BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – With an actual preseason game (vs. a 36-play full scrimmage) looming this Thursday vs. the Miami Dolphins in Soldier Field, a depth chart is expected to be coming out. But it obviously won’t be binding and also will be subject to significant change over the next couple weeks going into game three at Cincinnati.
Understand that every practice does count, and scrimmages like Saturday’s in Soldier Field count a little more. But those are all quizzes, vs. games, which are “tests” and count considerably more.
But observations are possible on both sides of the football, with particular focus on a couple of spots:
Kevin White has been a story line this training camp by virtue of being the No. 7 pick of the draft and not on the field yet. That will move to a different phase this week, and no one expects White to have health problems as the regular season unfolds.
Eddie Royal projects to be the best No. 3 receiver since Bobby Engram was the depth behind Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham back in the Dave Wannstedt era. And a triad of White, Royal and Alshon Jeffery, on top of Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, should be the equal of any five “skill” players in the NFC, possibly the league as a whole.
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But the falloff after Jeffery, Royal and White is concerning, because Marquess Wilson does not appear to have the confidence of quarterback Jay Cutler or the hoped-for upside the Bears saw in him. Wilson has had route-running issues and too many drops for a top-three receiver, and he is of no value on special teams.
It would surprise no one if the Bears secured an upgrade at No. 4 once cuts start coming later this month.
The chances of Willie Young securing a roster spot have become increasingly problematic as camp has gone on and he is still unable to participate fully in practice work.
The issue, apart from the obvious Achilles rehab and comeback, is that he’s a true ‘tweener on a team that clearly values position flexibility but right now has too many players who do that better than Young. He has been a 4-3 rush end, as was Jared Allen before this year.
But Allen has flashed impressive playmaking as an edge rusher/linebacker in a two-point stance. And while Lamarr Houston is himself coming off a season ending knee injury, he has done that exact hybrid job as an Oakland Raider.
Add to that a simple numbers squeeze: Ego Ferguson, Eddie Goldman and Jeremiah Ratliff have had strong camps auditioning for the starting “3” in 3-4. Jarvis Jenkins can play either five-technique spot (Young cannot), and Cornelius Washington bulked up to 285 pounds has been a camp factor and is a proven force on special teams. Allen can be counted among the linemen as well, and undrafted nose tackle Terry Williams has had moments.
Linebacker has the four current starters (Acho, Jones, McClellin, McPhee) plus Jonathan Bostic and Mason Foster capable of playing inside. That’s six, and DeDe Lattimore has contributed on special teams (Young does not).
And special teams are very much a tipping point.
“Typically most rosters are 25 [offense, 25 [defense], and three [special teams],” coach John Fox said. “It can always vary. We’re way too early to try and pick the best. A lot of it will come down to fourth-down [special-teams] guys. But we’ll keep more linebackers now because the outside guys are like defensive linemen.”
Kyle Long has taken some drill reps at tackle but coaches have given no indication of plans to move the two-time Pro Bowl guard. Jordan Mills has remained the right tackle, with occasional struggles.
Coaches were pleased with what they saw from Charles Leno, but Leno has not been consistently proficient working primarily at left tackle, and unless the decision is that Vladimir Ducasse is a better guard than Mills or Leno is a tackle, which could move Long to tackle in a five-best-will-start scenario, a shakeup on the offensive line would be a mild surprise.