Bears

Projecting the Bears’ 53-man roster

Projecting the Bears’ 53-man roster

The Bears’ 2018 preseason covered six weeks of practices and games, giving coaches and front office personnel plenty of time to evaluate who’s in and who’s out on their initial 53-man roster, which will be released Saturday. 

This projection comes with a caveat: The Bears can, and likely will, scour the waiver wire for players to add Saturday into Sunday. Three players were claimed on waivers and added to the 53-man roster last year (running back Taquan Mizzell, wide receiver Tre McBride and long snapper Andrew DePaola), replacing running back Jeremy Langford, tight end Ben Braunecker and long snapper Jeff Overbaugh. So the guys that make up this 53-man roster may not be the ones the Bears take to Green Bay Sept. 9. 

With that being said, here’s a prediction as to how the Bears' initial 53-man roster shakes out:

(This updated projection includes the Bears' trade for Khalil Mack)

QUARTERBACK (2): Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Cut: Tyler Bray
Practice squad candidates: None

With needs elsewhere on this roster, keeping Tyler Bray just to be inactive on game days (as Mark Sanchez was a year ago) doesn’t make much sense. Chances are Bray will still be available if the Bears do need to call him this year if something were to happen to Chase Daniel. 

RUNNING BACK (3): Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
Cut: Taquan Mizzell, Knile Davis, Ryan Nall 
Practice squad candidates: Mizzell, Nall

The Bears do not take a fullback, even though every game Matt Nagy coached in Kansas City featured one. The reasoning here: Of Mitch Trubisky’s 39 preseason snaps, only two came with Michael Burton in the game as well — and both of those were passing plays on which Burton was lone back. 

Nall had a strong game Thursday, with a 32-yard touchdown rumble punctuating a four-carry, 79-yard day. And even played some fullback in the second half. That could help his roster case, if Nagy is completely sold on not using a fullback. Nall's special teams traits, too, could be a benefit:

But on first pass it seems more likely the Bears try to get Nall on the practice squad given their needs at tight end and offensive line. 

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims
Cut: Malachai Jones, Garrett Johnson, Bennie Fowler, Demarcus Ayers, Tanner Gentry, Marlon Brown
Practice squad candidates: Jones, Johnson, Ayers, Gentry

That the Bears didn’t need to see any of Wims, besides a few special teams snaps, in Thursday’s preseason finale is a sure sign the seventh-round pick is on the 53-man roster, as if his strong preseason (15 catches, 227 yards, 1 TD) wasn’t indicative enough. He received some special teams work, too, which helped his cause. Neither White nor Bellamy played on Thursday, too. 

Ayers and Gentry are the most likely cuts to wind up on the practice squad. 

TIGHT END (5): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cut: Colin Thompson
Practice squad candidates: Thompson

Shaheen’s foot/ankle injury seems likely to hold him out for at least Week 1, if not longer into the start of the season (though Nagy said this week he doesn’t expect him to wind up on injured reserve). Brown's shoulder injury, suffered in the second half of Thursday's game, is a concern, with Nagy saying it could be either a day-to-day or week-to-week thing. Still, the Bears like Brown's receiving upside as the backup "U" tight end, and Braunecker put some good things on tape this preseason. Both are key special teams contributors, too, and unless Brown's injury is serious, expect both to make it. 

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Charles Leno Jr., Eric Kush, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, James Daniels, Bradley Sowell, Rashaad Coward, Will Pericak
Cut: Hroniss Grasu, Brandon Greene, Dejon Allen, Jordan Morgan, Matt McCants
Practice squad candidates: Green, Allen, Morgan, McCants

The Bears could easily go with eight offensive linemen, a total that while low could be sustainable if the Bears want to carry an extra player elsewhere. But given Kyle Long’s injury history and Bradley Sowell’s uncertainty for Week 1 after spraining his ankle against the Chiefs, the Bears stick with nine guys here. If it’s eight, the cut would come down to Coward (a tackle) or Pericak (an interior guy). Coward could be the Bears’ right tackle of the future, though, given how quickly he’s developed since flipping from D-line to O-line this year. Exposing him to the waiver wire may be a little risky. 

OFFENSE TOTAL: 25. 

