Victor Cruz

Victor Cruz reportedly cut as Bears seek solutions at wide receiver

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AP

Victor Cruz reportedly cut as Bears seek solutions at wide receiver

Before Mitchell Trubisky put together an outstanding preseason, Victor Cruz was the most well-known player on the Bears. He still might’ve been even as Trubisky picked up some national attention over the last month.

But Cruz didn’t produce like the salsa-dancing Pro Bowler he was with the New York Giants. On Friday, his fate was sealed: The receiver-strapped Bears will release the 30-year-old Cruz, according to multiple reports. Cruz suffered a knee injury during Thursday’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.

Cruz didn’t flash much in practice, and he only caught six passes for 37 yards with a touchdown in four preseason games. And that Cruz played all four preseason games, almost exclusively with the Bears’ second/third/fourth-string offense, makes the team’s decision to cut him not all that surprising.

He was solidly behind Kendall Wright on the team’s slot receiver depth chart and, because of that, only saw a handful of first-team reps. In the all-important third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, he dropped a pass from Trubisky that hit him in the chest.

Ideally, the Bears would’ve had a reason to keep Cruz and his sage-like wisdom around their receiver room. Kevin White — who, after Cameron Meredith’s injury, became one of the most important players on the Bears — praised Cruz’s presence during July and August.

“He’s a good vet, so he sees a lot of things that other people don’t see,” White said. “We talk one-on-one off the field so for a guy like that to be around is tremendous for me.” 

Despite failing to break free of the backup/third-string offense during training camp, Cruz remained confident he still had “it” after missing 26 games in 2014 and 2015 due to a serious calf injury. Whether he gets another chance to prove it remains to be seen, but being unable to make a roster of a team that desperately needs receivers doesn’t seem like a good sign.

“I still feel like the quickness is there,” Cruz said on Tuesday. “I still feel like the play-making ability is there. Now it’s just to continue to show that each and every time I’m on the field whether it will be practice or on game day.”

What you need to know from Bears-Browns: So, about Trubisky's first half and fourth quarter

What you need to know from Bears-Browns: So, about Trubisky's first half and fourth quarter

Playing devil’s advocate

The biggest thing Mitch Trubisky still has to work on is his pre-snap operation of the Bears’ offense. So what better way to get him reps doing that — and protect him in the process — in the fourth preseason game than by handing the ball off nine consecutive times?

That’s what the Bears did on Thursday night to a scattering of boos as the offense went three-and-out on three consecutive possessions. Trubisky wound up getting a fourth series and completed two of four passes for 10 yards, and Josh Rounds and Adam Shaheen dropped catchable balls on those two incompletions.

"(I was) calling the plays coach was calling," Trubisky said. "It’s above my head. I’m just doing what I’m told." 

The operational stuff is an area in which Trubisky needed improvement, especially after struggling with that against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. He showed all he could throwing the ball during his first three preseason games and didn’t have much left to prove working with backups/third-stringers against a backup/third-string defense. So properly running the offense may have been the thing the Bears wanted to see the most from Trubisky tonight. 

Coach John Fox said in a short week for the final preseason game, there wasn't necessarily a set strategy that dictated those consecutive handoffs, though. 

"When you’re getting ready for the season opener, it’s not like you gameplan every game," Fox said. 

And it’s worth noting that when the Bears did open the game up for Trubisky to pass, he was shoved out of bounds (for a penalty) that resulted in him nearly getting accidentally clotheslined by a Cleveland Browns assistant coach. That’s not something you want to see happen to your quarterback of the future.

But what about the fourth quarter?

Here's where the protection argument breaks down: Why were the Bears having Trubisky attempt passes when he entered the game for a banged-up Connor Shaw in late in the fourth quarter?

Trubisky was shoved to the ground after attempting a screen pass, and he was sacked on the final play of the 25-0 loss while trying to get the Bears into the end zone. The Bears are lucky to have put Trubisky in that spot and have their quarterback of the future come out of it unscathed. 

"Any time you go out there it’s a risk, truth be told," Fox said "… Football’s a rough game, no doubt. You never want to see people get hurt. But it is part of the game. So I don’t know that we exposed Mitch a whole lot, but I can also say any time you trot between those lines you’re exposed. 

... I think it’s going to be fair to say it won’t be the first time he’s been hit and it won’t be the last."

Trubisky didn't back away from the challenge of tagging in and out for Shaw, which makes sense given how competitive he is. But the Bears could've done more to protect him, like having him hand the ball off or attempt a field goal (with new long snapper Jeff Overbaugh) on fourth down. 

"If I was in there, I wanted to score," Trubisky said. "Just kind of feel bad for the fans because we want to put on a show but we really didn’t get to do that. I’m never worried about injury — you go out there, you’re playing football. When you start to worry about those things, that’s more when they happen — playing timid or keeping it in the back of your mind. But I’ll do whatever this team asks of me. It was kind of fun being in there at the end, a little exciting, got the adrenaline back going. Too bad we didn’t get score." 

Tough injuries for a few on the roster bubble?

Wide receiver Victor Cruz and linebacker Lamarr Houston both were taken to the locker room after suffering knee injuries in the third quarter, and safety Deiondre’ Hall also suffered an injury in the second quarter. 

Of that group, Houston and Hall had the best shots of making the Bears’ initial 53-man roster given the Bears’ need for depth at outside linebacker and the versatility Hall, a former cornerback, provides.

Houston has suffered two serious, season-ending knee injuries in the last three years and was ruled out for the rest of the game after going to the locker room, so there’s some concern there. We’ll know more later tonight. 

Cruz was on the bubble coming into this game, and left with two catches (on four targets) for nine yards. He finished the preseason with six catches for 28 yards with a touchdown and didn’t make much more of an impact in practice. An injury, depending on the severity — he was deemed questionable to return late in the third quarter — could damage his already-shaky chances of surviving cut-down day on Saturday.

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

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

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.