the team come cut time. Especially with the emergence of Kendall Wright. The man gets open on third downs. That is extremely valuable. Cruz also does not contribute anything on special teams or vertically down the field.
Not really sure if the Bears will look outside for wide receiver help from other team cuts or even in a trade, or if they feel this group of receivers are good enough to develop as the future core going forward. They are very young. Even the so called vets like Wheaton and Wright are 26 and 27 years old respectively. I even see some development in Deonte Thompson and Joshua Bellamy. I think this is a young group that can surprise people. I really feel once Trubisky finally takes over the reigns You’ll see this young group shine. I especially feel so between Trubisky and Tanner Gentry. I keep envisioning a Rodgers to Jordy Nelson-esque in my head. I also feel the starting three of White, Wright, and Wheatley will benefit from a more accurate, athletic Quarterback who goes through his progressions and can throw with timing and anticipation.
Running Backs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Micheal Burton: I think all three of these running backs have distinguished themselves nicely. It’s looking like the Bears running game will be in good hands. I think the Bears will go with 3 halfbacks and a Fullback to start the season. I believe Ka’Deem Carey is headed to the 6 game PUP to start the season. I think Michael Burton has done enough with the first team and his experience is enough to beat out undrafted rookie Freddie Stevenson.
As for the Running Back Rotation Jordan Howard will keep taking the large majority of the snaps, but Tarik Cohen has shown enough to be a legitimate number two back and not some gimmick 5-10 snap 3rd down back. He’s even shown he can block a blitzing Linebacker and lower his shoulder and drive forward from hits by defensive backs. It should be a productive if not exciting one-two combo. Cunningham will be primarily a special teamer who will take low leverage snaps and only move up the depth chart dependant on Howard’s or Cohen’s health. I also believe Carey has a place on this team once he is healthy and will be put on the injured reserve list. He is not eligible for Reserve/Pup as he has practiced with the team. Any player that has practiced at all in training camp is automatically ineligible for the Active or Reserverve Pup lists. I do think the Bears think highly of Carey and will not just waive him. So expect him to be placed on the Designated to return Injured reserve.
Tight Ends: Dion Sims, Zach Miller, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker: With Cameron Meredith out for the season and Kadeem Carey likely headed to the PUP list it’s my belief that the Bears will carry 4 TE’s. In a bit of a surprise to many Ben Braunecker Beats out Daniel Brown mainly because he’s a better special teams player and blocker. In Miller and Sims they have two guys who can off set the loss of Meredith a little bit as pass catchers and Shaheen will likely get an expanded role as a pass catcher on third downs and when the Bears are in the red zone.
Offensive Line: Charles Leno Jr., Cody Whitehair, Hroniss Grasu, Josh Sitton, Bobbie Massie, Tom Compton, Taylor Boggs, Kyle Long: I don’t see Kyle Long being ready to start the season, however, since he is ineligible for the Pup designation due to the fact he has practiced in camp with the team they’ll keep him on the first final 53 man roster. There is the option of putting him on the designated for return injured reserve list, but with the salary he’s making after just getting re-upped it’s doubtful the Bears will want to wait until week 9-11 of the regular season to reinstate him. It is an option though, especially since the NFL changed the rule to allow two players to return after week eight if placed on the injured Reserve With designation to Return List.
Even without Long the Bears look to be solid and deep at offensive line. Charles Leno Jr. has looked good in his preseason games and just got a contract extension from the team. and looks firmly entrenched as the team’s franchise Left Tackle. Cody Whitehair looks good whether playing Left Guard or at Center. Hroniss Grasu has been rock solid at Center and is looking like a franchise center in preseason. Josh Sitton looks like he’s heading to the Pro Bowl this season and even Bobbie Massie has been good. He’ll still need help with some of the quicker more athletic Edge rushers, but for the most part, he looks like he can be a stabilizing force at Right Tackle. The reserves are looking equally as good in Boggs and Compton. Both have shown versatility as Compton can play Tackle and Guard and Boggs has shown well at both Right Guard and Center. Offensive Line should be a real strength for this team.
