None of the 11 starters on defense even saw the field in the Bears’ 24-0 shutout on Thursday of the Cleveland Browns. But the game completed a four-game preseason in which the Bears allowed zero points in any second half, suggesting that if nothing else, Bears backups may offer a small dose of security if the personnel need arises, which it unfortunately almost always does in an NFL season.
“I think guys made cases for themselves, which makes it harder on [the organization],” said coach John Fox. “I think that’s a good thing.”
The very good news out of the 2015 Bears defense was the continuing ability to force turnovers, even if not always by the No. 1 unit. In Thursday’s 24-0 win over the Browns, the Bears came up with three, highlighted by an interception and TD return by safety Sherrod Martin. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell had a hand in a third takeaway of the preseason when he recovered a fumble forced by linebacker Lamarr Houston. Rookie linebacker Jonathan Anderson delivered a sack that forced a Cleveland fumble recovered by the Bears.
But the issue in fourth preseason games isn’t always who plays and how much, but sometimes who doesn’t play. With roster cuts due by Saturday afternoon, there were few notables in the starting defensive personnel, which included not one projected member of the 2015 No. 1 unit.
The linebacker depth chart went further into question by two sacks from undrafted rookie Anderson, the second forcing a fumble recovered by defensive lineman Cornelius Washington. John Timu rated an assist on sack No. 2, coming in with a blitz that forced Browns quarterback to step up into Anderson’s A-gap blitz.
Anderson underscored his bid for a roster spot with a tackle-for-loss late in the fourth quarter. He was credited with five tackles total (three for loss), two sacks, a quarterback hit, and even found time to contribute a tackle on special teams. If he didn’t earn that roster spot with the Bears, the Browns may be waiting to welcome him in.
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“Really I see each game as an opportunity so I try to make the most of it,” Anderson said. “I didn’t see it as I was playing the Browns. I was seeing it as another opportunity.”
If there was a mild surprise it was 2013 second-round pick Jonathan Bostic in uniform but not playing, presumably because of an ankle injury from the Cincinnati game. “We had a lot of guys who dressed but didn’t play,” Fox said, not volunteering anything on Bostic’s situation. Because of his injury plagued offseason, a harsh possibility is that the Bears do not see a spot for him in 2015 and did not want to put him on the field and risk an injury that could expose them to an injury settlement.
Starting inside linebackers Christian Jones and Shea McClellin did not play, and Bostic, listed behind Jones on the depth chart, was replaced in the starting lineup by undrafted rookie free agent Timu. Bostic missed most of the offseason work with a flareup of a back injury he suffered last season, and he was sidelined this week as well with the ankle injury.