Marcus Cooper

Projecting the Bears’ 53-man roster

Projecting the Bears’ 53-man roster

The Bears’ 2018 preseason covered six weeks of practices and games, giving coaches and front office personnel plenty of time to evaluate who’s in and who’s out on their initial 53-man roster, which will be released Saturday. 

This projection comes with a caveat: The Bears can, and likely will, scour the waiver wire for players to add Saturday into Sunday. Three players were claimed on waivers and added to the 53-man roster last year (running back Taquan Mizzell, wide receiver Tre McBride and long snapper Andrew DePaola), replacing running back Jeremy Langford, tight end Ben Braunecker and long snapper Jeff Overbaugh. So the guys that make up this 53-man roster may not be the ones the Bears take to Green Bay Sept. 9. 

With that being said, here’s a prediction as to how the Bears' initial 53-man roster shakes out:

(This updated projection includes the Bears' trade for Khalil Mack)

QUARTERBACK (2): Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Cut: Tyler Bray
Practice squad candidates: None

With needs elsewhere on this roster, keeping Tyler Bray just to be inactive on game days (as Mark Sanchez was a year ago) doesn’t make much sense. Chances are Bray will still be available if the Bears do need to call him this year if something were to happen to Chase Daniel. 

RUNNING BACK (3): Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
Cut: Taquan Mizzell, Knile Davis, Ryan Nall 
Practice squad candidates: Mizzell, Nall

The Bears do not take a fullback, even though every game Matt Nagy coached in Kansas City featured one. The reasoning here: Of Mitch Trubisky’s 39 preseason snaps, only two came with Michael Burton in the game as well — and both of those were passing plays on which Burton was lone back. 

Nall had a strong game Thursday, with a 32-yard touchdown rumble punctuating a four-carry, 79-yard day. And even played some fullback in the second half. That could help his roster case, if Nagy is completely sold on not using a fullback. Nall's special teams traits, too, could be a benefit:

But on first pass it seems more likely the Bears try to get Nall on the practice squad given their needs at tight end and offensive line. 

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims
Cut: Malachai Jones, Garrett Johnson, Bennie Fowler, Demarcus Ayers, Tanner Gentry, Marlon Brown
Practice squad candidates: Jones, Johnson, Ayers, Gentry

That the Bears didn’t need to see any of Wims, besides a few special teams snaps, in Thursday’s preseason finale is a sure sign the seventh-round pick is on the 53-man roster, as if his strong preseason (15 catches, 227 yards, 1 TD) wasn’t indicative enough. He received some special teams work, too, which helped his cause. Neither White nor Bellamy played on Thursday, too. 

Ayers and Gentry are the most likely cuts to wind up on the practice squad. 

TIGHT END (5): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cut: Colin Thompson
Practice squad candidates: Thompson

Shaheen’s foot/ankle injury seems likely to hold him out for at least Week 1, if not longer into the start of the season (though Nagy said this week he doesn’t expect him to wind up on injured reserve). Brown's shoulder injury, suffered in the second half of Thursday's game, is a concern, with Nagy saying it could be either a day-to-day or week-to-week thing. Still, the Bears like Brown's receiving upside as the backup "U" tight end, and Braunecker put some good things on tape this preseason. Both are key special teams contributors, too, and unless Brown's injury is serious, expect both to make it. 

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Charles Leno Jr., Eric Kush, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, James Daniels, Bradley Sowell, Rashaad Coward, Will Pericak
Cut: Hroniss Grasu, Brandon Greene, Dejon Allen, Jordan Morgan, Matt McCants
Practice squad candidates: Green, Allen, Morgan, McCants

The Bears could easily go with eight offensive linemen, a total that while low could be sustainable if the Bears want to carry an extra player elsewhere. But given Kyle Long’s injury history and Bradley Sowell’s uncertainty for Week 1 after spraining his ankle against the Chiefs, the Bears stick with nine guys here. If it’s eight, the cut would come down to Coward (a tackle) or Pericak (an interior guy). Coward could be the Bears’ right tackle of the future, though, given how quickly he’s developed since flipping from D-line to O-line this year. Exposing him to the waiver wire may be a little risky. 

