1. It was pretty much an ugly game all the way around for the Bears and what’s left to do is find the coaching points from the game film and make whatever evaluations are necessary to proceed through the initial round of cuts from 90 to 75.
Cuts are due by 3 p.m. Tuesday, but it is unusual for a team to wait until the deadline to make their cuts, at least the bulk of them. That’s because the Bears (and other teams) don’t want to go back to the practice field to prepare for the exhibition finale and have a player slated for the first wave of cuts suffer an injury. In that scenario, the team could be on the hook for several hundred thousand dollars if the injury is bad enough.
So, the guess here is the Bears take care of the majority of their moves (if not all) before they get back to practice on Monday. I’m at least a little curious if a decision has been made in the backup quarterback race. There has been this thought that Jordan Palmer vs. Jimmy Clausen would carry through the game against the Browns on Thursday. Maybe. But if coach Marc Trestman is a quarterback whisperer, as some like to call him, does he really need another game film to make his decision? Is there something left that could happen that would sway his decision besides an injury?
I don’t know the answer, but I’m wondering if the Bears name Clausen the man behind Jay Cutler on Tuesday or before then. Clausen has been more decisive on the field than Palmer. The numbers are pretty close. Clausen’s passer rating is 94.4 and Palmer’s is 88.9. Clausen has completed 64.9 percent of his passes and Palmer is at 70 percent. Clausen is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt and Palmer 7.5. The numbers don’t really differentiate between the two. But Clausen looks like he has a little better feel for it and as much experience as he has from starting a partial season with the Panthers in 2010, it’s more than Palmer.
Does Clausen feel like he has shown the coaches everything he needs to?
“That is what you are trying to do out there each and every day, just trying to go out and keep improving, keep learning the offense and keep competing,” he said. “You can only control what you control.”
How about Palmer?
“I would have liked to have put together some scoring drives (tonight),” he said. “Coming out to start the second half we had the ball and a chance to shift some momentum as the lineups changed and I expected to be able to help the team move the ball down the field and so that is frustrating. I don’t get frustrated by stats or individual plays. I get frustrated by punting the football. When I was in there I didn’t move the team down the field the way I wanted.”
If a decision isn’t made and the rotation continues, it will be Clausen’s turn to play first against the Browns and that might mean starting because Trestman could very well hold Jay Cutler out. The Bears needed to see what Palmer and Trent Edwards could do last season and that is why Trestman held Cutler and Josh McCown out of that game. Maybe he plays Clausen and rookie David Fales this time around. You have to think if a decision hasn’t been made yet that it's close. Trestman has called it even pretty much throughout. He’ll have to tip his hand soon.
2. Danny McCray has started three games at free safety, and with Chris Conte knocked out of the game with a concussion and rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen down the depth chart, all signs point to McCray being the starter in Week 1.
It’s not what a lot of people envisioned when he was signed a week into free agency, but a chance is what the Bears told McCray, who started 10 games at safety for the Cowboys in 2012, he would get.
“I wouldn’t say feel good,” said the 26-year-old McCray. “I feel like I am getting better each day. I do understand this is preseason and this is really the wide-open competition that they explained it would be when we signed on. I wouldn’t say feel good. I just want to get better.”
McCray was a core special teams contributor in Dallas for Joe DeCamillis and that is a primary reason why the Bears pursued him.
“This opportunity was attractive because there was a coach of mine that first brought me into the league was here and it was a great time for a new beginning,” McCray said. “I had been in Dallas for four years and I had primarily been a special teams guy. And I wanted to try something new so I took a chance.
“It’s a legit chance and I appreciate the coaches and Phil Emery for really being honest with me when I signed. If you listen to Marc Trestman talk, he will tell you. Offense is a competition, not for the starting spots, he lets you know specifically and that has been big. He has been honest with all of us.”
At this point, McCray might be about the only choice the Bears have at free safety. We’ll see how Conte progresses or if Vereen’s status suddenly rises.
3. Keenan McCardell.
Take a look at the 266 players on the Bears’ all-time practice squad list and that is the name that jumps out. Unfortunately, none of McCardell’s 883 career receptions came with the Bears. He was on their practice squad in 1993 before his career took off.
