CLEVELAND—Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears rested 40 of the 75 players on their roster Thursday night, concluding the preseason with a 33-13 loss to the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
1. Roster cuts are coming. The Bears are required to reduce from 75 to 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday. What the roster looks like at 3:01 Saturday afternoon and what it looks like by the middle of next week could be two different things. Don’t be surprised if general manager Phil Emery works to churn over the bottom portion of the roster. Players know – or if they don’t, they should -- just because they made it Saturday doesn’t mean they will be around to collect a game check.
Here is a projected look at who makes it on offense, who doesn’t and where the bubble spots are:
Quarterback (2): Jay Cutler, Jimmy Clausen
Comment: There will not be any surprises here. Sixth-round pick David Fales showed a few good things but made the kind of mistakes you would anticipate from someone without experience playing the entire game against the Browns. He’s a good bet to return to the practice squad, which as was detailed here after last week’s game has been expanded from eight to 10.
Running back (4): Matt Forte, Ka’Deem Carey, Shaun Draughn, Tony Fiammetta
Bubble guy: Senorise Perry
Comment: Two weeks ago, Shaun Draughn looked to have a good hold on the No. 2 job behind Matt Forte but that has shifted. The coaching staff has bumped up fourth-round pick Ka’Deem Carey and now Draughn and Senorise Perry, an undrafted free agent from Louisville, could be in a tussle for the final spot. It’s conceivable the Bears would keep both but only if they believe both are head and shoulders above what they have at other positions (think wide receiver and defensive back) for special teams. If it’s a toss-up, my hunch here is Draughn because he has a little NFL experience and that should be in consideration. If Carey and Perry are Forte’s backups, the starter isn’t going to come off the field.
Wide receiver (6): Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Marquess Wilson, Santonio Holmes, Josh Morgan, Micheal Spurlock
Bubble guys: Chris Williams, Jay Bellamy
Comment: The wild card here is Marquess Wilson. If he begins the season on the 53-man roster, he’s going to claim a spot and reduce roster flexibility. If he goes on injured reserve/designated for return, that could open up a final slot for Williams or maybe Bellamy with special teams being a top consideration. But it looks like Holmes will be the punt returner, at least one primary option, and Spurlock could be the kickoff returner leaving Williams without a role on special teams. Given his lack of size, might be difficult for him to stick around but we’ll see.
Tight end (3): Martellus Bennett, Dante Rosario, Matthew Mulligan
Comment: Don’t rule out the Bears keeping an eye on what is out there, but they feel this is a better group than they had to begin last season.
Offensive line (9): Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Michael Ola, Brian de la Puente, Eben Britton, Charles Leno
Bubble guys: Dennis Roland, Taylor Boggs
Comment: Ola has turned into a pretty nice find as a waiver claim from the Dolphins and Roland has impressed the Bears quickly. Although he’s played tackle in the games, he’s gotten work at guard in practice and has worked there before when he was with the Bengals. It’s unusual to see a 6-foot-9 player on the interior of the line but he’s athletic and can move around a little. The last spot, at least in my estimation, comes down to Britton vs. Roland. Leno didn’t have his best preseason effort against the Browns but he’s been solid and probably has enough quality tape from August to be claimed if the Bears tried to slide him through to the practice squad. Leno has excellent hands and needs a year in the weight room. Boggs was a nice story a year ago but de la Puente has more experience and the belief here is Boggs is eligible for the practice squad. Britton got put behind by a hamstring injury, creating an early opening for Ola. We’ll see if he came back in the nick of time.
2. Here is a projected look at who makes it on offense, who doesn’t and where the bubble spots are:
Defensive line (10): Jared Allen, Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Trevor Scott, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, David Bass, Cornelius Washington
Bubble guy: Austen Lane
Comment: Lane had a solid preseason and is a tough, physical performer that is going to provide maximum effort. Last season, I don’t think there is any doubt he would have made this 53-man roster. But Bass had a heck of an effort against the Browns with a consistent pass rush. He had a sack/strip of Johnny Manziel. Washington, after doing very little as a rookie a year ago, has come on. He’s set a nice edge in the run game and it looks like the light has come on for him, particularly on special teams.
“I get it now,” Washington said. “That has been the difference. It is kind of just coming to me.”
Bass was mired on the depth chart before playing extensively here, even getting time inside at tackle. He logged 57 snaps through the first three preseason games, one more than Washington and considerably less than the 82 Lane had.
“I didn’t have a negative attitude about it because if I only got (eight) snaps, like I did last week at Seattle, I wanted them to be my eight best,” Bass said. “Since we got Coach P (Paul Pasqualoni) and the assistant coach (Clint) Hurtt, it’s been a lot of emphasis on fundamentals and technique and I realize the more I buy into that and just do what I am supposed to, the plays will come to me instead of having the mind-set that I am going to go out there and do whatever I have to do to make a play. I bought into that and it’s true.”
