Thursday night marks the fourth and final preseason game leading into the start of the 2019 NFL campaign. This is the game in which the starters and most — if not all — of the second unit get the night off. Even some third-stringers in certain cases get to relax. This is the game where the players on the bottom of the depth chart spend the majority of their time out on the field.
When it comes to the Chicago Bears, there are quite a few players who are pushing for a final roster spot. Most of the roster is set in stone, but there are some players who are hoping to change minds, surprise the brass, and make a case for having a job come September. A handful of players on the preseason roster have caught the attention of Bears fans and are hoping to turn that into an opportunity. Some of these players could get a chance on the practice squad, but the 53-man roster is the goal.
Here are the players and positions to pay the most attention to when the Bears wrap up their preseason at home against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night.
Tyler Bray, QB
The sixth-year signal-caller is hoping to convince head coach Matt Nagy and his staff to keep three quarterbacks once the 53-man roster is decided come Labor Day weekend. Bray has completed 25-of-46 passes this preseason (49 percent) for 274 yards and a touchdown. But he's also thrown an interception, he's been sacked three times, and he's only averaging a little more than five yards per completion. Bray's accuracy and decision-making have been rough at times, and there's also his lack of mobility (one career rushing attempt for no gain). All signs point to him joining the practice squad (he still has eligibility based on league rules), so he needs to have a very strong showing against the Titans where he will get the majority (perhaps all) of the snaps under center.
Ryan Nall vs. Kerrith Whyte Jr., RB
Nall is in his second NFL season, while Whyte was a seventh-round draft choice of the Bears this year. Both players have made the most of their opportunities thus far. Whyte has carried the ball 16 times for 53 yards and one touchdown. He's also posted 14 receiving yards and 138 kick return yards. Whyte's returning skills could give him an advantage.
Nall, who was on the practice squad last year, has posted 104 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards, he's also made some special teams tackles, and he's been utilized as a fullback in some packages. Both players have been significant contributors, it will all boil down to what skill set the Bears need the most.
Ian Bunting, Jesper Horsted, and Dax Raymond, TE
While I do see Ellis Richardson finally taking the field against the Titans, he hasn't seen preseason action otherwise. And his lack of receiving numbers in college (19 catches, 266 yards, 0 TDs) point to him being among the first players cut this weekend. Bunting (5 receptions, 108 receiving yards, 2 catches of 20 yards or more) and Horsted (3 catches, 39 yards, TD) have been the standouts among the undrafted rookies at this position. But they also are projects as Bunting needs to prove that he can get the ball on a consistent basis (only caught 29 passes in college), while Horsted is trying to make the switch after being a wide receiver in college, and both men need to improve their blocking skills.
Raymond only has one, six-yard catch thus far but he's proven to be dependable as a blocker (has lined up at tight end and fullback), and has seen time on special teams. How they are used against Tennessee will be interesting.
Rashaad Coward, Tommy Doles, Joe Lowery, Jordan McCray, Cornelius Lucas, and Marquez Tucker, OL
Ted Larsen, Alex Bars, and Sam Mustipher have been the top performers among those vying for spots behind the starting five. Coward has gotten plenty of attention as he's switching from the defensive line and trying to latch on as an offensive tackle (an elbow injury could keep him from playing). Doles, Tucker, and Lowry are rookies looking for their first NFL job, while Lucas and McCray are trying to earn a final roster spot for the first time.
Josh Woods vs. James Vaughters, ILB
Here are the two biggest defensive standouts of the 2019 preseason. Woods (19 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, sack, quarterback hit) is trying his hand at linebacker after playing safety in college. Then there's Vaughters (5 tackles, TFL, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, forced fumble, two fumble recoveries), who's bounced around from one practice squad to another but has yet to play a regular-season game. If Woods doesn't make the roster he'd be a strong candidate for the practice squad (could use more development as he's switching positions). This game will decide if that happens.
Duke Shelley vs. Stephen Denmark, CB
Shelley was a late-round pick by the Bears this year, but he played his college ball at Kansas State where they use pro-style concepts. Denmark was selected in the seventh round and is trying to make the switch to corner in the NFL after starting out as a wide receiver at Valdosta State. Shelley has been active enough on the field to show up on the stat sheet (12 total tackles), but not so much for Denmark.
Eddy Pineiro, PK
I'd like to think that Pineiro has done enough to win the job after he made all of his kicks (2 FGs, 3 PATs) against the Indianapolis Colts last week. There's still some buzz about the Bears potentially bringing in another kicker with more experience, but that noise has died down to some degree after Pineiro's performance in Indy. Another strong showing from Pineiro could finally put an end to the team's highly publicized search for a new kicker.
— 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)