Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Better Depth Means Tougher Cuts This Year

Victor Cruz. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Bears will wrap up the preseason Thursday night at Soldier Field against the Browns and then quickly start trimming down their roster from 88 to 53. With better depth on display in the preseason, that means they’ll have tougher decisions to make this weekend at Halas Hall. Here’s a stab at the possible 53-man roster to kick off this week’s 10 Bears Things:

1. We’ll start by breaking down the offensive depth chart: 

Quarterback (3) 

In: Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, Mitch Trubisky

Out: Connor Shaw

Not only does Sanchez have value in helping develop both Glennon and Trubisky, but he’s also not a bad backup. The Bears had three significant quarterback injuries last year and I’ll be surprised if they only keep two to start the season.

Running back (4)

In: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Jeremy Langford, Benny Cunningham

Out: Josh Rounds

Injured Reserve: Ka’Deem Carey

Given that Cohen will be used as a “joker” back and figures to play a lot with Jordan Howard, I expect the Bears to keep four running backs. Jeremy Langford still can be an effective “primary” backup, but since he’s been banged up for most of the preseason, Cunningham should be kept for added depth. Cunningham is also a reliable veteran/leader-type with special teams value. As for Carey, he figures to miss at least the first four games of the season after wrist surgery and could be a good “IR-to-return” candidate in the middle of the season for added depth.

Wide Receiver (6)

In: Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Victor Cruz, Tanner Gentry

Out: Titus Davis, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Alton Howard

Injured Reserve: Cameron Meredith, Rueben Randle

This is by far the most complexing position for the Bears, especially in the aftermath of Meredith’s torn ACL. I view Kevin White, Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright as locks and I feel pretty good about Josh Bellamy making it as a valued special teamer even though he has missed a couple of weeks with an ankle injury. As for Gentry, I’m not sure what else he has to do to prove he belongs. He’s made big plays in both practices and the games. I just don’t see how the Bears could cut a guy like that given the weakness of the position. So that’s five wide receivers who make it, but given Bellamy’s status as a special teamer and Wheaton’s uncertainty (broken pinky), I think the Bears have to keep six wideouts going into Week 1. So I’ll be honest: I’m completely guessing between Victor Cruz, Titus Davis and Deonte Thompson. For now, I’m going with Cruz because the Bears value his presence in the room and he’s the only true slot guy behind Wright, who might have to play outside in Week 1. Davis has flashed (and is only 24) and Thompson would be a loss in the return game, but Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson and Benny Cunningham are on the roster too.

Tight End (4)

In: Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown

Out: Ben Braunecker, MyCole Pruitt

To me, this really comes down to Brown vs Braunecker and I think Brown has the edge both blocking and receiving.

Offensive Line (9)

In: Charles Leno, Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, Josh Sitton, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Tom Compton, Hroniss Grasu, Jordan Morgan

Out: William Poehls, Cyril Richardson, Taylor Boggs, Mitchell Kirsch, Brandon Greene, Dieugot Joseph

I won’t be surprised if Poehls ends up making it, but Sowell seems like the logical swing tackle and Compton has more versatility. Grasu is a pretty good backup center to have (capable of starting) and Morgan should make it as a draft pick, although he’ll probably be frequently inactive on game day.

2. Now let’s take a look at the defense: 

Defensive Line (6)

In: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jaye Howard, Jonathan Bullard, Mitch Unrein, Roy Robertson-Harris

Out: John Jenkins, C.J. Wilson, Rashaad Coward

The versatility of Akiem Hicks allows the Bears to keep Goldman as their only true nose tackle. Vic Fangio likes to line his linemen up all over the place and keep the offensive line guessing. This group will be able to do that at a high level. Even Roy Robertson-Harris lined up over the Titans’ center on Sunday and bulldozed him straight backward. Some might consider Mitch Unrein expendable, but John Fox loves him and he had a great first preseason game before missing the last two games with a concussion.

Outside linebacker (4)

In: Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho

Out: Dan Skuta

PUP: Pernell McPhee

I’m not sure McPhee needs to start the season on PUP (which would force him to miss the first six games), but why not save him for later in the season? Floyd is going to be on the field a ton and Willie Young projects as the other starter. When Lamarr Houston isn’t jumping offsides, he’s looked pretty good coming off another torn ACL. I imagine either Acho or Skuta will be let go and Skuta suffered a concussion in Sunday’s game. He’s a Vic Fangio guy, but he’s also 31 with an injury history.

Inside linebacker (4)

In: Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Christian Jones

Out: John Timu, Jonathan Anderson, Kelvin Sheppard, Isaiah Irving

If Trevathan is ready to go for the season, I can see the Bears only keeping four inside linebackers, with Timu being the last man out. Remember, Jones can play both inside and outside linebacker and he’s had a good preseason. The Bears kept five inside linebackers at the start of the 2016 season, but Kwiatkoski wasn’t as proven and had missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury. Remember, Jonathan Anderson is dealing with a high ankle sprain.

Cornerback (6)

In: Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Kyle Fuller, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis

Out: B.W. Webb, Johnthan Banks, Rashaad Reynolds

Injuries and the presence of Pro Bowl alternate Sherrick Manis (as a special teamer) will force this group to run deep. Kyle Fuller’s spot seems safe both because he has played well and because Prince Amukamara is dealing with a sprained ankle. My guess is the Bears would lean towards Bryce Callahan over Cre’Von LeBlanc in the slot, but Callahan always seems to battling minor injuries. That tells me they will keep both.

