Tonight's Chicago Bears preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns was not very exciting for the fans. The team played well as a whole, winning 24-14. Yet the real battle was happened amongst the players fighting for those precious few roster spots still available. A number of players did themselves well, while others essentially played themselves off the team.
Eight players did not suit up tonight due to injury: RB Marion Barber (calf), LB Lance Briggs (knee), WR Sam Hurd (ankle), TE Kellen Davis (back), TE Desmond Clark (knee), DT Anthony Adams (calf), DE Corey Wootton (knee) and LS Patrick Mannelly. Wootton is still questionable for Week 1. The rest are expected to play against the Falcons.
Many starters did not bother stepping on the field. Those included QB Jay Cutler, RB Matt Forte, LB Brian Urlacher, DE Israel Idonije, DE Julius Peppers, CB Charles Tillman, WR Roy Williams and C Roberto Garza.
-The fourth and final defensive end spot was up for grabs coming into tonight's contest. Nick Reed may have secured that position. He was arguably the best player on the field tonight. He racked up four tackles, a sack, two passes defended, one quarterback hurry and two tackles for loss, one of which came on a fourth-down goal-line stop. He played as good as he possibly could have and surely made an impression on the coaches.
-Reed's main competition at defensive end, Mario Addison, also had a solid night. He was able to get good pressure on the quarterback consistently and had his best night of the preseason defending the run. He ended the game with four tackles, two for a loss. If it comes to a decision between Reed and Addison, coaches will have an extremely tough decision to make.
RB Robert Hughes
-RB Kahlil Bell left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. He said afterward that it wasn't serious, which is a good thing because rookie Robert Hughes had himself a night. Hughes carried the ball 16 times for 69 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. He is practice-squad material for sure. If Bell misses any time, Hughes could fill in nicely as the team's third runner.
-RB Chester Taylor was showcased in the first half. The Bears are trying to trade the veteran and tonight was his audition for the other 30 teams in the league. The audition didn't go well. Taylor carried 10 times for just 27 yards. On a sad note, his 2.7 yards per carry was actually higher than his average last season. Most likely, the Bears will be forced to waive him, as his trade value couldn't be any lower at this point.
-Rookie WR Dane Sanzenbacher erased what little doubt there was about him making the final 53-man roster. He led all receivers with four catches for 50 yards. He looked very comfortable in the offense, working the underneath routes well. He also chipped in on special teams, returning a punt 65 yards for a touchdown. Unfortunately, it was called back on a holding penalty. In the long-term though, he's a keeper.
-The defense earned four sacks tonight, which is one more than the team had earned through the first three contests total. CB Zack Bowman, DT Jordan Miller and DT Henry Melton all took down the opposing quarterback. Melton's performances the last two games had been subpar, so it will help his confidence getting a takedown tonight.
-FB Eddie Williams started camp strong but has faded severely since. He did not see the field tonight. Will Ta'ufo'ou got the bulk of the work at fullback but it looks as if the team is going to go with rookie Kyle Adams in an H-back role.
-As has been the case in every preseason contest, LB Dom DeCicco had an up-and-down night. He made a few nice plays chasing runners down near the sidelines but he seems to get caught up in the wash of players much too easily on up-the-middle runs. He did knock down a pass but he probably should have intercepted it. He's straddling the cut line right now.
-S Winston Venable, who was being strongly considered for the practice squad even before the game, had himself a night. He didn't show up much on the stat sheet but he was a physical presence all evening on defense. If either Conte or Steltz is forced to miss significant time, Venable could be called on to fill in. He's a quality special teams player as well.
-DT Stephen Paea had his best preseason game but he still has a long way to go. On one play in the fourth quarter, he got pressure up the middle and got a hand on the quarterback, forcing an errant pass that was intercepted by LB Deron Minor. I don't see him being a crucial part of the defensive-line rotation, especially early in the season, be he is coming along, albeit slowly.
-QB Caleb Hanie completed 7 of 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The TD came on an outstanding throw in the back of the end zone to Johnny Knox, who was double-covered. Hanie has had a rough preseason, so his performance tonight should serve as a confidence booster.
-Rookie QB Nathan Enderle really struggled. He completed just 6 of his 13 pass attempts for 67 yards. He held on to the ball far too long all night and was sacked four times. He wasn't making good reads, threw into traffic repeatedly and even had a hard time with the routine throws. He's a long way away from becoming a productive NFL signal caller.
-C Chris Spencer started the night with the rest of the first-team front five and looked great. He's a fundamental anchor in the middle. Once he gets a little more comfortable making the line calls up front, I truly believe he'll replace Garza at center down the line.
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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.