DEFENSIVE LINE (5): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols
Cut: John Jenkins, Abdullah Anderson, Cavon Walker, Nick Williams
Practice squad candidates: Anderson, Walker

Jenkins has received plenty of work this preseason but was among last year’s cut-down day casualties, but wound up re-signing two days later. He’s a natural backup for Goldman at nose tackle, but unless the Bears try to sneak Nichols — their fifth-round pick this year — onto the practice squad, Jenkins becomes the odd man out here. But like last year, he could return relatively quickly. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (6): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts
Cut: Elijah Norris, Kasim Edebali
Practice squad candidates: Norris

UPDATE, SATURDAY MORNING: The Bears trading for Mack bumps Edebali off the roster, and could mean the Bears don't need to take six outside linebackers, too. We'll see how that shakes out this afternoon. 

(From Friday morning): Edebali left Thursday’s game on a cart and was unable to put weight on his right leg after suffering an injury in the fourth quarter. The good news is the injury looked more severe than the diagnosis, which Nagy said was a "leg whip" contusion. The Bears aren't in a position to be cutting outside linebackers given the depth there and injury concerns for Floyd, Fitts and Lynch. So six it is. 

If Thursday's results were to significantly matter, Irving would be on the chopping block, too, for his roughing the passer penalty on fourth-and-22 that gave the Bills the chance to drive downfield and score the game-winning touchdown. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5): Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, John Timu
Cut: Josh Woods, Jonathan Anderson, Ro’Derrick Hoskins
Practice squad candidates: Woods, Hoskins

The decision between taking a sixth outside linebacker, fifth inside linebacker and fifth safety wasn't easy, but we'll say the Bears go with a key special teams contributor in Timu who also is entering Year 4 in Vic Fangio's defense. 

CORNERBACKS (5): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis, Cre’von LeBlanc
Cut: Marcus Cooper, Doran Grant, Michael Joseph, Kevin Toliver II, Jonathan Mincy, Rashard Fant, John Franklin III
Practice squad candidates: Fant, Franklin, Joseph, Mincy, Toliver

Cooper hasn’t been healthy for the latter part of the preseason and wasn’t effective when he was on the field in the early portion of it. The Bears have to eat $750,000 to cut him, but that’s not a large enough sum to prevent them from doing so. 

While Grant had a pick-six, another guy who could've helped his case Thursday is Mincy, who has the flexibility to play both safety and nickel corner, and he sacked A.J. McCarron on a blitz from the nickel spot. He, Joseph and Toliver should be on the radar to make the practice squad. 

SAFETIES (4): Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Cut: Deiondre' Hall, Nick Orr
Practice squad candidates: Hall, Orr

This was a tough one, given Houston-Carson won't be available for at least Week 1 due to a broken arm. Taking three safeties into Green Bay seems a little risky, but Hall is suspended for Week 1. Houston-Carson played well enough as a reserve safety and a special teamer this preseason to merit a spot on the 53-man roster. Hall has some intriguing athletic traits but has now had two off-the-field issues attatched to him, so we'll say he gets released so the Bears can keep around Timu and Edebali. 

DEFENSE TOTAL: 25. 

SPECIALISTS (3): PK Cody Parkey, P Pat O’Donnell, LS Pat Scales
Cut: P Ryan Winslow, LS Tanner Carew

Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

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USA Today

Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

Quarterback – A-
We’ll start with the bad, being the interception that ended the Bears’ first drive on the Cowboys’ 1-yard line. Trubisky admitted after the game that he was trying to extend the play and “didn’t make a smart decision.” Otherwise, he was efficient through the air; he threw the ball better against the Lions, but his all-around performance on Thursday night, against a better team, makes it feel like the Cowboys’ win was his best game of the year. The Bears aren’t falling over themselves to tell us what, but something finally clicked during that four-game losing streak, and Trubisky looked way more comfortable in the offense than at any point prior. Mike Pettine, Mike Zimmer and Andy Reid will all have a better knowledge of how to scheme the Bears, but having Trubisky playing at his highest level of self-confidence going into the toughest stretch of the season is never a bad thing. 

Running Backs – B+ 
Montgomery’s stats (20 rushes, 86 yards, 1 fumble) could be seen as underwhelming, but truth be told, the Bears will take the rookie averaging almost four-and-a-half yards a carry any game of the year. The fumble came at a bad time in the game on a bad part of the field, but as Nagy even admitted afterwards, they gave him the ball on the very next play – the Bears aren’t concerned. Tarik Cohen (3 rushes for 7 yards) had an all-around quiet night, but weirdly struggled with fielding punts. The offense has shown it can win featuring either, but still struggles finding room for both simultaneously. 

