The Bears have a 2-1 preseason record but last weekend’s dress rehearsal was a large eye opener. It’s hard to believe that after months of off-season programs, training camp and the preseason that a team with so many questions heading into the process now may have more concerns heading into the regular season.
With multiple injuries to the top end of the roster, head coach John Fox will have his work cut out for him Thursday night in what will be the final test before rosters must be shaved from 75 to 53.
Here are five battles to watch for on Thursday night.
The final running back spot
The Bears went to camp with six running backs on the roster, yet they cut Daniel Thomas this week and placed Senorise Perry on IR with an ankle injury.
Jacquizz Rodgers and fourth-round pick Jeremy Langford are comfortably penciled in behind lead back Matt Forte, so it will take a standout effort from Ka’Deem Carey to secure the fourth RB spot, assuming they keep four.
Carey has 14 carries for 54 yards (3.9 average) this preseason, with a long run of 21 yards and a touchdown. Yet a fourth running back is expected to play special teams, which Carey does not. So he’ll need one heck of a performance against the Browns to convince the new staff he deserves a place on the final 53-man roster over other, more special-teams-worthy players.
Back up tight end
Going into camp, there was concern about the depth behind Martellus Bennett at the tight end position. As we reach the end of the preseason, that concern has not been pacified.
Dante Rosario is the only tight end other than Bennett to catch a pass on the entire roster. Rosario held down the team’s reserve spot the last two years and has value as a blocker as well.
Zach Miller, who caught two touchdowns in the preseason opener last year, has been on the field for 50 snaps and has yet to do anything of merit. He saw the majority of first-team reps in Week 2 but needs to do something tonight to show his value.
Bear Pascoe figures to be the blocking tight end moving forward and could provide decent value for a team looking to run the ball more.
The wild card here is Khari Lee, whom the Bears traded for yesterday. Chicago shipped a sixth-round pick for Lee, an undrafted free agent out of Bowie State, so there’s no chance they’ll cut him a few days later. With Lee’s roster spot secure for the time being, the battle between Miller and Rosario will come to a head against the Browns.
And if neither player steps up, then they both might get pink slips.
Final receiving spot(s)
Receiver is yet another spot where not one player has remotely stuck out. Last week, the first team was without its top four receivers and Rashad Lawrence led all receivers with two catches for 22 yards.
Lawrence has decent size and after-the-catch ability and could be a strong game away from securing a roster spot.
Josh Bellamy spent most of his time last year on the practice squad and has caught five passes for 33 yards and a touchdown this preseason. Experience is on his side but he will need to show something in order to separate himself from the pack.
Cameron Meredith has shown flashes over the past three weeks but has yet to put it all together in live action. The Illinois native has five catches for 60 yards during the preseason but was non-existent in last week’s big opportunity.
Marc Mariani appears locked into a roster spot, mainly due to his special-teams ability as a returner. Mariani has shown he can be a solid receiving option out of the slot when called upon but his main focus will be in the return game.
The final two receivers, Ify Umodu and A.J. Cruz, have also shown special teams value but might come out on the short end unless they can showcase their skill set on Thursday night.
Sherrick McManis has taken all the snaps as the nickel corner over the past two weeks and can firmly entrench himself in that role with another strong performance in the final showing.
Terrance Mitchell has been the surprise of camp and the preseason. This comes just one year after being a seventh-round selection, being cut, and later being signed to the Chicago’s practice squad. Mitchell has shown the best coverage skills on the team and possesses enough size and instincts to develop as a nice rotational corner with starting upside.
Veteran Tracey Porter just can’t stay healthy and on the field. After missing the first two weeks of the preseason with a hamstring injury, Porter re-aggravated that same injury last week after being beat for what would have been a touchdown if not called back by a penalty. He impressed early in camp but his health issues make him a big risk.
With the team’s depth at the position in question, can anyone in this group stand out?
Jeremiah Ratliff was suspended for the opening three games before going down with an ankle injury that Fox has labeled “week to week.” In his place, second-round pick Eddie Goldman has been impressive but he suffered a concussion against the Bengals and hasn’t yet been cleared to practice.
Will Sutton has been another pleasant surprise in camp. When the defense shifted to a 3-4 front, Sutton was considered the odd man out but he’s proven everyone wrong. He’s played both five-technique and nose tackle so far and has been effective at both positions, which all but solidifies his spot on the roster.
Cornelius Washington, Terry Williams and Brandon Dunn are all fighting for one roster spot, with Dunn the most impressive of the group. Washington brings special teams value, while Williams has struggled to stand out as a one-dimensional space eater. A playmaking performance from any of the three could lock up a place on the final 53.
Other Battles To Watch
- Can Willie Young make the team? After not playing in the first game, Young has been getting increased reps over the past few contests and has stepped up to that challenge. The only issue is that those reps have been against second and third teams. Young could provide $1.8 million in cap savings if cut.
- Can newcomer Zac Dysert supplant David Fales as the Bears’ developmental quarterback? Both should see plenty of action tonight, with the better player likely landing on the practice squad.
- Who wins the fourth safety spot? Ryan Mundy was placed on season-ending IR last week, further weakening the depth at the position. Sherrod Martin is currently listed at the fourth safety but can he hold off Demontre Hurst and Anthony Jefferson?
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.