Projecting the Bears 53 Man Roster Part 1: Offense

I’m not writing a very long prologue as this subject matter is pretty self explanatory. I’ll save my words for explaining my thoughts on the who and whys making the final 53 man roster. Keep in mind that this is an early look at how this roster may materialize. Things will likely change as camp moves along when injuries happen and pre-season games occur. I’ll update this before the cutdown to 53. I’ll base this on the information and data I take note of during the preseason progress along with news and notes from the trusted media members I follow, as well as with what the coaches may say or not say about personnel. I’ll begin with the offense.

Offense:

This will be the most interesting and competitive phase of the team to keep an eye on during camp outside of the kicker competition. While I believe most of the roster is set there will be some movement and competition at the bottom of the roster, as well as with the depth chart. This is how I see things shaking out at this point in time beginning with the easiest position, Quarterback.

QUARTERBACKS: (2)

Mitch Trubisky: One of the biggest no brainers here. Trubisky is a lock to be the starter outside of an injury happening to change that. He is the franchise Quarterback that GM Ryan Pace has staked his reputation and risked his job security on when he traded up one spot to grab him with both Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson still on the board. Something Pace is still criticized for as most pundits feel it was both, unecessary and the wrong choice of the three. It seems most national media are less than impressed with Trubisky to this point which is a big reason the Bears are still not given the proper respect of a team with the season they had in 2018 and the roster and coaching this team has. Trubisky has a lot to prove in 2019 to change the opinions of the anti-Mitch media.

Chase Daniels: No surprise here. Daniels is a great mentor to Trubisky while also having intimate knowledge of the offense he’s been in for quite some time, so he can act as yet another pair of eyes to tutor Trubisky in his development while also being a competent back up should Trubisky befall an injury. He does come with a heavy price however, so outside of taking a significant pay cut this is probably Daniels last season as a player with the team. I would however not be surprised if he started his coaching career under Matt Nagy at some point in the future.

RUNNING BACKS:(4)

Mike Davis: Davis was signed to take over the role Jordan Howard left behind when he was traded to the Eagles. Davis is a bigger back who can make the tough inside runs and be reliable in pass pro. However, what Davis does offer is less predictability when he lines up in the backfield as he is a versatile receiving option being able to run a variety of routes as he is a much a more fluid athlete than Howard was.

Tarik Cohen: Cohen is most assuredly going to see a reduction in snaps at Running Back as he takes on more of a receiver role in some of Nagy’s specialty packages to exploit him as a mis-match versus Linebackers. There’s also the fact Cohen tends to loiter around in the backfield too much as he apparently led the league in time spent behind the line of scrimmage by a lot at over a full 3 seconds. While it sometimes turns into magical exciting plays it also turns into a lot of yardage for loss plays and in fumbles lost as Cohen had a fairly high total of five. Less runs probably equals better production when he does get the ball as they’ll be better planned out with less options for Cohen to improvise on. He’s also going to resume duties as the main punt returner where he was voted to the Pro-Bowl for.

David Montgomery: When the Bears traded up to draft Montgomery 73rd overall they were envisioning their version of Kareem Hunt with much better character. He is most known for his contact balance and ability to run routes like a Wide Receiver from any spot out of any formation that makes him a potential matchup nightmare that also makes the Bears offense less predictable. He’ll have to show he’s capable in pass pro before getting the bulk of the snaps on 3rd downs, but from all things coming out about his football IQ coupled with his intangibles that’s going to eventually happen during his rookie campaign.

Kerrith Whyte Jr.: I do not see a scenario where Matt Nagy evaluates Whyte in practices and pre-season games and says to himself, “Self, I can’t find any role for this guy so I’m going to cut him and pray he doesn’t get scooped up by another team on a waiver claim to develop him on the practice squad. Thus far, Whyte has been impressive starting all the way back to rookie mini camp although he has yet to factor in camp as he’s been dealing with a couple nagging injuries. His tape is impressive, as well as his blazing 4.3 speed. He also brings value on special teams, especially as a returner where he can make use of his open field and contact balance skills. Whyte is just another matchup nightmare for Nagy to unleash upon the league.

H-BACK: (1)

Ryan Nall: I believe Nall is well thought of and he will impress enough to force his way on this roster. I don’t think Nagy will leave a player who brings this kind of versatility to the roster off of it. He’s big, he’s fast, can run for power and he can catch out of the backfield. Nall forces his way on the roster to play one of the many hybrid roles Nagy carves out for his players. He is also a multi phase special teams contributor.

WIDE RECEIVERS:(7)

Allen Robinson: Robinson was paid to be the team’s number one receiver but also as the leader of the Wide Receiver group and he has firmly taken control of that duty. Robinson seems primed for a resurgent season to take his place as a legitimate number one NFL Wide Receiver. Not that he had a bad season last year but he was just coming off knee surgery, had to learn a new offense, played with a new Quarterback just learning the position and played through a broken rib since the 49ers game a season ago. The only thing that can keep Robinson from having a statistical impressive season is health and the many options at Nagy’s disposal.

