Former first-round pick Kevin White has totaled 21 catches in his three seasons with the Bears
No NFL roster spot is safe in August. Each team starts the season with 90 players, but once official rosters are set in September that number reduces to 53. For the top-tier players preseason just means getting into a rhythm and working the rust off. For the guys on the bubble, it’s about proving that you belong. Then you have the veterans who are fighting to keep their jobs.
The Chicago Bears have a few players who fall into that third category. These players have either had one really good season but haven’t delivered since then, have had their career derailed by injuries or some other misfortune, or they just flat out haven’t delivered. These players may already be on the proverbial roster bubble. So here are five players that must absolutely stand out this preseason if they want to be wearing a Bears uniform come Week 1.
1. Kevin White, WR
The seventh overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft has the most to prove out of any player on the roster. Various season-ending injuries to his shin, fibula, and shoulder have limited him to just 21 receptions in five games. No one was surprised when the Bears declined White's fifth-year option on his rookie contract, so he is literally playing for his job this season, whether that's for Chicago or another team. Not helping White's situation is the log jam the Bears have at receiver following the offseason acquisitions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Bennie Fowler as well as drafting Anthony Miller and Javon Wims.
2. Dion Sims, TE
When the Bears snagged Sims away from the Miami Dolphins in free agency last year it was believed that he was one of the players who could save John Fox’s job. (We all know how that turned out). While Sims is more of a blocking tight end, he can make the big plays when needed. During his last year with the Dolphins, Sims had 26 receptions for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Last year with the Bears those numbers were reduced to 15, 180 and one, respectively.
With 2017 second-round pick Adam Shaheen being groomed as the tight end of the future, and Super Bowl LII hero Trey Burton signed in free agency, Sims could be the odd man out if he doesn’t prove his worth this preseason.
3. Hroniss Grasu, C
Kyle Long’s Oregon teammate has only played 14 NFL games since being taken in the third round of the 2015 draft. He didn't get off to the greatest start as a pro, as he made some key mistakes as a rookie which cost the Bears on the field. He then missed all of 2016 due to a torn ACL, and only made last year’s 53-man roster because of injuries that occurred late in the preseason. Chicago has added some new pieces up front, so if Grasu wants to stick around in the Windy City he'll need to improve his versatility, stay healthy and make a positive impression in training camp and the preseason.
4. Aaron Lynch, OLB
Lynch was brought in because of his past relationship and success with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. When both were with the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 and '16, Lynch had 83 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, and seven pass deflections in 30 games. But since then injuries have limited the 25-year-old to just 13 total tackles and 2.5 sacks in just 14 games. With linebacker being a position of concern for the Bears this year, Lynch needs to show that he’s healthy and can make things happen on the field. Reuniting with Fangio could be just what the doctor ordered.
5. Michael Burton and Ryan Nall, FB
If there was one glaring omission about Matt Nagy’s time as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City it’s that there weren’t really any fullbacks on the roster. Nagy’s particular offense doesn’t necessarily use them but now he has two on his current preseason roster. Burton played for the Bears in 2017 with limited success, while Nall is an undrafted rookie trying to make his way into the league. Convincing Nagy to keep even one fullback will be a hard sell. So aside from pitching in on special teams, these two will have to make some impact plays when they get the ball in their hands if they want to be among the final 53 in September.
-- 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.