OFFENSE TOTAL: 25. 

DEFENSIVE LINE (5): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols
Cut: John Jenkins, Abdullah Anderson, Cavon Walker, Nick Williams
Practice squad candidates: Anderson, Walker

Jenkins has received plenty of work this preseason but was among last year’s cut-down day casualties, but wound up re-signing two days later. He’s a natural backup for Goldman at nose tackle, but unless the Bears try to sneak Nichols — their fifth-round pick this year — onto the practice squad, Jenkins becomes the odd man out here. But like last year, he could return relatively quickly. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (6): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts
Cut: Elijah Norris, Kasim Edebali
Practice squad candidates: Norris

UPDATE, SATURDAY MORNING: The Bears trading for Mack bumps Edebali off the roster, and could mean the Bears don't need to take six outside linebackers, too. We'll see how that shakes out this afternoon. 

(From Friday morning): Edebali left Thursday’s game on a cart and was unable to put weight on his right leg after suffering an injury in the fourth quarter. The good news is the injury looked more severe than the diagnosis, which Nagy said was a "leg whip" contusion. The Bears aren't in a position to be cutting outside linebackers given the depth there and injury concerns for Floyd, Fitts and Lynch. So six it is. 

If Thursday's results were to significantly matter, Irving would be on the chopping block, too, for his roughing the passer penalty on fourth-and-22 that gave the Bills the chance to drive downfield and score the game-winning touchdown. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5): Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, John Timu
Cut: Josh Woods, Jonathan Anderson, Ro’Derrick Hoskins
Practice squad candidates: Woods, Hoskins

The decision between taking a sixth outside linebacker, fifth inside linebacker and fifth safety wasn't easy, but we'll say the Bears go with a key special teams contributor in Timu who also is entering Year 4 in Vic Fangio's defense. 

CORNERBACKS (5): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis, Cre’von LeBlanc
Cut: Marcus Cooper, Doran Grant, Michael Joseph, Kevin Toliver II, Jonathan Mincy, Rashard Fant, John Franklin III
Practice squad candidates: Fant, Franklin, Joseph, Mincy, Toliver

Cooper hasn’t been healthy for the latter part of the preseason and wasn’t effective when he was on the field in the early portion of it. The Bears have to eat $750,000 to cut him, but that’s not a large enough sum to prevent them from doing so. 

While Grant had a pick-six, another guy who could've helped his case Thursday is Mincy, who has the flexibility to play both safety and nickel corner, and he sacked A.J. McCarron on a blitz from the nickel spot. He, Joseph and Toliver should be on the radar to make the practice squad. 

SAFETIES (4): Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Cut: Deiondre' Hall, Nick Orr
Practice squad candidates: Hall, Orr

This was a tough one, given Houston-Carson won't be available for at least Week 1 due to a broken arm. Taking three safeties into Green Bay seems a little risky, but Hall is suspended for Week 1. Houston-Carson played well enough as a reserve safety and a special teamer this preseason to merit a spot on the 53-man roster. Hall has some intriguing athletic traits but has now had two off-the-field issues attatched to him, so we'll say he gets released so the Bears can keep around Timu and Edebali. 

DEFENSE TOTAL: 25. 

SPECIALISTS (3): PK Cody Parkey, P Pat O’Donnell, LS Pat Scales
Cut: P Ryan Winslow, LS Tanner Carew

How five key Bears position battles are playing out during training camp

8-10marcuscooper.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

How five key Bears position battles are playing out during training camp

It’s easy to put undue importance on one preseason game, let alone a handful of snaps from it. Take it from Bears coach Matt Nagy:

“If somebody comes out and has a poor game it doesn't mean they're getting cut,” Nagy said. “If they come out and have a great game it doesn't mean they made the team.”