Defensive end is probably the most competitive position on the roster. Considering how the team failed to rush the passer and stop the run last season, that is a good thing. It’s possible Lane cracks the roster but the team might elect to go with younger options in Bass and Washington. I’m going with 10 linemen total because GM Phil Emery has hinted all along he doesn’t want to be short-handed here again.
Linebacker (7) : Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, Jerry Franklin, Christian Jones.
Comment: The hope has to be Franklin emerges as a core special teams player following the release of Jordan Senn. Jones will likely be asked to play a big role too.
Cornerback (5): Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kyle Fuller, Sherrick McManis, Kelvin Hayden Bubble guys: Al Louis-Jean, Demontre Hurst
Comment: This is a good position to keep an eye on for a potential roster move over the weekend, especially if the Bears find someone they believe will bolster special teams. Louis-Jean has size and traits and Hayden didn’t have the best preseason. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see them trade places here. Hurst made some fine plays in preseason but was too inconsistent to stick on the 53-man roster.
Safety (4): Ryan Mundy, Chris Conte, Danny McCray, Brock Vereen
Comment: The Bears will be looking to see if there is anything out there that constitutes an upgrade.
Specialists (3): Robbie Gould, Pat O’Donnell, Brandon Hartson
Comment: Hartson is unproven and will have to be on point to prevent the team from kicking the tires on more experienced options.
3. How fresh is the group special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis will be working with? Twenty players logged a minimum of 100 snaps on special teams last season. Of those 20, seven remain on the roster – tight end Dante Rosario, cornerback Sherrick McManis, linebackers Jerry Franklin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, fullback Tony Fiammetta and kicker Robbie Gould.
The Bears thought they replaced Blake Costanzo, who led them with 375 special teams snaps last season, when they signed veteran linebacker Jordan Senn March 13, the opening day of free agency. But he was in the club’s first wave of cuts earlier this week, indicating a miss. Wide receiver Eric Weems and safety Craig Steltz, who each logged more than 300 snaps on teams last season, are departed. Weems hooked on with the Falcons quickly. Steltz, coming off groin surgery in the offseason, wasn’t moving well enough. Costanzo wasn’t moving real well at the end of last season. He’s already out of the picture with the 49ers after being released from injured reserve.
The problem isn’t necessarily who the Bears have shed here as much as who they have to fill these core positions. That’s the big question for DeCamillis. McManis is a very good performer on special teams. After that, DeCamillis needs to find some core guys that will be regular four-phase contributors. The list of last season’s play-time leaders on special teams:
Blake Costanzo 375
*Dante Rosario 352
Eric Weems 309
Craig Steltz 306
*Sherrick McManis 248
Anthony Walters 248
Devin Hester 246
*Jerry Franklin 192
Michael Ford 187
Zack Bowman 173
*Job Bostic 170
Robbie Gould 167
Corey Wootton 163
Adam Podlesh 146
*Khaseem Greene 131
Pat Mannelly 126
*Tony Fiammetta 123
Derrick Martin 105
Cheta Ozougwu 103
James Anderson 100
* -- still with club
4. Ryan Mundy is planning to explore potential legal action against Schutt, the manufacturer of the helmet he was wearing last week at Seattle when he suffered a large gash on his forehead over his right eye. The veteran safety required 16 stitches to close the wound and said he was sliced open by a part of the inside of the helmet that had a sharp edge.
Mundy took on Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman in an effort to force the ball carrier back inside. In the collision with Coleman, Mundy’s head was cut open by the inside of his own helmet.
“I need to do some diligence about what action I can take because I can’t be playing football and worry about whether or not I am going to get injured by my own equipment,” Mundy said.
Because of the stitches, he has not put a helmet on since the injury. But when he gets back on the field this coming week, he said he is switching to a Riddell helmet.
“It was just a play I have done many times in my career before,” Munday said. “Just taking on the fullback to force the ball back inside. I took on the fullback and upon contact there was a piece of my helmet and the edge was not as smooth as it needed to be. Upon contact that pad was pressed against my head and sliced my head open. That was the explanation that was given to me.
“It was a violent collision and afterward I felt it and I said, ‘Oh, something is not right there.’ My helmet was holding was compressing my head from bleeding too much. So when I took it off it was, ‘I gotta get fixed.’”
The Bears medical staff stitched the wound close in the locker room during the game. Mundy said Schutt is aware of the issue.
“Their guy came in a few days ago and put a protective pad inside the helmet of the other guys that are wearing Schutt helmets to cover up the edge that was kind of sharp,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this ever.”
