The Bears' final 53-man roster has begun to crystallize after 14 training camp practices and two exhibition games. Players have two exhibitions and five full practices remaining to impress general manager Phil Emery, coach Marc Trestman and Trestman's staff. But already the roster puzzle pieces are taking shape.
With the Aug. 30 cut-down deadline looming, here's an assessment of the roster position-by-position, examining key developments and pondering important questions that remain.
On roster: 4
Projected: 2 or 3
Lock: Jay Cutler
On the bubble: Jordan Palmer, Jimmy Clausen, David Fales
Key developments: Clausen caught up to Palmer in the backup competition despite not signing with the Bears until June 5. His arm is stronger than Palmer's, and he's more decisive. However, neither has separated himself in exhibition action. Fales, the sixth-round rookie, got the fewest reps in training camp and clearly is fourth on the depth chart.
Remaining questions: Clausen and Palmer could strengthen their case in the last two games, both of which are on the road. Fales, on one hand, seems to be a good bet to make the team because the Bears invested a draft pick in him. However, they could try to stash him on the practice squad if they believe he would clear waivers and if they don't want to use a roster spot on a quarterback who won't play.
On roster: 7
Locks: Matt Forte, Ka'Deem Carey
Good bet: FB Tony Fiammetta
On the bubble: Shaun Draughn, Michael Ford
Practice squad candidates: Jordan Lynch, Senorise Perry
Key developments: Draughn and fourth-rounder rookie Carey are ahead of Ford in the backup competition, Trestman said Friday. Trestman praised Draughn's catching ability and positioning. The clock has struck midnight on Lynch's Cinderella story. Reality is he needs to continue developing after converting from a college quarterback.
Remaining questions: Whether Draughn or Carey backs up Forte likely will come down to upcoming performances against the Seahawks and Browns. Ford must excel on special teams and be more consistent executing his assignments to salvage a spot.
On roster: 12
Projected: 5 or 6
Locks: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery
Good bet: Marquess Wilson
On the bubble: Santonio Holmes, Josh Morgan, Josh Bellamy, Micheal Spurlock, Chris Williams
Practice squad candidates: Greg Herd, Dale Moss, Kofi Hughes
Camp depth: Armanti Edwards
Locks: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery
Key developments: Wilson’s broken collarbone and the addition of Holmes on Saturday highlight a lack of quality depth. Eric Weems got the first shot at replacing Wilson as the third receiver, but Cutler never connected consistently with him and he was cut Saturday. Bellamy and Spurlock got extended looks with the second string in camp. Morgan dropped a few passes in practice but has been steady in games. Williams has been out for a week since straining his right hamstring in the Aug. 8 exhibition.
Remaining questions: The Bears still haven’t publicized how long Wilson’s recovery will take, but he would require a spot on the 53-man roster in almost every realistic scenario. Williams would make the team by being explosive and sure-handed as a kickoff and punt returner, but Trestman on Friday didn’t know his expected return date. Holmes, 30, underperformed with the Jets the last two seasons, as left foot and right hamstring injuries took their toll. The Bears will see what he has left. Weems’ release creates an opportunity for a receiver who can cover kicks.
On roster: 4
Projected: 2 or 3
Roster lock: Martellus Bennett
On the bubble: Matthew Mulligan, Dante Rosario
Camp depth: Jeron Mastrud
Key developments: Zach Miller's season-ending left foot injury takes one decision off coaches' to-do list. Rosario has played with the first string on all four special teams units. Mulligan has impressed coaches with his blocking, but he was flagged for holding against the Eagles.
Remaining questions: The Bears kept three tight ends at final cuts last year but carried only two for much of the season. They're hoping Mulligan can be a good pass catcher in addition to his blocking. He had a team-high four catches against the Jaguars. Rosario's special teams value is essential to his case.
On roster: 16
Locks: Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills
Good bet: Brian de la Puente
On the bubble: Eben Britton, Michael Ola, Charles Leno Jr., Taylor Boggs, James Brown
Camp depth: Joe Long, Ryan Groy, Dylan Gandy, Dennis Roland, Robert Turner
Key developments: Britton, the sixth lineman last season, has been sidelined since he strained his left hamstring July 30. His injury and Mills' absence with a sore left foot enabled Ola to start at right tackle in the first two exhibitions. De la Puente is out at least another week with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Leno, a seventh-round rookie, has shown athleticism as a developmental prospect.