There will be a couple younger players the Bears will try to get through waivers and on the practice squad (which I’ll get to later) and will have a good shot at doing since they only have to worry about Cleveland or San Francisco spoiling their plans. Overall this line has looked amazing in both pass protection but especially controlling the run game. They have their Stretch zone scheme working to perfection and are running with power blowing out very good defensive lines from the line of scrimmage in their first three preseason games. Preseason is preseason, but even with a stripped down set of plays it’s the mano-a-mano matchup wins that you can take as a true indicator of how this line will do this 2017 season and that looks dominant from Tackle to Tackle.
Defensive Line: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins, Jaye Howard: This may be the most exciting part of the team thus far. Most people with even the most minuscule knowledge of football knows how good Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman can be, but the progression of Jonathan Bullard makes this starting three extremely scary for opposing offenses to scheme against. There really is no way you can double team all three. This leaves at least one of them one on one which also leaves the Bears edge defenders one on one, and when Fangio does decide to send a blitzer he’ll be likely completely unblocked.
Their depth is much better heading into this season than in the past two so an injury won’t debilitate them as it did last season when they couldn’t find an adequate replacement for Goldman which allowed opponents to gash the Bears with their run game inside. It’s one of the reasons I left Mitch Unrein off the list of players making the roster. That and the emergence of Roy Robertson-Harris. last season Unrein was unable to anchor the defense inside along with others like former Bear Will Sutton who did not fit the profile of a 3-4 tackle. Unrein clearly can’t play Defensive Tackle and on the outside, he will not beat out Jaye Howard or the aforementioned Robertson-Harris at Defensive End. They’ve got John Jenkins to take that role over should the oft injured Goldman go down for any extended period of time.
Outside Linebackers: Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho: If the Bears Defensive Line is the most exciting part of this defense than this group is 1B because they will be the beneficiary of that Defensive Line eating up blockers and penetrating in the backfield. Leonard Floyd looks rocked up and ready to take that next step as a top end Edge Rusher who can also set the edge versus the running game and be a three down Outside Linebacker. Willie Young looks as good as ever and probably the most exciting development is how good Lamarr Houston has looked. He has been a disruptive force who looks like a load for anyone to handle one on one. He has violent hands and gets great leverage to power his opponent back into the quarterback or running back behind the Line of scrimmage. He can kind of take over that role of power Edge Rusher that Pernell McPhee brings when healthy. At the moment it looks like McPhee is heading to the PUP or maybe even injured reserve with the “designated to return” status. He’s also eligible for the Non-football injury (NFI) list too as he had his surgery when he failed his physical and the MRI found an irregularity in his knee. Either way you wanna look at it, it looks as if though the Bears will be giving Quarterbacks and Running backs reasons to be up at night losing sleep the week before facing this group.
Inside Linebacker: Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Christian Jones: Another exciting part of the team is their group of Inside Linebackers. Mainly due to the fact that it looks as if though Danny Trevathan will be fully healthy and ready to go game one of the regular season. That was very much in question with many in the media even suggesting it was all but a foregone conclusion that Trevathan would wind up on the Reserve/Pup to begin the 2017 season. With Jerrell Freeman and Trevathan as your starting Inside Linebackers, you have two players who excel against both the run and the pass. Their backups can do a little of both as well in Christian Jones and Nick Kwiatkoski. Jones can also play outside and is a good blitzer and the better pass coverage guy of the two. Kwiatkoski still has some growing to do with his coverage but it looks as though that’s going to come around as well. He does bring that inside toughness as a thumper. This group looks as solid as any in the NFL.
Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Kyle Fuller, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis: This group has a chance to be the most improved position on the entire roster. The Bears went out and bought themselves a couple of starting cornerbacks in Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Amukamara has looked the role of number one cornerback in camp and the preseason. He, however, has suffered an ankle injury in the Bears last preseason game on the first play against the Titans. MRI results showed no serious damage and he is day to day, but it stands to reason his playing time will be limited in game one if he plays at all.
The good news is that Kyle Fuller has looked like the 2014 number 14th pick overall pick in the draft in camp and the preseason. That makes this group pretty deep. Marcus Cooper is a young ascending player with excellent size and speed who looks to be a fit in the Fangio press man scheme he prefers to play with his cornerbacks. Cre’Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan bring a lot to the table in locking up the slot receivers. Callahan will have to show he’s capable of being healthy if he wants to stick with this team beyond 2017. LeBlanc looks like a fixture with the future core of players but is somewhat limited in that he does not possess elite speed and needs to win with recognition and proper technique and positioning. Sherick McManis Has been a team captain the past few seasons and is the primary leader of the Special teams group, so he sticks even though he he gives you little as a cornerback.