Mundy said he is going to see how the wound heals before he considers possible cosmetic work in the future.
“This can’t happen,” he said. “It’s not supposed to work out like that at all.”
5. Coach Marc Trestman said it was best for the team moving forward to hold out so many players. Forty guys did not see action according to the game summary. Some were in uniform and didn’t play. Getting to the regular season in good health is essential but some game action might have been a good thing for draft picks like Ka’Deem Carey, Will Sutton and Brock Vereen. They got nothing out of the trip need more experience to improve. We’re not talking about sitting Jared Allen and Matt Forte here. Of course, it did provide more opportunities for players lower on the depth chart but half a game would have made sense to me.
6. First-round pick Kyle Fuller was one of the 40 held out even though he returned to practice earlier this week from the sprained ankle that sidelined him.
“Definitely got as many mental reps as I could,” Fuller said. “You need those physical reps and the last couple days was good for me to get back out there and get those reps. It’s getting better every day. I am just trying to make sure I am ready to go next week. Definitely ready to get the season started.”
The only cornerback selected ahead of Fuller was Justin Gilbert, drafted eighth overall by the Browns. Talk about a dream position for Gilbert. All of the focus is on Johnny Manziel and he can learn from the Browns’ shutdown cornerback Joe Haden. Gilbert has more athletic ability than Fuller but has been struggling a little bit playing off. While Gilbert might be a better playmaker, Fuller is probably a better fit for what the Bears want to do on defense.
7. Anybody ready for the rash of penalties to go away? Suppose this game wasn’t too bad with a total of 15 penalties for 151 yards. Referee John Parry’s crew called two defensive holding penalties and one illegal contact to go with two defensive pass interference calls. No one wants to see the games officiated as tightly as they were during preseason when the action matters. This will be interesting to track into the first month of the season.
8. Reserve offensive lineman Brian de la Puente has yet to be cleared to return to practice but feels like he is getting closer. He suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee in the preseason opener. He’s done some running recently and there has not been a setback.
“Just keep checking the boxes and I will keep working hard and hope to be back out there as soon as possible,” he said.
The thing that probably secured de la Puente’s spot is the Bears were feeling pretty good about the work he had done at guard. They knew he could back up center Roberto Garza, but reserves need to be able to play more than one spot and the time missed by Matt Slauson earlier in the spring and Kyle Long earlier in training camp provided chances for de la Puente to move around a little.
9. Now that the exhibition season has come to a conclusion, focus turns to the regular season. Counting being on the road for the final two games of preseason, the Bears will be on the road for a stretch of eight of 11 games. Six of their first nine regular-season games are away from Soldier Field with home games vs. the Bills in Week 1, Packers in Week 4 and Dolphins in Week 7. It sets up nicely for them in the second half of the season as five of the final seven games are at home. The only road game after Thanksgiving is the season finale Dec. 28 at Minnesota.
The next road trip is in Week 2 against the 49ers in new Levi’s Stadium. Instead of traveling to San Francisco, the Bears will fly to San Jose, which is closer to the venue in Santa Clara. The rub? The Bears are at least considering departing on Friday – two days before the Sunday night game. One source said it’s going to happen but I have not confirmed it. Typically, the Bears will leave for a road game 24 to 30 hours or so before kickoff. In 14 seasons covering the team, I don’t believe this has happened, excluding the 2011 game against the Buccaneers in London.
The team heads to the other coast the next week as they face the Jets on “Monday Night Football” at MetLife Stadium in Week 3.
10. Only one NFL club was in attendance at the game. The Steelers, who host the Browns in Week 1, had a scout in the press box. The Steelers had a scout at all four Bears’ preseason games. The Bucs and Packers both had a scout at the first three exhibitions.
10 a. Pretty solid effort by former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, who the Browns signed on Aug. 12. He has a relationship with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and could stick around behind Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. The bet here is Manziel is starting by October.
10 b. Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor worked previously on Lovie Smith’s staff as an assistant to Dave Toub. How valued is Tabor in the Browns organization? He’s now working for his third head coach, third general manager and second owner. A lot of faces have come and gone but Tabor is someone the club hasn’t wanted to leave.
10 c. A lot of times when you look at the leaders at the end of the preseason, the names at the top of the lists are ones that will soon be forgotten. But Brandon Marshall led the team with 10 receptions one more than tight end Jeron Mastrud, a likely cut.
10 d. Rookie punter Pat O’Donnell had a mixed bag again. Expect some good with the not so good from him. At least he got the ball to the sideline. That was a problem last week at Seattle.
10 e. Bring on the regular season.
Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears rested 40 of the 75 players on their roster Thursday night, concluding the preseason with a 33-13 loss to the Browns at FirstEnergy StadiumCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun