Chicago Bears defensive end Corey Wootton, who has been out with a knee injury since the first preseason game, will not be participating in tomorrow night's preseason finale. His return timetable is still unclear but coordinator Rod Marinelli believes it will be sooner rather than later.
"It sounds like Corey is going to start getting some work next week," he said.
The team had hoped the signing of free agent Vernon Gholston would provide some depth at the end position behind starters Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. Gholston did not live up to expectations and was waived on Monday. The remaining players listed at defensive end are rookies Jake Laptad and Mario Addison, and third-year player Nick Reed, who hasn't played in an NFL game since 2009.
DT Amobi Okoye
If an injury were to befall either of the starters, the defense would be put in a tough position. Yet Marinelli said he has more options than one might think.
"Right now, [Amobi] Okoye, I've worked him at end some because he's done that before and can play in a base-end situation," Marinelli said. "Henry [Melton] can go in at nickel. He's been doing some of that. We did that last year with him, so he's got that ability."
Melton has had limited success as an edge rusher and put on nearly 30 pounds this offseason to bulk up for full-time duties at tackle. Yet the Bears are in a tough spot and will likely be forced to rotate Melton and Okoye at end, at least until Wootton returns.
This means the team will almost assuredly keep five defensive tackles: Melton, Okoye, Anthony Adams, Stephen Paea and Matt Toeaina. Based on what happens against the Cleveland Browns tomorrow night, the coaches may decide to keep a sixth tackle, with the most likely candidate being Marcus Harrison.
Don't sleep on the rookie Addison though. He's flashed potential this offseason and looks like he could be a quality contributor down the line.
"I like Mario. He's kind of in the mix," Marinelli said.
Note what he said: "kind of." This indicates Addison will need a strong showing tomorrow night if he's going to be a part of the final 53-man roster. He's been good in practice but needs to perform when it counts.
Marinelli has many tough decisions to make over the next few days. With final cuts due by 5 p.m. this Saturday, many players will undergo intense scrutiny in tomorrow's contest. Effort will be one of the main criteria in judging the borderline players.
"We're just looking for players right now," Marinelli said. "Guys that have taken six weeks of work and see if they can go out and knock some guys around. For most of [the game], it's going to be their show. We're excited to watch them play, to see if they follow the rules of the defense and [show] hustle and all the things that we're looking for."
Marinelli said he's seen plenty of players earn a roster spot based mainly on their performances in the final preseason matchup.
"I respect how much they've gone through," he said. "They've taken a ton of reps, had to do some of the dirty work. Now this is their opportunity to shine and produce good tape. This is a resume we're producing tomorrow night. So I'm looking for someone who will stand up and fight, and we'll find them."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.