CINCINNATI – The first round of mandated roster cuts for 2015 come no later than early next week. Those will be scrutinized intently by Bears personnel staff in search of fills for obvious needs in a roster with concerning gaps that have come since the draft and other additions gave the Bears what they hoped would be their pool of options.
But since then the defense has lost two of its three starting linemen – Ray McDonald released, Jeremiah Ratliff suspended for the first three games. None of the projected top four receivers are expected to dress for Saturdays game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and rookie Kevin White won’t be dressing for games anytime soon following shin surgery. Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson, to be determined.
The offensive line is having difficulty fielding two starter-grade tackles, with inconsistent Jordan Mills losing his job to 2014 backup Charles Leno Jr. Cornerback has been a turnstyle opposite Kyle Fuller because no one has taken a clinching step forward. The right-cornerback carousel has been players who weren’t good enough to be starters this time a year ago, and Fuller has had a substandard two preseason games.
All of which has left coach John Fox still deep in an evaluation mode, with this third preseason game a crucial indicator of whether or not Fox has solutions at hand.
“I think it's real important to understand your football team,” Fox said. “Everybody in the league has to cut down to 75 after this week and then following the final preseason game cut down to 53. So those are the guys that you're going into the season with and I think it's important to choose wisely and you're evaluating everything.”
Last season’s game 3 was a frightening foreshadowing as the Bears fell behind the Seattle Seahawks 31-0 at halftime and 34-0 through the starters’ three quarters. It was a nightmare that would be repeated in roughly one-third of the Bears’ 2014 games – at New England, at Green Bay, at home against Dallas.
Preseason games may not count but some can reveal much – good and bad – about the true state of a team.
“I don't even know who we [Denver Broncos] played the third preseason game a year ago,” Fox said. “It doesn't leave a lasting impression when the games don't actually count. But they do count in the evaluation process in instilling kind of what you want into your team and how they react because they are games.”
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The Cincinnati game will be a glimpse at what the Bears have in the way of depth at wide receiver. At what the Bears have for the present and future at nose tackle in Eddie Goldman. And at the status of integration going on within a defense that may start only one player – cornerback Tim Jennings – from the unit that started that 2014 game three in Seattle.
“These past two games we had pretty good games,” said defensive end Jarvis Jenkins. “Preseason doesn't count but we have to go in there with the mindset that we have to start fast.
“Coach Fox always preaches about starting fast and stopping the run and this is going to be a good test for us because the Bengals run the ball. That's a power team, and if we can come out with the group we've got and show we can play with these guys against the run, we can show we can play against anybody, so it's going to be a good test for us.”