Most assumed that because of the lockout – which wiped out minicamps and OTAs, the time when most rookies become acclimated with systems and coaches – veterans would be given the nod over similar younger players in most cases. The Chicago Bears went a different route.
The team announced today the release of the following players: RB Chester Taylor, TE Desmond Clark, DT Marcus Harrison, OT Levi Horn, RB Robert Hughes, WR Kris Adams, TE Andre Smith, G Ricky Henry, DT Jordan Miller, LB Patrick Trahan and S Anthony Walters. The team has also placed rookie LB J.T. Thomas on the injured reserve list with a bad back. RB Harvey Unga has been placed on the reserve/left team list.
The waiving of Clark opened the door for FB Will Ta'ufo'ou, who will be the team's only player at the position. DE Nick Reed, who had a strong showing in the final preseason game, also made the roster.
The Bears will be heading into the season with five undrafted free agents. Considering only two UFAs the past 10 years have been able to make any type of significant contributions, this is surprising to say the least. Those five rookies are WR Dane Sanzenbacher, LB Dom DeCicco, S Winston Venable, TE Kyle Adams and DE Mario Addison.
Sanzenbacher was the no-brainer here, as he's been one of the most impressive offensive players of the preseason. The former Ohio State receiver runs crisp routes and has great hands. He's played three different positions in coordinator Mike Martz's offense so far and should see plenty of playing time.
LB Dom DeCicco
DeCicco is a former college safety that has converted to middle linebacker. He is extremely athletic and has great speed. He's competent in pass coverage but needs to work on reading and reacting to his keys against the run. He's been a solid contributor on special teams as well.
Adams will fill an H-back role for the team, sometimes being used as a fullback. He has good hands, blocks well and has looked surprisingly comfortable in the offense. Martz will move him all around the offense and take advantage of his versatility.
Addison has been straddling the cut line ever since Corey Wootton's knee injury. He had a strong outing against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, which helped him earn a roster spot. Venable also showed well in the team's preseason finale. He's a big hitter who has been solid on special teams.
Assuming they clear waivers, Horn, Hughes, Adams, Henry, Smith and Miller will all be offered a place on the practice squad.
The implications of having five undrafted rookies on the final roster are twofold. The first is that the scouting department did a good job evaluating the post-draft talent and identified a number of players that were more than just camp bodies. The second is that the front office did not do enough in veteran free agency to fill some positions of need, forcing the coaches to fall back on five players who have never played a regular-season down in the NFL.
While this is a great story for these five players, it doesn't bode too well for the team. Sanzenbacher and Adams will have defined roles in the offense yet neither will be counted on to be significant producers. DeCicco, Venable and Addison are talented but raw, and the team will be in bad shape if any of them are asked to start this year.
It helps to remember that hundreds of other players, many of which are established veterans, have also been cut from the rosters of other NFL teams. The Bears are reportedly $19 million under the cap. GM Jerry Angelo could use a good chunk of that money to bring in some established players either through waivers or free agency. So the 53 players currently on the roster don't necessarily constitute the "final" group. Many more changes could happen between now and next Sunday.
A preliminary evaluation of the roster shows a group of starters that are as talented as most teams in the NFL. Yet it also reveals a team thin at a number of positions. The Bears had the fewest injuries of any NFL team last year. It's doubtful they will be as fortunate this season. When the injuries begin to pile up, inexperienced players are going to be asked to step in and perform – not an ideal situation for any team.
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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.