At this point in the preseason there are no mysteries for teams. There’s been enough practices and camps to make up teams minds as to who they will keep, who they will waive and who they will bring back to place on their practice squads should they make it through waivers. I think most fans and even some media put way too much emphasis on preseason games as being a huge part of determining a teams decision on evaluating their players. Sure, it may factor into deciding on who may or may not make your practice squad from some of the fringe players if the competition is real close, but for the most part coaches know what they have from players during practices, film room study, and in the weight room. Preseason games are and always have been for the players who are exposing themselves to the rest of the league so they can be signed as bottom of the roster players should they get claimed, and to practice squads once they’ve cleared. That said, here are my predictions for the 3 specialty positions and the 10 man practice squad.
John Wirtel: In a bit of an upset the Bears keep Wirtel over Patrick Scales. Everyone knows what Cody Parkey did in the Bears last game of the season but what most people don’t take into consideration is the part the Long Snapper played in the now imfamous double doink miss by Parkey. This is something that was first brought to light by ex-Bears long snapper Patrick Mannely on the old overnight show hosted by 670 am the Score’s Laurence Holmes. He observes Scales was off target with his snap which caused Parkey to approach the kick in a hesitant manner and likely factored in to the low trajectory of the kick resulting in the slightly tipped kick by an Eagles player which ultimately contributed in the miss. Since I am not a Long Snapper expert I can give you no reason for him as much as I can against Scales so that’s what I am rolling with here.
Pat O’Donnell: Not much of a write up needs to be made for O’Donnell. He’s been here for sometime now and he is as steady as it gets. He is not spectacular with booming punts for distance and hangtime but his directional kicking is predictavely reliable which is invaluable for the coverage unit, an area the Bears have been solid in. He is also very good at getting the ball inside the 20 as well which for this team is a weapon in itself when you can back up an opponents offense towards their own goal line against this defense.
Eddie Pinero: I’ve always had Pinero as the winner of this competition. This past Saturday versus the Colts in pre-season game #3 Pinero quieted some of the speculation by local media members that the Bears next kicker is elsewhere and not on the current roster. Pinero was perfect hitting both his field goal attempts and all of his extra point attempts. However, what made the biggest impression was Pinero’s make from 58 yards out. It was not just good but hit dead center between the uprights and would have made it from 60 yards plus. Also working in his favor is the fact he is well liked by his teammates and fits in with the Bears culture this administration values as highly as talent itself. Whether it pays off for them during the season or not remains to be seen, but it appears the Bears have found their kicker. If it works out the conditional late round pick they gave up for him will be well worth it by solving the kicker riddle that has plagued the Ryan Pace administration since his hire back in 2015.
1.) Ian Bunting TE: I was really tempted to put Bunting on the 53 man roster because of what he’s shown as a pass catcher but ultimately I just couldn’t get past the deficiency in his blocking ability. Offensively and perhaps even with the entire team the single most important goal for the Bears this season other than winning a Superbowl is and should be the development of Mitch Trubisky. Something that would directly affect the result of being or not being Superbowl champs. That goal would be hard to achieve with your Quarterback on his ass or worse, in the trainers room tending to injuries on a consistent basis. Bunting is naturally big but it does appear he needs more time in the weight room to build functional strength. The Bears will likely be kind of red shirting him to do just that along with developing his technique and knowledge of the playbook. However, don’t be surprised if the Tight End room gets dinged up or is just ineffective, that that facilitates Buntings promotion to the active roster and actually gets him in some real game action.
2.) Thomas Ives WR: Ives has apparently made an impression in camp thus far and he has flashed in pre-season. Ives is a big kid at 6’5″ 220 and brings with him a nice catch radius. His hands seem solid and he appears to be a smart kid with a solid work ethic. He could be valuable emmulating opposing teams bigger WRs with the scout team as well as a possible developmental prospect who may provide depth in the future.
3.) Clifton Duck DB: Duck has impressed from day one in camp and has flashed plenty in the preseason. Duck is a physical and willing tackler that should provide a two way player who can factor in coverage as well as versus the run. He demonstrates solid instincts and is yet another kid that appears to fit in with the Bears culture.
4.) Stephen Denmark: Denmark has been out nearly the entire preseason and camp and has only just returned to action this week to participate in practices. Denmark has far too many measurables to ignore and the Bears used a draft pick on him for a reason. He’s a physical presence at 6’4″ 220 who plays to it with a very physical brand of football. He also has excellent athleticism and moves in a way a man of his size should not move in. Equally as impressive are the intangibles the kid has. A hard worker and a solid citizen he fits in with the culture theme this organization has worked so hard to build. In spite of his not playing much Denmark is a known quantity to the Bears and his lack of exposure to the rest of the league probably gets him through waivers and on the practice squad. If the Bears are not confident he’ll pass through waivers he is a candidate to get stashed on the IR list.