But the Bears have had some solid players spend time on the practice squad and then have solid careers. Defensive tackle Antonio Garay, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, fullback Jason McKie, tight end John Gilmore, defensive lineman Israel Idonije and wide receiver Tom Waddle all had practice squad stints.
The NFL has changed rules for the practice squad this season, expanding the limit by two from eight to 10. Perhaps more importantly, the eligibility restrictions for the practice squad have also been tweaked. Now, an exception will be granted for each team to sign up to two players with up to two accrued seasons of free agency credit. An accrued season is spending at least six games on the active roster. Without the exception, a player with one or more accrued seasons is not eligible unless he spent less than nine games on a team’s 46-man gameday roster. Players are allowed to spend three seasons on the practice squad and six games will constitute a season on the practice squad, up from the previous figure of three.
What is it all mean for the Bears? It creates 64 new jobs around the NFL as a whole so players on the fringe of the roster (or fringe of the practice squad) have more opportunities. Is this going to affect quarterback David Fales, the sixth-round draft pick from San Jose State? I didn’t think he had much of a shot at the 53-man roster to begin with, but the Bears will likely have a third quarterback in the building most weeks.
The biggest benefit this provides all NFL teams is it increases the chance a club will be able to handle attrition from within. The more players at more positions a team has on its practice squad, the greater the chance a team has an in-house candidate to consider in the event an injury creates need. That way NFL teams can plug in a player who is already in the building, knows the system and has been practicing with the team.
But for every Garay, Hillenmeyer and the others I listed there have been dozens of guys like Marq Cerqua, Mansfield Wrotto, Mark Anelli, Harry Williams and Brandon Hoyte. They disappeared quickly.
It’s worth noting teams can still poach players off the practice squads of other teams. That also has not changed.
4. Like a flamethrower in baseball, Brandon Hartson had to lose a little on his fastball to improve his accuracy. The long snapper, who projects to make the final roster unless someone is brought in from the outside, isn’t snapping the ball with as much velocity as he did last summer when he was with the team during training camp.
Hartson, who was an undrafted rookie from Houston, learned to slow down his snap, which is still harder than most, during what amounted to a season away. He became the winner of the competition with CFL veteran Chad Rempel when Rempel was released Monday night.
“I slowed it down a little bit,” Hartson said. “I can snap a very fast ball if I want to.”
Part of Hartson’s adjustment, at least when it came to the punting game, was adjusting to the distance. He snapped 15 yards to the punter in college. Bears rookie Pat O’Donnell is lining up 13 yards deep right now. Last year, Adam Podlesh was 11 ½ yards deep on the snap. It’s all in the footwork needed by the punter to get the kick off 9 ½ to 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Podlesh had quick and very short steps. O’Donnell uses longer strides. Former snapper Pat Mannelly said ex-Bears punter Todd Sauerbrun would really walk into the kick from 15 yards deep.
“In college, I was snapping 15, so coming out of school and going from 15 to 11 ½, I couldn’t slow my speed down,” Hartson said. “I had to adjust. Accuracy is more important than speed. I realized I could slow my snap down. I still snap it with pretty good speed. In order for me to be more accurate, I had to slow it down though.”
Accuracy is most critical on field goals and extra points when the snapper needs to be able to catch the ball laces up and simply set it down for Robbie Gould without having to rotate it. Getting the laces perfect on a punt is hard to do but considered a bonus. For the kicker, it’s a must. Hartson’s ball spins four complete revolutions in the eight yards to the holder.
“It’s just repetition, working on your craft,” Hartson said. “You can never be perfect.”
During his time away from the Bears, Hartson worked construction in Dallas and worked out whenever he could find time. The goal was to snap at least 100 balls every two days. He used a net and his friend Wesley Clingman, a former independent league baseball player employed at a car dealership, would catch for him.
“He said, ‘Yeah come on by don’t worry about the money,’” Hartson said. “So he helped out a lot. Just snapped a lot. These jobs are hard to get. There are only 32 teams.”
5. Evanston native Austen Lane has been a physical presence since training camp opened and he probably had his best game here. Lane picked up a sack and had two quarterback hits and that might have been one area of his game the team wanted to see more. Could the defensive end rush the passer? He’s not as fast as Trevor Scott, who has looked like the favorite to be the fourth end, but Lane had a good game at the right time and you can’t rule out the possibility the Bears keep five defensive ends. Special teams will be a measuring stick in some many backup decisions, but this defense isn’t good enough to let a quality football player go.
