The Chicago Bears pared down the roster to 53 players this weekend. The club then turned around and signed eight of those athletes to the practice squad.
Here are 10 notes on the roster Chicago will go into battle with this season.
Despite his strong performance in the preseason finale (20/29, 157 yds, 2 TDs), QB Josh McCown didn't make the cut. The club chose instead to keep just two signal callers on the roster. Jay Cutler (78 career starts) and Jason Campbell (70 career starts) are all the experience Chicago needs under center. Typically, teams like to keep a developmental player as the third signal caller. The Bears accomplished that goal by stashing rookie Matt Blanchard on the practice squad (PS).
Booker over Allen
In the final preseason game, Lorenzo Booker and Armando Allen battled for the team's third running back gig. Both played very well, with Allen leading the team in both rushing (83) and receiving yards (51), and forcing a fumble on special teams. Yet Booker was given the nod, based on his experience. Allen is eligible for the practice squad and Booker isn't. With both players showing very well this preseason, the club kept Allen on the PS, saving him for later in the season, and will utilize Booker mainly as a returner, where he's been electric.
Sanzenbacher does it again
For the second straight year, WR Dane Sanzenbacher's bid for a roster spot came down to the final preseason game. A UDFA last season, Sanzenbacher stood out amongst a weak receiving corps. Yet upgrades at the position through free agency made his job even tougher this year. The team dropped Rashied Davis due to injury earlier in the week, yet there was no guarantee Chicago would keep six receivers. Sanzebacher then went out and made an outstanding one-handed TD grab, with a defender draped all over him, in the first quarter of the preseason finale, showing how he can be a weapon on the offense this season. Welcome back Dane.
Four tight ends
Like Bear Report has predicted all offseason, the Bears chose to keep four tight ends. GM Phil Emery traded FB Tyler Clutts on Friday, meaning the offense will use its TEs as lead blocker throughout the 2012 campaign. Each player – Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, Evan Rodriguez and Kyle Adams – is a capable pass catcher as well. Expect offensive coordinator Mike Tice to line up these four all over the offense this year.
Brown on practice squad
Rookie OT James Brown looked good during training camp and the preseason. He took second-team reps at both right tackle and left tackle, demonstrating his versatility. He's a solid technician but he lacks ideal size (6-3, 306) and strength. Yet he has a lot of potential. The club couldn't find a place for him on the final 53 – Chris Williams will likely serve as Chicago's swing tackle – yet they were able to sneak Brown onto the practice squad. The Bears also put T Cory Brandon on PS, a raw player that has perfect size (6-7, 324) and strength. If you were able to combine Brown's skill with Brandon's size, you'd have a starting NFL left tackle. We'll see if either can make strides on the practice squad.
The Bears may be more worried about Brian Urlacher's knee than they've let on. The team chose to keep seven linebackers this year. They typically keep just six. Both J.T. Thomas and Patrick Trahan, bubble players during the preseason, made the cut. Both are raw players though and could struggle if called into duty at linebacker. Along with Blake Costanzo, their value will come mainly on special teams. Have an extra backer also provides protection in case Urlacher has to go on IR.
With rookie S Brandon Hardin hitting injured reserve, and Chris Conte still out with a shoulder injury, the Bears are in a tough spot at safety. No player on the club has more than Major Wright's 11 starts. As a result, the club chose to keep two youngsters in Anthony Walters and Jeremy Jones. Walters has looked good during the preseason, showing aggressiveness against both the run and pass. Jones had a great interception in the preseason finale, which likely pushed him over the edge. The Bears are still in the market for a veteran safety but have left options on the roster in case that search drags on.
Behind the four main cornerbacks – Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden – Chicago's coaches instituted a competition for the final spot between veteran Jonathan Wilhite, and rookies Greg McCoy and Isaiah Frey. None of those three players stood out, forcing Emery to trade Clutts for Sherrick McManis, a quality special teams player. Frey, the club's sixth-round pick, flashed some potential and was signed to the practice squad.
Ozougwu stands out
The battle for the club's fifth DE spot came down to Chauncey Davis and Cheta Ozougwu. Davis was average and Ozougwu was outstanding, racking up 3.0 sacks in the preseason. He showed a quick first step and the ability to turn the corner and get to the quarterback. With him blowing past offensive linemen, the choice was easy. Ozougwu will serve as a situational pass rusher this season, coming in mainly on passing downs.
Price and Collins here, for now
Both DTs Nate Collins and Brian Price made the final cuts. Each had strong a strong preseason, especially Price, who showed outstanding explosiveness. Yet the club is in the process of re-signing Amobi Okoye, meaning one defensive tackle on the roster will have to go. Collins is on the reserve/suspended list right now, meaning the team doesn't have to cut him until next week. Both players could get the axe once Okoye is signed. The wildcard is Matt Toeaina, a relatively expensive player who was outplayed by Price at the nose tackle position.
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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.