Anthony Miller: Miller led the team with 7 touchdowns as a rookie last season, this while playing through a separated shoulder where he needed a harness to keep it stable for most of the season. That total could have been even higher had Trubisky made some connections that he missed. That will be something to watch as we go along in the camp process as it seemed like the connection between Miller and Trubisky seemed rough at times in 2018. Many expect Miller to be the clear and away the number 2 option at Wide receiver for the Bears this season and with Miller’s football IQ, route running and skill set it’s not hard to see why. However, it has yet to be seen if he and Trubisky will develop that chemistry together on a consistent basis.

Taylor Gabriel: While Gabriel had his greatest statistical season last year it was clear to see that there was some plays left on the field. A lot had to do with Trubisky not just learning a new voluminous and complicated offense but learning the basics of the Quarterback position in general. A lot of it also had to do with Gabriel’s own learning curve while also taking on a bigger role than he has in the past as the Bears starting flanker or zebra as the Bears call it. So far reports are good but not great out of camp and he is getting deep a lot. This is probably his last season with the team as the Bears are stacked with young talent at Wide Receiver and it is a contract season for Gabriel. He will be motivated to maximize his earning potential and interest in the free agent market. Expect an even bigger year out of Gabriel.

Riley Ridley: When the Bears fourth round pick came up in this past 2019 draft it took the Bears by surprise to see Ridley still there as they did not expect to have him on their board that late in the draft. Seeing as they had him much higher on their board it immediately shot him up to the top of their board in overwhelming fashion. In many ways Ridley is the perfect Wide Receiver prospect for Nagy’s offense as he is ultra intelligent with the ability to read and react to defenses to execute options routes and be trusted to run the correct assignment. He is also a flawless technician as a route runner and brings with him the high character this administration emphasizes to maintain a top notch winning football culture. It’ll be interesting to see just how much Ridley is trusted with in this his rookie season. Many believe he’ll be the number 4 option at Wideout. We’ll see

Cordarrelle Patterson: Speaking of perfect Wide Receivers for Nagy’s system, observe the curious case of one Cordarrell Patterson. However, Patterson is more multifaceted weapon than Wide Receiver and that is exactly how Nagy will use him. For a preview of what it may look like just watch Patriots film from a year ago where they used him at RB, WR and special teams. He’ll play those spots too but I expect even more creativity. Don’t be surprised if he even shows up as a U Tight End in some 12 personnel. While he will bring intrigue and excitement as a gadget piece in some specialty packages on offense, it’s as a returner on Kickoffs where he’ll make the biggest impact. The Bears have been woefully impotent at that spot for quite some time now, and Patterson is the viagra needed that brings a feared weapon in that faze of the special teams unit. With this team set to drastically improve their starting field position from a year ago where they ranked dead last, this could be an under-rated aspect of the team for what could be a huge reason for the teams ascent to the top of the league.

Javon Wims: So far, from all the reports I’ve read and heard on local sports talk and podcasts Wims has been one of the more impressive overall players in camp thus far. I don’t think it is totally out of line for Wims to jump up as high as the teams 3rd option at wide receiver by seasons end. Especially if he continues to fortify Trubisky’s trust in him which he has apparently gained in camp practices to this point. Wims made some impact plays in the little targets he was given last season. Wims is working on contributing to special teams which he’ll need to to justify a spot on the roster. He is an aggressive and fierce blocker so at least in the return game he should be an asset. Wims also gives the Bears another big target who can win on 50/50 balls and in the red-zone. Some are even suggesting he gets waived and tried to get snuck on the practice squad again or even traded for a low round pick but I say no way. He stays and adds to the impressive depth of young receiving talent to this roster.

Marvin Hall: About 2 months ago or so if you heard the name Hall making the roster as a Wideout, almost to a man everyone would be thinking Emmanuel not Marvin. However, so far Emmanuel has yet to practice after undergoing sports hernia surgery, and Marvin has gotten nothing but praise by every media member I’ve read or listened to. This cut will likely be the toughest for the team as the Bears are stacked at the position. Hall brings world class speed with him to the position and probably will fit into that hybrid mode the Bears have stocked this roster with to give mad scientist offensive guru Nagy even more ammunition to unleash upon the league with. I see him and Patterson having a pylon to pylon return combination on kickoffs a lot so expect him to get his share of returns. He’s also been taking punt return reps as well in camp so he may get reps there from time to time to give Cohen a breather and save him on wear and tear. Doesn’t hurt to have good backups in case of injury at all spots including punt returner.