“We had (tackles) Will Sutton, Ego (Ferguson), Nate (Collins), Tracy (Robertson) they are all getting after the quarterback,” Lane said. “When we are getting push up the middle it makes it easy for us on the edge and I think that is what was happening tonight. There are a few where I had to keep him contained, but overall we did OK.”
Does he feel like it is a legitimate push for a spot on the 53?
“I don’t worry about that,” said Lane, who played two games last season with the Lions and previously had three years in Jacksonville. “All I worry about is getting better every day. I’ve said it 100 times. We’ve got probably the most depth on the defensive line of any team in the NFL. So I am just trying to get better every single day and I am going to let the chips fall where they may and not worry about where I am making a push.”
6. As Trevor Scott and Austen Lane have ascended, a player that has fallen off is David Bass. Last year’s pickup via a waiver claim from the Raiders has been mired with the third team and at this point looks like he’s trailing in the competition. Bass was a regular part of the rotation last season, but a lot of that was due to injuries that thinned out the line. He was raw as a pass rusher and players with more experience look like they have moved past him. It might be hard for Bass to stick around this fall.
7. Versatile offensive lineman Eben Britton, 26, has been sidelined since suffering a pulled left hamstring in one-on-one pass rush drills at Bourbonnais on July 30. Britton is getting better and said there have been no setbacks but the only running he’s done to this point has been on a treadmill. It was a serious hamstring injury and right now his hope is to be cleared before the start of the regular season.
But the Bears could be taking a close look at newcomer Michael Ola as a potential replacement for Britton, who appeared in 13 games last season and logged 235 snaps (22.2 percent), the vast majority as an eligible tackle. In a perfect world, coach Marc Trestman has a player that wears an eligible number to handle that role this season as an in-line blocker, extra tight end or even a presence in the backfield. It could be something tight end Matthew Mulligan might be able to do and based on usage Mulligan looks like a good bet to make the final roster at this point.
Ola has been used pretty much everywhere on the line with the exception of center although he has primarily been at right tackle the last two weeks with starter Jordan Mills resting his sore left foot. Yes, he surrendered a sack against the Seahawks, but it’s the toughest road environment in the NFL and one of the very best defenses. I thought all factors considered, he held up OK in this game. Ola played well last week against the Jaguars, going against experienced left end Chris Clemons and holding his own.
“I’ve got to get better,” Britton said. “That’s all. There is nothing I can do about it except try to get better and it has been feeling better every day since it happened.”
It’s premature to put a number count on the offensive linemen that will make the 53-man roster, but nine is a good figure to use in projecting. After the starting five, reserve interior lineman Brian de la Puente is a good bet. He could return from a knee sprain before Britton is back in action. Ola looks well positioned at this point and the team has been pleasantly surprised with massive 6-foot-9 Dennis Roland, who has proven he can play inside as well. Add Britton, seventh-round draft pick Charles Leno Jr., reserve center Taylor Boggs, who made the team a year ago, and James Brown into the mix.
8. Sherrick McManis took about a week before re-signing with the Bears on March 19. The 26-year cornerback and special teams contributor was hoping to find a little security in a contract but was unable to drum up anything significant, eventually coming back on a minimum-salary benefit deal, a one-year contract worth $795,000, including a $65,000 signing bonus.
The knock on McManis was that he was only a special teams contributor. Since training camp has opened, McManis is at the tops of a chart in the defensive backs room for takeaways. He’s not only practiced well, he’s played well in preseason and has seven tackles on defense, one interception, one tackle for loss two passes deflected and two stops on special teams. He broke up a deep pass to the end zone here.
“McManis has done a nice job in camp,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “McManis is a football player. He is physical. I don’t think anyone has ever said he couldn’t. We’ll have to see. We have to see how the rest of this preseason turns out.”
It will be interesting to see what happens at cornerback after final cuts. First-round draft pick Kyle Fuller will be first on the depth chart behind starters Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. After that, nothing is set although veteran Kelvin Hayden is the first player to keep an eye on. That backup nickel position is interesting with Isaiah Frey out with a hamstring injury and Demontre Hurst having a rollercoaster of preseason action with good and bad.