That line of thinking certainly applies to guys on the fringe of the Bears’ 53-man roster, but it also applies to players who will be on the team but are competing for a role on it. For most of the latter group, Thursday night’s 30-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was their first live game action of 2018; for most players fighting for a roster spot, it was their second game, coming a week after the Aug. 2 Hall of Fame Game. 

In addition to these two preseason games, the Bears have held 13 training camp practices in Bourbonnais, which are a significant part of a player’s evaluation, too. There still are three games, two joint practices with the Denver Broncos and a few more weeks of work at Halas Hall separating the Bears from Sept. 9's season opener in Green Bay. Nobody's earned a role or a roster spot yet, but some of these competitions have come into focus now that the first true preseason game of 2018 is in the books:

1. Defensive end: Jonathan Bullard vs. Roy Robertson-Harris

While Bullard and Robertson-Harris are treating training camp as a competition, both have performed well enough to earn themselves snaps come Sept. 9. 

Robertson-Harris, in particular, has had a strong few weeks in practices and games, and notched the Bears’ only sack against the Bengals. He added two pressures and a tackle for a loss, too. 

“The games matter,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “You find out who can put it all together when the lights shine. Every day we grade these guys, and every game we grade these guys, and whoever is consistently doing these things will move up and down on the depth chart.”

The 6-foot-5 Robertson-Harris is up to 294 pounds, nearly 40 pounds heavier than he was when he signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent back in 2016. His size, length and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect who, even if Bullard wins the third defensive line starting job in the Bears’ base defense, looks likely to get on the field plenty in 2018. 

2. Offensive line: Eric Kush vs. Earl Watford vs. James Daniels

Daniels logged 44 snaps in his first action in a Bears uniform on Thursday and, on first glance, played well. 

“I got to go back and watch it and see the details of his technique, for the most part I thought he played really well,” Nagy said. “That was really neat to see. I was proud of him.”

That Daniels played center not only Thursday, but in practice this week, was noteworthy given the post-draft insistance of general manager Ryan Pace that the 20-year-old would begin his pro career as a guard. Not having Hroniss Grasu (ankle) available in practice or Thursday’s game likely contributed to Daniels taking reps at center, but whatever the reason, he took advantage of them. 

Meanwhile, Kush was beat by Geno Atkins — who is, to be fair, one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league — for a first-quarter sack, and Cody Whitehair was whistled for a holding penalty drawn by Atkins, too. We’re still a long ways from Daniels unseating a veteran in Kush or Watford from the top of the depth chart, and forcing Whitehair off center to guard, but Thursday’s game was a step in the right direction for the second-round pick. 

3. Wide receiver: Javon Wims vs. Bennie Fowler vs. DeMarcus Ayers vs. Tanner Gentry

Wims wasn’t able to follow up his strong Hall of Fame Game (seven catches, 89 yards) with another productive day Thursday, only catching two of three targets for six yards — and the one target he didn’t catch was a drop. Still, we saw Wims get some work on more special teams units — he played gunner on punt coverage in addition to running down kickoffs — and how he grades on Chris Tabor’s film will be important, too, in addition to what he put on tape on offense. 

Fowler has had some trouble catching the ball in his two preseason games, while Ayers flashed a bit with three catches for 24 yards and a three-yard touchdown run. Still, he faces an uphill climb to the roster, as he’s behind a few other guys as a punt returner (and the poor guy was whistled for lowering his helmet trying to tackle Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem on a fake punt). 

Gentry had the best game of any receiver, catching six of 11 targets for 54 yards — and he should’ve had a touchdown had Tyler Bray not underthrown him when he got a step on cornerback KeiVarae Russell (who picked the pass off). 

In reality, the Bears don’t absolutely have to take a sixth receiver, if we presume five guys are locked into roster spots (Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy). Robinson, Miller and Gabriel certainly are safe; while White dropped a pass and was largely invisible for the first half, it would take many more uneven practices and games for the Bears to even consider cutting bait on their 2015 first-round pick. Bellamy is a core special teamer who likely isn’t going anywhere, either. 

