The 2019 NFL season, the league's 100th campaign, has finally arrived. The Chicago Bears recently finalized their 53-man roster as they prepare to take the field against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. And while I wasn't too far off from my initial roster projection, there are some names that surprised me to some degree. Some Bears fans may agree with the team's decision, while others may not. Either way, the Bears feel confident about the team they'll put on the field this season.
Here are some names that caught my attention when the Bears roster was made official.
Kerrith Whyte Jr., RB
I initially had the rookie out of FAU projected for the practice squad. Especially since Ryan Nall's preseason numbers (135 rushing yards, 55 receiving yards) were greater than Whyte's (55 rushing yards, 14 receiving yards). My thinking here is that the Bears desired Whyte's superior speed, and felt that his skills as a kick returner (138 return yards during the preseason) were a bigger need than Nall's skills as a fullback. So Nall gets the practice squad nod while Whyte is listed as the fourth running back on the depth chart.
Ben Braunecker, TE
He's only posted 83 receiving yards in his three seasons with the Bears, but Braunecker can block, and his locker-room presence gave him staying power. Braunecker didn't see the field during the preseason, and at one point it looked like undrafted rookies Ian Bunting, Jesper Horsted, and Dax Raymond (combined for 252 receiving yards and 2 TDs this preseason) were ready to push the Harvard alum out of Chicago. But in the end, the Bears decided that Braunecker still has a purpose with this team. Horsted wound up on the practice squad, while Bunting is getting a chance with the New York Jets, and Raymond seeks his next opportunity. Braunecker needs to reward this team for their patience by having a productive season.
Rashaad Coward and Cornelius Lucas III, OL
Coward is a third-year player out of Old Dominion that's converting to offensive tackle from defensive end. He struggled at times during the preseason, and an elbow injury eventually sidelined him towards the end of the exhibition slate. Lucas (6-9, 330) also is a tackle who's played in 36 NFL games the past five seasons for the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints. They join veteran Ted Larsen (who can play all positions on the line) as the reserve offensive linemen.
I had former Notre Dame standouts Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher projected for these spots. But the Bears believe in Coward's potential and prefer Lucas' past experience over the Notre Dame undrafted rookies. But the latter two did get signed to the Bears' practice squad.
Abdullah Anderson, DL
This was a case of simple math. Anderson, the rookie defensive tackle out of Bucknell (9 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, sack, quarterback hit) outperformed veteran Jonathan Bullard (tackle, QB hit, TFL) during this preseason. But I was under the impression that the Bears would be patient with Bullard as they've been with other players. Now Anderson has to carry that August production into September and beyond.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, ILB
I projected the Bears to keep five players at the inside linebacker position, but Pierre-Louis makes six. The fifth-year player out of Boston College had a solid preseason for the Bears (6 tackles, TFL), and has posted 91 career tackles (with one sack) for the Seattle Seahawks (2014-16), Kansas City Chiefs (2017), and the New York Jets (2018). He also has experience playing in a 3-4 alignment.
Only kept four outside linebackers
No surprises here but the Bears will go with Kahlil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, and Isaiah Irving as their primary pass rushers. I felt that Kylie Fitts earned a spot (12 tackles, TFL in four preseason games), especially after he spent last season on the practice squad. It'll be interesting to see what the Bears do in case of an injury, but they do have James Vaughters (6 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries in August) on the practice squad if they need him.
Duke Shelley, CB
It appeared that the sixth-round draft choice out of Kansas State would be headed for the practice squad, mainly because of all of the other cornerbacks who had more experience than he did. But his 12 tackles during the exhibition schedule, combined with the flashes of his ability to cover downfield, were enough to convince the Bears to give him a spot alongside Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, and Kevin Toliver.
— 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)