Safety: Quintin Demps, Eddie Jackson: Deiondre’ Hall, Harold Jones-Quartey, DeAndre Houston-Carson: Cornerback may be the most improved unit this season, but the Safety group may have something to say about that. In Quintin Demps the Bears have a safety who has the smarts and the ability to captain the secondary and be that quarterback in the backend while making plays on the ball in the passing game and helping stuff the run when being walked up to the line of scrimmage. Demps has gotten 17 interceptions in the last 4 seasons and 19 in the past 6. As most know this is a defense that needs playmakers in the back end. The lack of turnovers has been the Bears biggest bug-a-boo and one that needs to change if this unit is to ascend to the top ten and maybe even top five in the league. If that isn’t enough Demps has forced 4 fumbles (3 in the past 3 seasons alone) and recovered 3 (1 in 2012, 2 in 2015) in his career.
Opposite Demps will be Rookie Eddie Jackson who looks like he’s all the way back from his leg injury and as explosive as ever. The way he has played in coverage has been impressive. His tackling will be what he needs work on but he looks to be progressing nicely there as well. He appears to have excellent recognition and is advanced mentally to match his supreme athleticism on the field. Obviously, he took full advantage of playing under the guise of defensive back guru and Alabama head coach Nick Saban. It’s looking as if Jackson has the chance to be the Bears best value pick in a draft class loaded with value if Shaheen and Cohen continue to play like they have.
There are a few more questions behind those two as the much maligned Harold Jones-Quartey and one of last season’s three fourth round picks Deiondre’ Hall look to be the primary backups at safety with DeAndre Houston-Carson making the team as a core special teams players and sometime contributor on defense. Hall looks to be a player being groomed to team with Jackson when Demps is ready to move on. I feel the Bears go with Jones-Quartey over Adrian Amos because he has a higher upside and having some ball skills. Thus far Jones-Quartey has had some coverage breakdowns in his career, but that can be improved upon. Ball skills you either have or you don’t and Amos clearly doesn’t. He continues that trend with a dropped interception right in his chest this preseason. Bears need ball hawks more than in the box safeties and Jones-Quartey has shown he can play in the box and make plays on the ball if in position.
Specialty Teams Specialists: Punter: Pat O’Donnel Kicker: Connor Barth Long Snapper: Jeff Overbaugh: The Bears lost their long snapper this past Sunday to a season ending ACL tear and have just added newly signed Jeff Overbaugh so we have to see how that works out. I know I have no opinion on the man as I have never seen his work before. Hopefully, he can get the job done and not make bad snaps that lead to momentum changing turnovers on special teams.
As for the kicking game it looks to be solid. Pat O’Donnel does have a good leg and has perfected the art of directional kicking and offers consistently good hang time for the coverage to get down to make tackles. Connor Barth is very accurate from 45 yards in and with one point conversions. The Bears did bring in Tampa Bay’s 2016 second round pick kicker Roberto Aguayo to compete with Barth and Barth has responded well. Aguayo has a spectacularly strong leg as he has shown with kickoffs, booming kicks beyond the end line of the opponents end zone for touchbacks, but appears to be suffering from the yips on field goals. It was worth a look but there is no way you’re going to give up the reliability of Barth in favor of the potential of Aguayo while ignoring his skittish field goal kicking. I expect a huge improvement in both the return game as well as kickoff/punt coverage.
There is an increase in young, aggressive, athletic position players who look to be more than happy to run into things as fast as they can to stop them in both tackling the would be returner as well as blocking the would be tackler. The return game appears to be much improved with explosive punt returners like Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson and on Kickoffs with Deonte Thompson and Benny Cunningham who has been one of the best at it since his entering the league as an undrafted Free Agent out of Middle Tennessee State for the then St. Louis Rams who are now back in their original city Los Angeles.
