Bears-Browns: Seven players to watch in Thursday's preseason finale

Bears-Browns: Seven players to watch in Thursday's preseason finale

1. QB Mitch Trubisky

Whatever Trubisky does tonight probably won’t have much of an impact on the Bears’ overall evaluation of their No. 2 pick’s preseason, which to this point has been outstanding. Trubisky will be running an offense of second- and third-stringers against a Cleveland Browns defense staffed by similar units, so this is less of a “test” and more of the same.

That being said, this will be Trubisky’s last scheduled game action of 2017 (for now, of course). He still has room for growth in terms of his pre-snap operation of the Bears’ offense, and doing it outside of practice remains valuable. 

“It's not easy to get live game reps as a quarterback in this league,” coach John Fox said. “It helps development. He needs all those opportunities he can get and (that’s) no different Thursday night.”

2. WR Victor Cruz

If the Bears haven’t already made up their mind about the former New York Giants Pro Bowler, Cruz needs to show more than he has through the Bears’ first three preseason games. He wasn’t targeted Aug. 19 against the Arizona Cardinals, and on Sunday in Tennessee, he dropped a pass from Trubisky that hit him in the chest. His preseason numbers leave plenty to be desired: Four catches, 19 yards, one touchdown. 

Cameron Meredith’s injury may have opened the door for Cruz to make this roster, though. He’s respected by his teammates and brings a been-there, done-that perspective to the Bears’ receiver room. But he doesn’t play special teams, which usually is a requirement for some of the last players to make the 53-man roster. 

Cruz can’t afford another bad day, not only for his future with the Bears, but for his future in the NFL. Remember, Cruz didn’t sign with the Bears until late May, meaning the rest of the league had plenty of chances to sign him before he latched on in Chicago. 

3. WR Tanner Gentry

Gentry has impressed in practice and games with his pure receiving skills and connection with Trubisky. The undrafted free agent from Wyoming has compiled a strong case to make the Bears’ 53-man roster, and with every play he makes in a preseason game (like his 45-yard touchdown against Tennessee) the likelihood lessens he would make it to the practice squad without being picked up by another team.

If Gentry can continue to be part of the Bears’ special teams equation — as he has in punt return coverage — he’ll make the team. On Thursday, he’ll likely get an extended run on special teams that could solidify his initial roster spot. 

4-5. TEs Daniel Brown/Ben Braunecker

With Zach Miller healthy and likely locked into the 53-man roster, there’s a decent chance the Bears carry four tight ends on their initial 53-man roster. Brown provides more pass-catching ability — a trait with greater importance without Meredith — but Braunecker brings solid special teams ability to the table. If Brown is in on special teams, though, he could get the edge given his contributions to multiple phases. 

6. DE Roy Robertson-Harris

No defensive player — except for, perhaps, Kyle Fuller — has improved his stock more during the preseason than Robertson-Harris, who recorded two sacks against Arizona and blocked a punt against Tennessee. He’s impressed in practice, too, and looks like he’s done enough to merit a roster spot on Saturday. Tonight is his last opportunity to make a strong impression not only for making the team, but also for earning more snaps once the season begins. 

7. OLB Lamarr Houston

Houston could be cut for just under $2 million, which would save the Bears about $5 million in cap space, according to Spotrac. But with Pernell McPhee still on the PUP list and the Bears not in a cap crunch, Houston -- who as recently as 2015 recorded eight sacks -- seems like a decent bet to make the roster. Still, given that he's ran with the second/third-team defense for much of training camp, he's a likely candidate to get an extended run tonight. Houston notched a sack and forced a fumble Sunday against Tennessee. 

Back in Miami for the Super Bowl, Devin Hester still remembers THAT touchdown

Back in Miami for the Super Bowl, Devin Hester still remembers THAT touchdown

It's been 13 years since Devin Hester took the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI back for a touchdown in one of the most electrifying moments in Chicago sports history. 

As the football world converges in South Beach for only the second time since that night, Hester –– who will be in Miami all week on behalf of the NFL-affiliated company On Location Experiences -- talked with NBC Sports Chicago about what it was like in that moment. 

"Oh man, it was nerve-wracking for me," he said. "Being a rookie coming into the NFL and then playing in the one of the biggest games of the year, the Super Bowl, and not only that, but to be the first one to touch the ball, it was intense."

"I was very nervous. At the same time, I was one of the players that always wanted the ball in my hands on big stages, so knowing that opportunity was a 50/50 chance of me getting it first, I just wanted to make that opportunity if I did get that chance to get my hands on the ball the first play of the game."

And if that wasn't impressive enough, the touchdown isn't even the clear-cut favorite for Hester's favorite play, and for good reason: 

"I would say it had to be in the top 2. My other one was pretty much the same thing, my first year in college, first game of the season. Pretty much the same thing, taking the opening kickoff back. Those two have to be the favorite moments of my career."

Bears Season in Review: Eddie Goldman

Bears Season in Review: Eddie Goldman

It seems like an annual talking point at this time in the offseason: Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman is one of the best yet most underrated players in Chicago. His performance in 2019 continued that career narrative. 

Goldman finished the year making 15 starts with 29 tackles and one sack. He earned the eighth-highest Pro Football Focus grade among all Bears defenders and remained the consistent run-stopping force in the center of Chicago’s defensive line. 

To be fair, Goldman wasn’t as dominant as he was in 2018, when his 89.1 PFF grade was one of the best at his position in the NFL. But in terms of his role with the Bears, he’s irreplaceable. 

Goldman is entering the third year of a four-year, $42 million contract and will quickly become a source of contract negotiations once again. If he has another strong season in 2020, GM Ryan Pace will have little choice but to lock him up on another extension. Sure, that seems like it’s way down the road, but big-time defensive linemen get paid big-time contracts; Pace has to be prepared. There are currently six defensive tackles making at least $14 million per season.

Quality nose tackles are hard to find. They don’t fill up the stat sheet and rarely do they ever become league-wide superstars; but the Bears’ defense simply wouldn’t possess the upside it does without Goldman anchoring the defensive line, and that remained true in 2019.