Bears' roster decisions come with complications

Bears' roster decisions come with complications

Some NFL roster decisions are clear; one NFL coach once remarked that he typically had a pretty good idea of who 50 of his final 53 players would be before training camp ever started.

But by the end of training camps, those assumptions can fall prey to circumstances that make final calls far more difficult than simply knowing who your best 53 football players are. For the Bears this weekend, the difficult moments will extend beyond the unpleasant task of a coach needing to inform a young man that he’s been cut.

Start with the general guideline that most coaches like to give their offensive and defensive coordinators 25 slots, plus three for special teams. The trouble with that equation is that injuries or the threat of them within a position group cannot be dismissed, and one side of the football may lose headcount in the interests of the overall.

By the time you’re reading this, most decisions will have been made and some made public. But consider the complications (and you make the calls):

Secondary considerations

The Bears’ three top cornerbacks (Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter) all have been on the injury list this preseason. That points toward keeping an extra corner, meaning six. But while Sherrick McManis is listed as and has played corner, he is almost exclusively a special-teams fixture.

Do the Bears have the luxury of keeping a sixth cornerback whose value is only on special teams? Because other needs lurk.

[MORE BEARS: Meaningful takeaways from Bears' 'meaningless' final preseason game]

The same problem exists at safety, where starters Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey are in place, backed up by rookies/draft picks Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson. Demontre Hurst can work as a reserve nickel corner. But as with the cornerback situation, can the Bears tie up a roster spot with Chris Prosinski, who like McManis is effectively a special-teamer.

The Bears keeping both McManis and Prosinski starts squeezing things elsewhere.


One “benefit” of a 3-4 scheme is that it necessitates more linebackers than a 4-3 based around a Lance Briggs, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brian Urlacher. Reserve linebackers are axiomatic to good special teams because of the size-speed combination.

But the Bears face a conundrum with Pernell McPhee and the linebacker’s knee, which is expected to keep him down for at least the first several games. If the Bears decide McPhee can contribute sooner than the first half of the season, which placing him on the PUP list would cost, then he is included in the initial 53.

But his unavailability projects to needing an extra linebacker in the meantime. Sam Acho gives the Bears special-teams impact and leadership and can staff an OLB spot.

Can the Bears hold open a spot at outside linebacker for McPhee, given that Leonard Floyd, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young don’t play special teams other than kick-block?

Risky up front

Because the trickle-down effect of all these situations affect each other. The Bears cannot realistically keep an extra cornerback, safety and linebacker without the risk of exposure on the defensive line.

And “risk” is the operative word. The Bears finished 2015 with only one defensive lineman (Will Sutton) who was with them in training camp. A variety of issues left them short-handed, and if that group struggles, so does everything behind it.

The Bears went light with five defensive linemen last year in Week 1, and roster squeezes elsewhere may force that scenario on them again. But which five?

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Cornelius Washington has had a strong preseason but has injury history that includes going on IR after game last season. Can the Bears gamble on Washington’s health, particularly with no depth behind Eddie Goldman at nose tackle? Will Sutton is a coaches’ favorite, can play nose, but is undersized. Ego Ferguson was largely invisible before Thursday, has played both nose and five-technique, but also is coming off season-ending knee surgery.

Throw in the prospect of intense heat in Houston and the risks multiply.

And that’s just defense/special teams.

Easier calls…sorta’

Quarterback is a gimme; Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer. Running back, too: Ka’Deem Carey, Jeremy Langford, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Jordan Howard, who flashed for 107 rushing yards at Cleveland. After that:

Do the Bears stay with both Eddie Royal and Marc Mariani, both solid slot receivers? Cameron Meredith played his way off any bubble, and Josh Bellamy is a special-teamer. With Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White, that’s six wide receivers for an offense that wants to be run-based. And none of them are answers on kickoff return.

A run-based offense uses tight ends and, in the Bears case, a fullback for now. The Bears used three-tight-end packages this preseason, although whether they have three workables among Zach Miller, Tony Moeaki, Greg Scruggs, Khari Lee and Rob Housler won’t be totally clear until the group starts trying to block Texans.

All of which trickles down, as it does on defense, to the line. The Bears have seven linemen active on game days. They have rostered as many as 10 offensive linemen, nine is preferable, but with squeezes elsewhere, one scenario is a reserve contingent of Mike Adams or Garry Williams (tackle), Amini Silatolu (guard) and Cornelius Edison (center). Edison is a young stopgap, and Adams and Silatolu are coming off major injuries.

Now, you make the calls.

Under Center Podcast: Is Matt Nagy right to rest his starters in preseason games?

USA Today

Under Center Podcast: Is Matt Nagy right to rest his starters in preseason games?

J.J. Stankevitz is joined by John "Moon" Mullin and Cam Ellis to debate whether or not Mitchell Trubisky, and the rest of the Bears starters, need preseason reps to fully prepare for Week 1. Plus, the guys share their latest thoughts on Eddy Pineiro and the kicking situation.

00:40 - Moon doesn't think everything adds up with Matt Nagy holding Trubisky out of preseason games

03:20 - Highlights from Matt Nagy's Wednesday press conference on the growing trend of coaches sitting starters in the preseason

05:45 - Cam understands why coaches don't want to risk injury in the preseason, but also thinks something else may be afoot with Nagy sitting Trubisky

08:10 - Is joint practice the future of preseason football?