10 man practice squad: OG Jordan Morgan, OT Dieugot Joseph, DT/DE Rashaad Coward, WR Daniel Braverman, WR Titus Davis, QB Connor Shaw, TE Daniel Brown, FB Freddie Stevenson, OLB Isaiah Irving, DE/DT C.J. Wilson: This is obviously the group that has a chance at being different once all the cuts are made and players have been scooped up by all 30 teams. However, it’s looking like a group that’s full of potential for development. Jordan Morgan was the Bears 5th round pick this season and I think they try and push him through waivers. Remember, they only have to have him go through two teams and have overwhelming odds at getting him claimed. Dieugot Joseph is exceptionally athletic with vines for arms and looks like a prototypical NFL Left tackle and might be slated for Massie’s spot if he develops quick enough and shows dedication in the weight room as he is a bit undersized and although not fat kind of fleshy. I think he has a real shot at being part of the Bears core of the future. Rashaad Coward also looks like someone who may have a future in this league and it could very well be with the Bears. Isaiah Irving has been impressive as an Edge Rusher in the preseason. He’s a lock to be here if he isn’t claimed by Cleveland or San Francisco.
Daniel Braverman, Daniel Brown and C.J. Wilson are all guys that were here last season and I see no reason why the Bears wouldn’t want them back to develop on the practice squad. Connor Shaw was also here last season and looked to have a shot at the roster until he had a season ending leg injury and was IRed. A fan favorite and apparently one of this regime’s, I see him as coming back via practice squad as well which should make Bears Nation very happy. They appear to have an overly high love affair with him based on one preseason game against the Browns in the final and most inconsequential of the preseason games. Titus Davis older brother of Tennessee’s 2017 first round pick Wide receiver Corey Davis (both Chicago natives) appears to have impressed enough to get a second look as a developmental player with the team at a need position. Excellent opportunity for him.
Final Thoughts: I believe it should be widely viewed that this Bears team is much improved from last season at both the top of the roster and the bottom. The two biggest questions in my mind are at Wide Receiver and especially at Quarterback the most important position in football and probably all of sports.
There are always questions with a rookie Quarterback because you just don’t know until you do, but Glennon has looked problematic thus far. That is where any legitimate pessimism of this team lies. I actually think the Wide Receiver position will be fine once they insert Trubisky. Even given the performance of this past Sunday where Glennon had a nice first drive there was still questionable ball placement. It also stands to reason he improved as they actually scripted those plays and ran them over and over in practice. I have never been a huge QB rating guy, but if you’re over 100 that can more times than not give you an indication of how well a QB played. In this case, there is deception. Glennon had a rating in the 100’s, but only in the 50’s after that first drive for the rest of the second half. That is concerning along with his poor ball placement, questionable decision making, his flustered play under pressure, as well as, his lack of athleticism to extend plays and give that extra dimension of giving defenses reasons to worry like Trubisky does with his legs.
I’ll admit this is not a group of Wide Receivers who can go out there and be so physically dominant that they make their Quarterback so much better because they’re usually wide open or so big and physical that if they’re covered they’re really not. I do believe Kevin White still has that ability. We’ll see how that works out now that Glennon’s safety blanky Meredith is gone for the season and he’ll be forced to actually throw the ball to White. However, a Quarterback who can put the ball on the hands of these wide receivers in stride would deeply improve their production on the field making 20 yard plays as opposed to 5-10 yard plays. This is what I feel will be the doom of the Bears season or the ascension of a young talented surprisingly good team in 2017 and that’s how long do they stick with Glennon.
I know some will jump up and say “What about the secondary”? Ok, I will say that’s likely third on the list of questions. However, I feel pretty good about that group. I thought they were put in bad positions to succeed last season and suffered by losing key vets to help that young inexperienced group along. With Fuller looking like he’s re-emerged as a legit playmaker at corner and all the signings with Demps, Amukamara, Cooper, and the draft pick of Eddie Jackson the back four has a legitimate chance at being the most improved position group in all of the NFL. Especially if the front 7 play as we all expect them to. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to expect a super bowl contender, but I will say that there is real reason for optimism a playoff run is in play along with some big plays in all three phases and the development of legitimate young exciting talent for years to come. This should be a roster that will be fun to watch regardless of record or playoff implications and should give the Bears fan plenty to be entertained by this coming season.