Bears

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

Bears

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.