So not only is this group of receivers competing against each other, they’re competing with a bunch of other guys at different positions to grab a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster. This is especially true after both of the guys competing to be the Bears’ fourth-string tight end — Daniel Brown (five catches, 90 yards) and Ben Braunecker (one catch, 20 yards) — played well Thursday and have put together solid training camps to date. 

4. Cornerback: Marcus Cooper vs. The Field

With Prince Amukamara held out, Cooper had a chance Thursday to put some good things on tape. He didn’t. The Bengals consistently picked on him, and he didn’t do much to take advantage of getting those opportunities coming his way. 

Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are the unquestioned starters at outside corner, and Bryce Callahan will again be the primary slot corner, with Cre’von LeBlanc likely being his backup. Special teams captain Sherrick McManis has a roster spot, too. So that leaves a fairly wide open competition for one or two reserve cornerback spots, depending on how things shake out come Labor Day weekend. 

The price tag for releasing Cooper — $750,000, per Spotrac — isn’t prohibitive, given the Bears paid double that amount to jettison an ineffective Victor Cruz at the end of last year’s preseason. So throw Cooper into the mix with Doran Grant (who had two pass break-ups, though one of those was a dropped interception), Michael Joseph, Anthony Toliver, Rashard Fant (who didn’t play) and John Franklin III (who struggled to cover Auden Tate in his first game action this preseason). 

There’s an opportunity for any of those guys to make the Week 1 roster, or none of them could perform well enough and the Bears will wind up scouring the waiver wire for a reserve cornerback. The next few weeks of practice and these last three games will be critical for someone from this group of cornerbacks to separate themselves from the pack. 

5. Inside Linebacker: Nick Kwiatkoski vs. Roquan Smith

No, Smith isn’t with the team, and there haven’t been any signs that the stalemate between his camp and the Bears will end. Eventually, though, Smith and the Bears will come to an agreement on a contract and he’ll join the team, even if we don’t know when that will be. 

But when Smith does start practicing, he’s not going to immediately take over as a starting inside linebacker. Kwiatkoski is a dependable guy who, on Thursday, called the defense with Danny Trevathan sitting the game out. Bears coaches know they can trust Kwiatkoski; without seeing Smith in pads yet, that’s still a question mark for the eighth overall pick. 

That being said, as colleague John “Moon” Mullin wrote Thursday, there’s not much correlation in team history between a rookie holding out and not having a successful career. Everything Smith did back in OTAs and minicamp was positive, and the athletic traits, football IQ and work ethic that led the Bears to spend the eighth overall pick on him haven’t gone away while he’s separated from the team. 

The point: Smith will, eventually, re-join the Bears and then will win a starting job. But he’ll have to compete with Kwiatkoski to do so — it’s not like he’s stepping into a gaping hole on this defense. But again, if Smith truly is great, he won’t have a problem displacing Kwiatkoski and winning the starting gig the Bears need him to have in 2018. 

After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper

marcus-cooper-report.jpg
USA TODAY

After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper

Marcus Cooper's offseason has resembled a will they, won't they relationship.

The corner back signed a three-year deal with the Bears last offseason, but struggled last year and was released by the Bears after one year of that deal. However, Adam Caplan is reporting that Cooper could be back in a Bears uniform this season.

Cooper was officially released by the Bears on March 14 and visited the Arizona Cardinals earlier on Friday. Cooper started for the Cardinals in 2016.

Cooper began the year as a starter for the Bears, but finished with just four starts. He finished 2017 with 18 tackles and three passes deflected in 15 games.

His play with the Bears didn't exactly make him Mr. Popular with fans, as can be observed by looking at the savage replies to Caplan's report.

Cooper's original contract for the Bears with valued at $16 million over three years so the reported $2.5 million number is a significant pay cut and could mean he is being brought back for depth as opposed to last year when he was expected to start.