TIGHT ENDS:(5)

Trey Burton: When Burton was signed to this team to play a very intricate role of the U Tight End in Nagy’s offense, the idea was to get a player familiar with the role. That much was achieved as Burton did play under Philly Head Coach Doug Peterson who was Kansas City’s Offensive Coordinator before Nagy. He did produce too, however, his season left you wanting more. When he was on he was exactly what the Bears envisioned when they acquired him but there were moments, some big moments, when he was nowhere to be found. He had stretches where he’d go games in a row with little to no production. Of course, there was the well publicized anxiety issues he suffers from that actually caused the Bears to use Cohen as the trigger man over him in the Bears version of the now famous Philly special. Burton threw a touchdown pass in the superbowl that propelled the Eagles to the Championship title over the Patriots in that play, but had severe anxiety attacks when he was approached by Nagy to run the play. That led to speculation that is why he missed the playoff game versus his old team, the Eagles, but did have off season surgery to repair a sports hernia injury. Thus far he’s missed 6 straight practices which looks like the effects of not being fully rehabbed from said surgery to add even more consternation to his status and availability for the 2019 season. Still, he is the number one option as the U Tight End until someone else says otherwise.

Adam Shaheen: Shaheen has given Bears fans their own anxiety issues with his well documented injury issues and that hasn’t diminished this camp as he has missed all but one practice (the first) with a lower back issue. If he does have a healthy campaign, it’s clear the Bears hold him in high regard as their top option for their Y Tight End spot. He has shown the ability to pass and run block and has soft yet strong hands to be a factor in the red zone and on 50/50 balls. He’s also very nimble for a man of his size. He should have improved mobility as he’s shed a lot of baby fat off his frame practicing Jiu-Jitsu in the off-season. The hope is Shaheen will remain healthy throughout the season so the Bears can run more 12 Personnel to take advantage of play action and the run/pass option plays the Bears like to run making them less predictable. While some fans and even media members remain skeptical he’ll ever remain healthy and have given up on him it’s clear the Bears have not.

Ben Braunecker: A lot of people have been less than complimentary of Braunecker but yet he remains on the roster. Through two regimes no less so two separate sets of offensive and special teams coaching staffs have thought enough about Braunecker to retain him to this point. He is a core special teamer and a player who can handle both the U and Y Tight End spots. So far in camp word is he has gotten a lot of run with the ones and has made some noise out there as a receiver. While some fans may dismiss him there is no doubt he is a lock to make this team.

Bradley Sowell: Sowell has gotten mixed reviews thus far in camp as a Tight End but what most media seem to agree on is that Sowell looks like a Tight End on the field and not some freak experiment of an Offensive Linemen trying to play Tight End. I believe he’ll be a lock to make the roster especially with the health of Shaheen in question. Bears will need a true Y to handle blocking duties if nothing else. He did catch a Touchdown on the famous Santa’s Sleigh play and shows pretty good hands. Many in the media believe there must be a handshake deal with Sowell guaranteeing him a roster spot since he had to drop so much weight leaving him without the opportunity to catch on elsewhere as an offensive lineman should he be cut. I have a hard time believing this is the case. I think Sowell was given the opportunity to compete here as a Tight End and could not wait. People forget, while he may not be a viable option as an offensive lineman elsewhere this season he is as a Tight End. If the Bears are unconvinced he can play the role as a Y Tight End consider him cut.

Dax Raymond: When it comes to my Raymond prediction I’m going by what I saw on video from him in college and the fact he chose the Bears as an undrafted free agent who had options elsewhere. The Bears made a fairly significant financial commitment to him and there was a pretty good interest in acquiring him as a UDFA which makes it unlikely he makes it through waivers for the Bears to make it on to their practice squad. So far, everything I’m hearing and reading is that Raymond has not been all that impressive at camp and some have even suggested he looked rather slow. Of course, it’s early in camp so there’s time for Raymond to make his mark in camp, but with him being one of the more high profile UDFA’s from this past draft season it’s less likely he’ll get to the practice squad than the other UDFA Tight Ends who are making impressions in camp. With Burton struggling in camp with what appears health stemming from his offseason sports hernia operation the Bears will need extra depth at the very important U position in this offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE: (7)

Charles Leno Jr.: As far as underappreciated Bears players go few rival the level Leno gets as far as lack of respect goes by fans and some media as well. This is a former 7th round pick facing some of the very best pass rushers in all of football week in week out, (hell, day in day out if you count the guys he practices with), and more than holds his own. He’s one of the best zone run blocking Tackles in the league, a top 10 graded pass blocker according to Pro Football Focus’s grading metrics and has not missed a down since taking over as the Bears starting Left Tackle for good. Fortunately, for him the Bears organization recognized his worth and paid him accordingly to his market value to be the Bears franchise Left Tackle.