Safety (4)

In: Quintin Demps, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Deiondre’ Hall

Out: Harold Jones-Quartey, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Chris Prosinski

The Bears are going to have to make some tough calls at safety where none of their 2016 draft picks (Hall, Bush and Houston-Carson) have stood out in the preseason. Of those three, I would keep Hall, who has size and length you can’t teach and versatility between corner and safety. The last safety spot could be one of the few spots up for grabs in the Bears’ final preseason game.

3. And the third phase: 

Specialists (3)

In: Pat O’Donnell, Connor Barth, Jeff Overbaugh

Out: Roberto Aguayo

Barth has been perfect since the Bears brought Aguayo in and it would be very surprising if the veteran doesn’t stick as the Bears kicker. That said, there still might be one more lifeline for Aguayo (more on that in Thing No. 5.)

4. Keep in mind that this 53-man roster projection will almost certainly be wrong. That’s because it will probably include at least one player from another team’s roster, which I can’t pull out of thin air as I write this. The Bears hold the third-waiver priority and chances are they will take advantage of that with at least one claim.

5. Roberto Aguayo still has practice squad eligibility. Now, he would have to clear waivers before the Bears could add him to the practice squad, but is any team really going claim Aguayo right before the season starts and trust him to be their kicker? It was different when the Bears did it with a 90-man roster and could carry two kickers. Remember, if Aguayo clears waivers, the Bears are still on the hook for his $428,000 guaranteed and if they still think they can straighten him out and make him the longterm kicker, why not stash him on the practice squad if you are paying him anyway? One reason: the practice squad actually does serve the purpose of, you know, practicing. So Aguayo would be taking up a spot that would otherwise go to someone helping on the scout team each week. Still, if Aguayo clears waivers and the Bears still think they can fix him, this seems like a viable option. Plus, it would keep the pressure on Barth, who seemingly can’t miss with Aguayo around.

6. Someone might need to tie Akiem Hicks to the bench Thursday night. On Sunday in Nashville, he played like a man determined to get a big contract. He was simply the best player on the field, lining up inside, outside and even in a two-point stance as a seven-technique. It didn’t matter if it was the center, guard or tackle, he put them all on skates. Still only 27-years-old, it would be wise for the Bears to lock him up before the season starts.

7. With Mitch Trubisky starting Thursday night’s game, I thought I would bring back this tweet from April:

Bears general manager Ryan Pace was in attendance for that game and there’s no doubt that Sun Bowl performance played a big part in the GM’s conviction on Trubisky.

8. Did you happen to notice the subtle television changes during FOX’s national broadcast of Sunday’s Bears game? For one, there were less commercial breaks. Commissioner Roger Goodell is determined to improve the fans’ television viewing experience and that begins this year by cutting out the very annoying touchdown-break-kickoff-break again sequence that seemingly put 6-7 minutes of dead time into the game. There will still be breaks after touchdowns, but there will not be a break after the ensuing kickoff. Basically there will be four breaks per quarter, although those breaks will now be longer (going from 1:50 to 2:20) to make up for the lost spots.

Technically these changes were supposed to happen during all of the preseason games, but a league source said many of the team-run local broadcasts didn’t follow the new protocol. That’s why you still saw more commercial breaks during the first two preseason games. NFL officials were actually on hand at both the Bears-Titans game and Vikings-49ers game Sunday to make sure the new commercial break format was executed properly on the national broadcasts.

9. Just three random NFL predictions as the season is already a week away:

A. Jay Cutler won’t play in a playoff game this season. While I think it’s a great fit for him in Miami and I believe he’ll have a good year, the Dolphins schedule is tough. Not only do they have road games at Atlanta, New England, Baltimore, Carolina and Kansas City, but the easiest stretch of their schedule (against the Chargers, Jets and Saints) comes with three road trips to Los Angeles, New York and London in back-to-back-to-back weeks. They don’t even get a bye week after their London trip, instead facing the Titans in Miami and the Falcons on the road the following two weeks. Ouch.

B. Jared Goff will start living up to expectations in Los Angeles. I thought he got a raw deal as a rookie and I love the pairing with Sean McVay. My evaluations of the top two quarterbacks in the 2016 class hasn’t changed: I had Goff ranked just slightly ahead of Carson Wentz, but predicted Wentz would play earlier with Goff having the better longterm ceiling. I think we’ll start to see Goff develop in McVay’s offense this year.

C. The Bears will beat the Vikings twice this season. Here’s why: the Vikings offensive line still looks bad and the Bears’ front-seven looks dominant. It’s just not a good matchup for Minnesota. The Week 5 Monday night game at Soldier Field could play out very similar as last year’s Halloween Monday nighter when the Bears’ made the Vikings’ offensive line look silly all night. Of course, the key to this prediction is staying healthy as the two teams meet in Minneapolis in Week 17 again. Last year, the defense was so beat up by Week 17 that they had no chance in the rematch.

10. It’s hard to argue with this Tweet about J.J. Watt:

I’ll never forget the way Bret Bielema talked about J.J. Watt before the 2009 season at Wisconsin. At that point, very few people had ever heard of Watt, who sat out the 2008 season after transferring from Central Michigan where he played tight end. Here’s this kid who had a scholarship at Central Michigan and gave it up to walk-on at Wisconsin. With practices closed to the media, we couldn’t see Watt’s dominance on the scout team as he sat out the 2008 season, but Bielema couldn’t help but rave about it, both privately and publicly. But it wasn’t just Watt’s talent that drew positive reviews, it was his work-ethic, his ability to lead and his desire to give back.

Nothing that Watt has done on or off the field has surprised me since he left Wisconsin. Not even raising over $8.5 million (and counting) for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. If you’d like to help, you can donate here.

Well done, J.J.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.