The NFL preseason brings excitement and anticipation for all involved. Teams prepare for another shot at glory, fans prepare to cheer their teams on, and the media that covers the NFL gets ready for the grind of a 20-week campaign (preseason and regular season). But it can also bring disappointment. During the preseason teams carry 90 players on their roster. But by the time September comes around they need to reduce that number to 53. That means that 37 players will be getting pink slips over Labor Day weekend as roster need to be finalized by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.
In the case of the Chicago Bears, they'll have some tough choices to make when it comes to deciding which 37 players will get their walking papers from Halas Hall. A few of those cut may be added to the practice squad, but every player's dream is to make the active roster for the regular season. The Bears' kicking competition grabbed headlines all summer long. They also have tons of depth at running back, wide receiver, tight end, and numerous positions on defense. The fringe players will have one more chance to convince the Bears brass to keep them on board when they wrap up the preseason Thursday night at home against the Tennessee Titans.
Here is my 53-man roster projection with one final exhibition game remaining.
Quarterback (2): Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Analysis: The Bears are heavily invested in Trubisky (66.6 completion percentage, 3,223 passing yards, 24 TDs in 2018) and believe that he is their franchise quarterback. Daniel (515 passing yards, 3 TD' in a Bears uniform) on the other hand has established himself as one of the more dependable backups in the league. The odd man out here is Tyler Bray. Aside from the fact that very few teams keep three active quarterbacks these days, Bray still needs work so the practice squad is a good place for him.
While Bray is a good, young arm to have, his accuracy and decision-making need work, and some of his throws during this preseason have been erratic. He's also taken some avoidable sacks at times. Although he's entering his seventh NFL season, Bray is still eligible for the practice squad because he hasn't accrued three full practice squad seasons per league rules. A player must be on a practice squad for a minimum of six games in order for it to count as a full season which Bray has yet to do.
Running Back (4): Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, David Montgomery, Ryan Nall
Analysis:Cohen (3,202 career all-purpose yards, 14 total touchdowns) is slated to be the starter this year, Davis (1,270 career yards from scrimmage) was one of the Bears' top free-agent signings, while Montgomery was the team's first draft choice of 2019. And considering Nagy has kept them off the field for most of the preseason, it's practically an open secret that these three are locks for the roster. That leaves Nall, Kerrith Whyte Jr., and Josh Caldwell on the chopping block.
Here's why Nall makes the final roster: this preseason he's registered 104 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards, he's a contributor on special teams, he can be utilized as a fullback, and he was on last year's practice squad. Nall has already proven himself in 2019. Whyte was one of two seventh-round selections for the Bears in this year's draft. And while he has shown flashes (205 all-purpose yards, TD) this preseason, a year on the practice squad wouldn't be a bad idea.
The Bears would be wise to hang onto Whyte not only for developmental reasons, but in case there's an injury, and not to mention the fact that his ability to return kicks and punts will come in handy at some point. What keeps Whyte from making the 53-man roster is Nall's production combined with the fact that the Bears already have three excellent return men on board in Cohen, along with wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Taquan Mizell. Caldwell was brought in right after he was cut by Kansas City but I don't see him sticking around.
Wide Receiver (7): Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Allen Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Taquan Mizzell
Analysis: Miller, Gabriel, and Robinson (combined for 1,865 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last year) have already earned their spots on this team. Patterson (7,839 career all-purpose yards, 23 total touchdowns) was brought in to add depth and for his skills as a return specialist. Wims has had an impressive preseason (8 catches, 82 yards, and the Bears believe in the potential of Ridley, a fourth-round pick this year and a teammate of linebacker Roquan Smith's at Georgia. And while Mizzell is still adjusting to the receiver position after being a running back, his speed and ability to contribute on special teams (106 kick return yards last year) are hard to pass up.
Tight End (4): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Bradley Sowell, Ian Bunting
Analysis: We all know how valuable Burton is to the Bears when healthy (54 receptions, 569 yards, 10.5 yards per catch, 6 TDs in 2018). The team also believes that Shaheen (175 career receiving yards, 4 TDs) will live up to his potential so they'll give him one more chance. Bunting, an undrafted rookie, has been among the most productive pass catchers for the Bears this preseason (5 receptions, 108 receiving yards, 2 catches of 20-plus yards) and he's made a believer out of me. And while Sowell still has to prove himself at tight end, his locker room presence (with the Bears since 2017) can't be denied.
Jasper Horsted (a wide receiver during his college days at Princeton) is an excellent practice squad candidate. He's proven that he can make the big catches, and he has the height (6-4) for the position, but he needs to improve his blocking skills and is still finishing out his frame. Ellis Richardson hasn't really seen the field, Dax Raymond's blocking skills (at both tight end and fullback) and special teams abilities could land him on another team (or on the practice squad), and I think it's safe to say that the Ben Braunecker experiment (83 career receiving yards) could be over.