Cody Whitehair: Whitehair is now playing the position he was drafted to play at and that’s Left Guard. Many people were against the move because he was settled in as a Center and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate there. However, Whitehair can play any position on the line from left to right. As a matter of fact, he did start at every position on the line in college besides Center where he played at for the first time at the NFL level. Whitehair figures to get a contract extension at some point before seasons end and a well deserved one. Hard to have a player who can play pro bowl caliber level line play at all 5 positions on the line. He allows the Bears the ability to carry one less lineman on the 53 as he can sub for anyone on the line at any time and play just as well as the guy he’s replacing in case of injury.

James Daniels: Daniels is one of the youngest players in the league and the youngest starting center in the league but eons ahead of his years. When he was drafted last season many thought he was the best Center prospect in the draft and he very well may prove it. That’s why I never had a doubt in my mind he would take over the center position from Whitehair this season. This in spite of getting starts at Guard last year. Clearly, the Bears wanted to give Daniels a year to get acclimated to the league and offense before taking over at Center. There was also the fact Trubisky was learning a new complicated offense and Nagy wanted to have continuity between Trubisky and Whitehair to give him more comfort and one less thing to think about. Former Bear great Olin Kruetz, who knows a thing or two about center being an all decade player during his playing days at Center, says Daniels should be an All Pro at some point in his career. Daniels is very athletic, bright and boasts a powerful lower half to drive block and should be the Bears franchise center for the next 10 years.

Kyle Long: Long has had a rough stretch injury wise the past three seasons but it looks as though he is 100 percent and ready for a resurgent season. If Long is anywhere near his form at the beginning of his career look out NFL when facing this Offensive Line. With the commitment to fix the running game by the staff having a beast like Long to run behind, they should be a nightmare for defenses to defend against while trying to keep up with all the weapons the Bears throw out there in the passing game. Having Long as the leader of that line back in itself should be an asset to the team but his ability to bring that nasty edge to the offense also should give the Bears a formidable running attack.

Bobbie Massie: Massie is in the last year of his guaranteed money on his contract which makes this possibly his last season with the team. Especially with Rashaad Coward primed to jump into that spot to take over as the Bears Right Tackle. This makes 2019 a very important season for Massie to make himself more attractive to teams looking to add a proven veteran right tackle to their roster. Massie had a resurgent season last year under the guidance of Harry Heistand which should help with his free agency marketability. For this season it should help the team with Massie in a contract push. He and Long give the Bears a potent right side to run power/man type plays when they’re in short yardage and goal-line situations.

Rashaad Coward: As I mentioned in Massie’s write up the Bears are extremely high on Coward. A converted UDFA Defensive Lineman Coward moved over to tackle last year due to both the over crowded room on the defensive line and his size and dancing Bear feet as well as his nasty demeanor to work with under one of the best developers of Offensive Lineman in the game in Heistand. It was the perfect scenario to try something like that while Heistand was aboard. It’s looking like a wise decision thus far behind the scenes but stay tuned to see if it comes to fruition. Looks like next year he’ll get the chance.

Alex Bars: Speaking of Heistand pupils, the Bears signed two of them as UDFA’s last year out of Notre Dame one of which would likely have been drafted and maybe even on day 2 had he not sustained an injury that cut his season short in 2018. Bars is a very similar prospect to Whitehair (although slightly bigger at 6’6″ 320) in that he can play multiple spots on the line including Tackle. The fact he’d have been drafted and a good prospect before sustaining his injuries probably will make him hard to reacquire off waivers and stashed on the practice squad. This and the fact he brings versatility to the offensive line as a reserve gets him a spot on the 53 man roster. He did have a scare where he needed to be carted off but it wound up being a contusion so we’ll see if it impacts him going forward. He did get back on the field a couple of days later so the knee seems good to go which is good news considering he had to have his ACL repaired a year ago.

Conclusion: I feel the Bears can add an extra offensive weapon at a skilled position due to the versatility both Whitehair and if he isn’t too badly injured Bars bring to the table where they can play both inside and outside. Still, there will be some tough cuts. Ted Larsen being one of those tough cuts who the Bears signed in the off-season to give them an experienced interior veteran backup who may just make the roster if it comes out that Bars is done for an extended period of time. I’ll get into the cuts in greater detail in my third and final piece of this series when I examine the special teams and possible practice squad candidates. The roster is deeper on the offensive side than it’s ever been in my time watching this team which goes way back to the Neil Armstrong era. And yes, that includes the 85′ team. The one question that needs to be answered to whether this offense jumps to the top of the league or the middle of it is how good will Trubisky be and how quickly can he make the jump to his max level. There will be some tough cuts to make that will hurt like hell but Bears will have no choice but to make them. Expect a big jump in production for this side of the ball hoping to reach the level their defense has already made. If that happens lookout history books. You’re about to get re-written.

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