“That’s all it is opportunities,” McManis said. “Practice-wise I have been forcing some turnovers and we are a big takeaway team. You work on it in practice and you have to translate it to the game. I am still working to get that first forced fumble.”
Although he wants to prove he can be a contributor on defense, McManis hasn’t lost sight of where his biggest value will likely be. He was second on the team with 15 special teams tackles last season.
“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” he said. “Special teams is all about effort, hard work and skill. The better skilled you are, the better you are going to be. I am feeling more comfortable at the corner position, technique-wise and watching some of the older guys as well. I am one of those older guys now as well. I am coming into my own as a corner.”
The Bears didn’t value former special teams ace Corey Graham as a cornerback and he eventually departed for the Ravens where he got a two-year contract and won a Super Bowl. Now, he’s in a the first season of a $16 million, four-year contract with his hometown team, the Bills. The deal includes $8.1 million guaranteed.
9. Tough break for wide receiver and returner Chris Williams. The plan was for him to play, but his injured right hamstring was just a little tight before the game so he sat out. He hopes to be ready to play against the Browns but he’s just about out of opportunities to showcase himself. I don’t know if he can make the team off one preseason game but the Bears sure need something to happen for their return game. That being said, the coverage units, which were very good last season, have been a mess. Opponents are averaging 12.3 yards on punt returns and 28.7 on kickoffs.
“We gotta go back and go to work,” kicker Robbie Gould said. “Obviously, we are making some mistakes that are definitely fixable. We shouldn’t be doing it. But at the same time we have to go back to the tape, look at what we are doing wrong and learn from it. We’ll be ready Week 1. We’ve got to find our guys that are going to be there and we’ll be ready to go.”
10. Scouts from five NFL clubs were in attendance at the game. Represented were the Bills, Bucs, Chargers, Packers and Steelers. The Bucs, Packers and Steelers have attended all three Bears’ games now. CFL scouts from the Edmonton Eskimos, Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts were also in attendance.
10 a. Thinking of first cuts and the Seahawks. How good was Seattle’s roster last summer? Seventeen players that were on Seattle’s 90-man roster during training camp last summer wound up spending time on another team’s 53-man roster. The Seahawks have been a little banged up this summer and that has given more players time. Seattle had 18 players sit out its first preseason game, 15 its second and 11 were not dressed for this game.
10 c. Rookie defensive tackle Will Sutton flashed just a little bit for the second week in a row and that was good to see.
10 d. Josh Morgan was bumped up to the No. 3 receiver job for the week and made a nice twisting catch of a Jay Cutler pass. Morgan finished with three catches for 48 yards and clearly helped himself.
10 e. One of the first players the Bears added to revamp special teams this offseason was linebacker Jordan Senn, who signed a one-year deal on March 13. The move came right out of the gates in free agency and came as a surprise to his former team the Panthers. But Senn has been getting little work with the first team and that would be a sign right now that he is a longshot for the roster.
10 f. There was some good and bad for rookie punter Pat O’Donnell. He placed three of his five punts inside the 20-yard line. But Earl Thomas’ 59-yard punt return was the result of an ugly kick. O’Donnell’s 34-yard punt had an unacceptable 3.68-second hang time. Consistency is often an issue with young specialists.
10 g. C.J. Wilson has three interceptions in his last five exhibition games dating back to last year. If nothing else, the speedy cornerback has proven he has solid hands. He’d probably need to show more on special teams to really push for a job.
10 h. Biggest thing to think about for roster cuts this week after the first wave? Special teams. It will drive the discussion on how many players are kept at several positions, including linebacker, cornerback and safety.
10 i. It won’t be too long until the Bears are back on the West Coast for the first regular-season game in new Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers are having problems with the grass surface in the Santa Clara, Calif., stadium. A practice there earlier this week was ended after less than an hour because chunks of turf were coming up and Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reported four high school football teams that were scheduled to begin their seasons with games at the stadium Aug. 29 have been forced to shift their games. The 49ers will welcome them back in a window later in the season when the team has road games between Oct. 5 and Nov. 2. What’s next at the stadium? A re-sodding project began Thursday morning and the 49ers will host the Chargers in a preseason game Sunday. Then, Mexico will play Chile in an international soccer game Sept. 6. The Bears and 49ers square off Sept. 14. Per the report, the main issue is believed to be the consistency of sand underneath the layer of sod.
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