Offensive Line (8): Charles Leno Jr., Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Ted Larsen, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher
Analysis: Leno, Whitehair, Daniels, Long, and Massie will be the starting five barring any unforeseen circumstances. And while Bars (guard/tackle) and Mustipher (center/guard) are undrafted rookies (both attended Notre Dame and were coached at one time by Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand), they along with the 10-year veteran in Larsen (guard/center/emergency tackle) can each play multiple positions on the line.
Defensive End (4): Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard
Analysis: Hicks (109 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks in a Bears uniform) was the building block that helped make this defense what it is today. A fifth-round pick out of Delaware in 2018, Nichols was a long shot to make the Bears roster. But after proving himself last preseason, Nichols rewarded the Bears by posting 28 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles during the regular season. Robertson-Harris and Bullard have continued to improve since their rookie season in 2016. I was skeptical as to whether or not they could make an impact, but during these first three preseason games, both men have combined to contribute six tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks, and two quarterback hits.
Nose Tackle (2): Eddie Goldman, Nick Williams
Analysis: If Hicks is the building block, then Goldman is brick right next to him (123 career tackles, 11.5 career sacks). Williams played two seasons in Kansas City (2014-15) when Nagy was the offensive coordinator there, and he appeared in two games for the Bears last season. He's made the most of his limited opportunities during the regular season (26 games, 18 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss), and he's been active for the Bears during this preseason (4 tackles, TFL, sack, 3 quarterback hits). Hicks and Nichols also can slide over to nose if needed, and with the Bears spending a lot of time in their nickel package (two linemen, four linebackers) they'll be rotating players up front this season.
Outside Linebacker (5): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts
Analysis:Mack is one of the best pass rushers (53 career sacks) in the game today, the Bears believe that Floyd (8.5 sacks over the last two seasons) can be like Mack someday. Lynch's health is a concern (hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2014) but his experience (16 tackles, 3 sacks, interception last year) with this defense is valuable, and Irving (20 career tackles, sack) is slowly progressing at the position. Fitts spent last season on the practice squad, but his performance in this preseason (8 tackles, TFL, quarterback hit) can't be ignored.
Inside Linebacker (5): Danny Trevethan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods or James Vaughters
Analysis: Trevethan and Smith (combined for 224 tackles, seven sacks, three interceptions, and 11 pass deflections last year) are the Dynamic Duo of this defense. Kwiatkoski (a key backup over the last couple of seasons) and Iyiegbuniwe (last year's fourth-round draft choice) have had most of the starts at inside linebacker during this preseason and they've delivered (combined 28 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 4 QB hits, and Iyiegbuniwe returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Colts last week). Woods, a converted safety (19 tackles, 3 TFL, sack, QB hit) and Vaughters, who has yet to play an NFL regular-season game in five years, (5 tackles, TFL, sack, 2 quarterback hits, 2 fumble recoveries, forced fumble) have both filled up the box score during the exhibition slate. These two will battle it out for that final roster spot on Thursday night.
Cornerback (5): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Sherrick McManis, Kevin Toliver
Analysis: Fuller and Amukamara have long earned their spots on this team, the Bears didn't give Skrine $16 million just to cut him, McManis is one of the top special teamers in the NFL, and Toliver (16 tackles, 2 pass deflections as a rookie last year) is a diamond in the rough who's recorded five tackles and a deflected pass this preseason. Sixth-round pick Duke Shelley has been competitive (12 tackles), but he'd be hard-pressed to find a spot amongst all these veterans. Fellow rookie Stephen Denmark, a converted wide receiver, is a long shot to make the final roster.
Safety (4): Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Analysis: Jackson and Clinton-Dix are the starters. Bush has been with the Bears since 2016. And in that time he's been credited with 36 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a pass deflection in 39 games. But during this preseason he's returned two monster interceptions, including one that went 91 yards for a touchdown last week against Indianapolis. Houston-Carson's numbers (22 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery for the Bears) have risen every year since his 2016 rookie season, and he's a key special teamer.
Specialists (3): Eddy Pineiro, Pat O'Donnell, Patrick Scales
Analysis:Pineiro has been impressive since he joined the Bears following the trade from Oakland, and he has continued to be consistent as the kicker since Elliott Fry was released earlier in the preseason. Pineiro also is respected in the locker room. In the case of O'Donnell, the Bears aren't going to cut a punter that they've invested $4 million in. Especially since he's been so effective. And Scales may never eclipse the legacy of Pat Mannelly, but he's proved himself to be a damn good long snapper.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of www.chicagobears.com)