5.) Sam Mustipher: Mustipher was signed as an undrafted free agent along with teammate Alex Bars who both were coached by Bears offensive line coach Harry Heistand while they were all together at Notre Dame.There is no doubt Heistand is the Bears top evaluator of Offensive Linemen and the organization would tend to defer to his expertise. Mustipher has played well in preseason so there is nothing in my mind that sees Mustipher not making the practice squad other than another team picking him up while on waivers. Mustipher gives the Bears a nice depth piece on the interior in the future as it’s doubtful Ted Larsen returns with the team next season.
6.) Marquez Tucker: Tucker, like Bars was seen as a draftable player before falling through the cracks and getting scooped up by the Bears. Again, Heistand likely had a direct influence on the signing. With one of the best O-line coaches in the game putting his stamp of approval on him it has to bode well for Tucker’s chances on staying with the organization and getting developed as the teams future swing tackle. He doesn’t have the typical size you want in a Tackle but neither is Charles Leno jr. and he’s been a Bears mainstay at Left Tackle since taking over that spot in 2014.
7.) Abdullah Anderson: Anderson was impressive when he got promoted from the practice squad and played in some games in 2018. He has flashed again in the preseason and by all accounts has had a good camp thus far. Unfortunately, so has Nick Williams and the Bears need depth at Nose Tackle to backup Eddie Goldman and they have plenty of depth at Defensive Line. The trick is getting Anderson through waivers as he now has put out enough tape where teams in need of Defensive Line depth would be interested in adding him to their 53 man roster. If he does make it through, Anderson just adds to the already ridiculous depth the Bears have at Defensive Line.
8.) Tanner Gentry: Gentry has been getting cut by fans and media since he was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent but he is with the team for a 3rd straight season for a reason. The team clearly likes him and he adds value as a scout team slot or flanker to prep the defense versus their upcoming opponents. He is obviously familiar with the offense and has survived two regimes which means he has earned his place on this team as a depth piece at wideout. Whenever given a chance he has made catches and appears to have the confidence of his Quarterbacks and coaches as a reliable target.
9.) Jonathan Harris: Harris is a local product having played high school ball in nearby Aurora Illinois. He dominated at Lindenwood producing eye popping stats, as well as playing at both Defensive End and inside at Tackle. It’s that type of versatiliy that gives practice squad hopefuls a leg up on their competition. That gives him a better chance at getting promoted when the team needs an injury replacement for both the End and Tackle position on the Defensive Line.
10.) Kylie Fitts: Originally, I had Fitts as not making it. So far he has not shown the ability to string moves together as an Edge Rusher. Rarely, if at all does he do anything off of his original plan of attack which so far is either a bull rush or a pure speed rush off of the Edge. However, his challengers Chuck Harris and Matt Betts have not shown enough to subplant Fitts. This gets him back on the practice squad to develop his game further and take advantage of some very interesting tools. Fitts has the measureables to become an elite Edge Rusher. Particularly his blazing 3-cone time that had him tied for the fastest out of his 2018 class. If Fitts can show better instincts and develop a counter move off of his speed rush and do a better job converting speed to power and vice versa off his bull rush, he may find his way on to a 53 man roster here or elsewhere in the league.
Conclusion: As the Bears get ready to close out the preseason they have split their 90 man roster in half. One part will prep for the preseason game on Thursday and the other for the Green Bay game for their lid lifter and the leagues opening game next Thursday night at Soldier Field September 5th.
For most of those playing in the preseason game it will be their last in a Bears uniform, for some their last in the NFL and for others their last time ever putting pads on in any structured football setting. A scant few will filter their way through waivers and be picked up by the Bears. Some may get picked up off waivers by another team and put on their 53 man roster so all of these names I chose to make the practice squad will likely not be on here. The Bears will fill those spots up with other teams waived players.
They also may pick up some cap casualty vets to put on their 53 man roster to fill some valuable backup spots as the team has picked up some cap room by restructuring Leno. Being in win now mode there is no way they will chance being comprimised by having attrition derail their road to a Superbowl. So, if a vet gets let go to save money at Offensive Tackle or at Edge Rusher or anywhere else the team feels they can upgrade at and have roster flexibility don’t be surprised if the Bears jump on it even if it requires a pricy contract to do so.
Whether holding out their starters and top backups from preseason games hurts them early on remains to be seen but one thing it does guarantee is you will have a full compliment of players for when they count minus some fluke practice injury or off the field. Nine more days. Everyone cain’t wait.