Remaining questions: Tough decisions loom because of this group's continuity. Eight of nine linemen from last year are on the roster. Britton was a good bet for a roster spot until he got hurt, but coaches at least know what he's capable of. Ola's versatility at guard and tackle could squeeze Brown out of a roster spot if Ola is consistent with his footwork. Boggs must take advantage of de la Puente's absence.
On roster: 15
Projected: 9 or 10
Locks: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton
Good bet: Trevor Scott
On the bubble: Austen Lane, David Bass, Nate Collins, Cornelius Washington
Practice squad candidates: Tracy Robertson, Brandon Dunn, Lee Pegues
Key developments: Scott has positioned himself to make the team by being effective on the edge against the run and pass. He uses his hands well and can shed blocks. Collins flashed at the start of camp, demonstrating power in one-on-one pass blocking drills in his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. But he otherwise had a quiet camp.
Remaining questions: This is one of the most intriguing numbers games within the whole roster puzzle. The Bears, still scarred by last season's attrition, would like to keep 10. Collins could be the fifth tackle if he recaptured his form from early in camp. Bass seems to have a higher ceiling in his second season than the veteran Lane, but Lane has been ahead of Bass on the depth chart.
On roster: 9
Projected: 6 or 7
Locks: Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin
Good bet: Khaseem Greene
On the bubble: Jordan Senn, Christian Jones
Practice squad candidate: DeDe Lattimore
Camp depth: Jerry Franklin
Key developments: Williams' ability to stop the run has proven to be invaluable, especially given the inexperience of McClellin and Bostic. Coaches are optimistic about McClellin's development as he learns the position and have taken a long view of his prospects. Jones might be the best athlete in the group, but Greene and Senn are more valuable on special teams.
Remaining questions: Special teams ability will factor heavily into the final roster decisions. Greene and Senn each play on all four units, and Trestman has said he is searching for eight such players. Coaches have emphasized the mental challenges Jones faces in getting acclimated to the NFL. He's a prime practice squad candidate, but it's easy to see why the Bears would be reluctant to risk losing him on waivers.
On roster: 10
Locks: Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Kyle Fuller, Kelvin Hayden
Good bet: Sherrick McManis
On the bubble: Isaiah Frey
Practice squad candidates: C.J. Wilson, Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean, Derricus Purdy
Key developments: McManis had an excellent camp and should make the team barring an unforeseen development. His agility and ability to play the ball help make this one of the Bears' deepest positions. He also is a reliable special teams player, which the Bears need. Frey has been sidelined since he strained his right hamstring Aug. 4.
Remaining questions: Frey's injury casts his roster hopes in doubt. Before getting hurt, he was playing the ball more effectively than he did last season during extensive playing time in the slot. He should make the team if healthy. If not, one of several capable prospects could steal his spot.
On roster: 8
Projected: 4 or 5
Locks: Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen
Good bet: Chris Conte, Danny McCray
On the bubble: Adrian Wilson, Craig Steltz
Camp depth: M.D. Jennings, Marcus Trice
Key developments: Coaches have rotated safeties in practice, but Mundy consistently has played with the first string. McCray started the first two exhibitions. Conte, the incumbent starting free safety, came off the physically unable to perform list (right shoulder) Aug. 11. Wilson, the 34-year-old five-time Pro Bowler, has played faster as he has learned the defense.
Remaining questions: Conte's knowledge of the defense was apparent immediately in how fast he ran to his assignments in practice. His return to game action is imminent, and he's the favorite to win the starting job alongside Mundy. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis values McCray, and it would be surprising for a defensive veteran to start the first two exhibitions and get cut. Steltz is another reliable special teamer, and the Bears need all of those they can get. But he missed the offseason program and first 11 camp practices with a groin injury.
On roster: 5
Locks: K Robbie Gould, P Pat O'Donnell
On the bubble: LS Chad Rempel, LS Brandon Hartson
Camp depth: P Tress Way
Key developments: O'Donnell, the sixth-round pick, has been inconsistent, but he has been more consistent than Way. O'Donnell's booming leg is obvious, and therein lies his upside.
Remaining questions: Way has been too inconsistent with distance and hang time to beat out the punter the Bears drafted. Rempel and Hartson continue to compete with no margin for error. It wouldn't be surprising if the Bears signed a long snapper another team cut later this month.
Tribune reporters Brad Biggs and Dan Wiederer contributed.
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