Wide Receivers – A- 
It was a strange night for pass catchers. Seven different guys had catches, and Tarik Cohen led the team in receptions (6). No one had more receiving yards than JP Holtz, who got 30 of his 56 yards on one screen pass. Two of Allen Robinson’s five catches were touchdowns from inside the 10, and Riley Ridley had his first NFL grab. Jesper Horsted had four catches for 14 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson had one catch for twice as many yards (33). None of it made any sense, but it worked (?), and was kind of fun (!). 

Tight Ends – B 
Horsted is clearly earning the coaching staff’s trust, and even if the JP Holtz passing revolution ends up being a fluke, the Bears now have 60 minutes of tape to point to as evidence that yeah, the tight ends really *are* that important to this offense. It wasn’t perfect: Horsted got flagged for two false starts, admitting after the game that the Cowboys’ front seven was the best he’d seen and noting that Robert Quinn had “incredible speed” and DeMarcus Lawerence had “strength like I’ve really never seen before.” It’s absolutely still a work in progress, but the Bears finally have a tight end situation they can work with. 

Offensive Line – B
The Bears passed for 242 yards and rushed for 151, so credit for both of those starts on the line. They allowed the Cowboys’ pass-rush to sack Trubisky twice and hit him three other times, but the quarterback stayed upright for most of the game, and the line did a great job moving the pocket for him on some of his rollouts and scrambles. Charles Leno got much of the (deserved) credit for sealing off Dallas’ edge rusher on Trubisky’s touchdown run, but James Daniels also does a great job of keeping the gap open. They even stayed away from penalties, too. 

Defensive Line – C
Zeke Elliot is still very good, but it was a generally forgettable performance from the defensive line on Thursday night. Elliot ran for 81 yards on 19 rushes, which is not entirely the D-line’s fault but nonetheless not great. No one on the line had more than one tackle, which, again, not great. The Bears were able to sack Dak Prescott twice, but those sacks came from Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson. Akiem Hicks, come on down! 

Inside Linebackers – B+ 
Nick Kwiatkoski was the only Bears player to finish the game with double-digit tackles (10), and Kevin Pierre-Louis (4 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 TFL, 2 Pass Deflections) filled in admirably for Roquan Smith, who left the game after suffering a pectoral injury on the first drive of the game. Kwiatkkoski hasn’t missed a beat since becoming the starter in Danny Trevathan’s absence, but ‘KPL’ has only started one game in his career – back in 2015 with Seattle. Matt Nagy wouldn’t comment on Trevathan’s availability going forward, but reading the tea leaves over the last couple weeks would indicate that there’s a chance he’s back before the season ends. Chuck Pagano’s going to have to get real creative if it’s KPL-Kwiatkoski for the rest of the way, but on Thursday they provided some optimism. 

Edge Rushers – A 
Another quiet game for Leonard Floyd, but if you’re of the He-Impacts-The-Pocket camp, Thursday was fine for you. Then, of course, there was Khalil Mack: 

A! 

Secondary – B- 
Kyle Fuller and Kevin Tolliver tied each other for second-most tackles (7) of anyone on the Bears’ defense Thursday night. Fuller was particularly good, and Tolliver held his own in relief of Prince Amukamara, who was out all week with a hamstring injury. Prescott ended the night 27-49 with 334 yards, and Tolliver admitted after the game that some of the garbage time yardage that Dallas piled up left a bad taste in the secondary’s mouth. Eddie Jackson had a sack, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had six total tackles too. Teams have been able to break off big passing plays against them more often of late, but no one’s playing exceptionally poorly. 


Special Teams – B+
Eddie Pineiro had seven points (4 XP’s, 1 FG) and has continued to bounce back since his poor performance against the Rams. Pat O’Donnell only punted four times but landed all four inside the 20-yard line. Tarik Cohen fumbled two punts, but was fortunate enough not to lose any. Cordarrelle Patterson did Cordarrelle Patterson things on kick returns. It was nothing too exciting, so it gets the least exciting grade possible. 

Coaching – A
The Bears ran the ball more often than they threw it, which almost definitely makes Matt Nagy scream into his hands when no one’s watching. But to his credit, he’s adjusted to what this personnel does well, and that’s a credit to his ability as a gameplanner that got so frequently panned earlier in the year. David Montgomery got 20 touches, Trubisky got the ball out early and often, and multiple Bears players talked after the game about how there was a better attention to detail through all four quarters. They clearly had a beat on Dallas’ defense: Trubisky even mentioned that on his option touchdown run, the offense easily recognized the Cowboys’ ‘squeeze-and-scrape’ concept. All this starts with Nagy, so he earns high grades for the week. 

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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