14:00 - Can teams really get the same quality of work done in practice as they can in a preseason game?

19:50 - Talking about Kalyn Kahler's Sports Illustrated article that gave an inside look to the Bears' kicking competition from rookie minicamp

21:20 - Moon says that the Bears are actually in a worse position now, than they were last year with Cody Parkey

23:15 - Did the Bears do future kickers a disservice by fixating on 43-yard kicks?

24:50 - All the guys are excited for Olin Kreutz to join Football Aftershow this season

Listen here on in the embedded player below. 

Under Center Podcast


Bears sitting QB Mitch Trubisky through preseason doesn’t make complete sense. At all.

Bears sitting QB Mitch Trubisky through preseason doesn’t make complete sense. At all.

Something jus don’ feel right about this Bears not playing Mitchell Trubisky in preseason… . Jus’ don’ feel right.


It’s not so much the starters; coaches Matt Nagy and Frank Reich texted this week and agreed that they weren’t playing their starters, although it was apparently more a case of Reich following Nagy’s no-starters lead. Whatever.


No, it’s about Trubisky. Because so much of the 2019 Bears and beyond is absolutely still about Trubisky, for whom his coach has been a public cheerleader but who said before training camp that the focus was on ball security, then has had practices speckled with anything but. Whether Nagy is in fact entirely pleased with his young quarterback is between them – not every tick of information says that Nagy is – and the coach is protecting his quarterback at least verbally, again, that’s between them. But it’s preseason and practice, so leave it at that for the time being.


But the situation is difficult to understand, for more than a few reasons.


Nagy’s NFL roots are of the Andy Reid tree. While Nagy was a member of Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, the Eagles in third preseason games started Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick – all on their ways to starting game one’s. In his five years with Kansas City, Nagy was part of the Reid offensive staff that started Alex Smith in every game three, on through 2017 when Smith played 44 (63 percent) of the Chiefs’ 68 snaps in a game three vs. Minnesota.


Nagy isn’t Reid and he doesn’t do or remotely need to do everything Reid did/does, including playing starters, particularly his quarterback, “just because that’s where our team’s at,” Nagy said after the New York Giants game. “Coach [Reid] has his way and I think coach Reid would be the first to tell you that if I’m not being me and if I’m not trying to do what I think is right for our team, then I’m not coach Reid. I’ve learned from him and I’ve learned so much from him, but for our team and our situation, I need to do what’s best for us and just feel like that’s where it’s at. September 5th is an important day for us.”


Ok. Seems to make sense philosophically. Seems to… .


But NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes needs to play (game three last preseason, game two already this year), mentored by Reid, and Trubisky doesn’t? Houston’s Deshaun Watson needed to play the ’18 game three/’19 game two combo, and Trubisky doesn’t? Six-time Pro Bowl’er Russell Wilson and his Seattle Super Bowl ring needed to, but Trubisky didn’t?


Preseason as it is currently constituted needs to go away and probably will at some point. Joint practices are exponentially more preferred both for quality of work starters-vs.-starters and managing player utilization. But right now, preseason is the hand the NFL has dealt its players and coaches.


One vein of thinking is that teams that don’t expend starters in preseason leave more in their tanks at year end, and there may be something to that. Not much, however: Nagy holding his 1’s out virtually of the 2018 preseason doesn’t support that argument.


The Bears finished anything but strong last season. The two playoff teams that the Bears faced over their final 11 games held the Nagy offense to 15 points, including the Eagles and close coaching friend Doug Pederson. It doesn’t necessarily foreshadow or suggest that good teams were beginning to figure Nagy and Trubisky out as the season wound down, but it’s been hinted at in this space previously. In any case, the Bears weren’t in demonstrably, meaningfully better shape down the stretch.


The health thing is a very valid concern; it is with every player, starter or No. 90. Linebacker Leonard Floyd played a chunk of ’18 in a hand cast and then a brace because of a preseason injury, and tight end Adam Shaheen went on IR for much of the year with a lower-leg injury in preseason game two (although Shaheen ended his rookie/2017 season on IR with a chest injury, too).


But tracing the Bears’ exceptional collective good health of 2018 to keeping most of the starters out of preseason will take more than one season to trust as cause-effect.


The fact is that the Bears lost three of their first six games, only two of which (Seattle, New England) were against teams that eventually reached the postseason. The Los Angeles Rams, whose coach Sean McVay held quarterback Jason Goff out of preseason altogether, were the only other playoff team the Bears faced in Nagy’s first season as a head coach, before meeting Philadelphia in those playoffs.


Nagy may indeed be pleased with Trubisky’s practice work and progress. I don’t believe that. I believe there is a lot of coach-speak in play. I also don’t believe that Nagy is going no-starters to match any “trend” that McVay and some younger coaches represent; Nagy isn’t smarter than Reid, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and others, but he also is not a follower.


But something about sitting a still-forming Trubisky, who needs to prove to his coach and more that he can in fact throw into tight places without interceptions in an actual game setting, for example, even a “practice” game…that just doesn’t make complete sense.

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