The Chicago Bears are like most teams as they head into the 4th preseason game. They have most of their starters set in stone and prepared to play as little as possible, if at all. After the starting 22, the kicker, and the punter, there are another handful of players that are comfortable in being locks for their teams final roster.
With most rosters at 75 heading into that last game, that leaves about 40 players fighting for their NFL lives. The Bears will get long looks at a lot of bubble players this Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns, and I'll spotlight four players that will be given every opportunity to shine. J'Marcus Webb, Brandon Hardin, Fendi Onobun, and Armando Allen.
1) Offensive Tackle, J'Marcus Webb
This off season Webb was moved to the right side, he was demoted, he had his pay slashed, and now his roster spot is in jeopardy. The last two weeks he's been getting action on the left side to see if he can be the swing tackle for the '13 Bears. With tackle Jonathan Scott's injury lingering, Webb has had the lion's share of reps since his demotion, and the Bears are giving the 4th year pro every chance to win the job.
Yesterday morning on the Score, Mike Mulligan was discussing the probable scenario that played out when Webb was approached by the Bears about the pay cut. He speculated that Webb should have immediately informed his agent, then Webb's agent would have started calling other teams to gauge interest if his client was cut. He's was guessing that there wasn't a lot of positive feedback from other teams about Webb, otherwise they would have turned down the Bears offer, and took their chances on the open market.
One might argue that Webb has played real good for a 7th round draft pick, and to them I'd say that draft status means squat once you get through your rookie year. He has 44 starts under his belt, and heading into his 4th professional season he shouldn't be regressing. Especially after improving in each of the last two years.
With Scott still not practicing after having his knee scoped, I think Webb makes the team. The only way I see Webb looking for a new home, is if he really blows it on Thursday.
2) Safety, Brandon Hardin
Hardin is practice squad eligible, so they have that option, but I expect he'll receive plenty of reps against the Browns. With veteran Tom Zbikowski no longer clogging up the depth chart, Hardin will have time to shine. If Chris Conte and Major Wright even play, it'll be nothing more than a token appearance, so the safety spots will be left to the remaining 4 on the roster. Last year the Bears opened up with five safeties on the final 53 man roster, so Hardin has better odds than some other positions.
Hardin will have to hope his athleticism shines through on the special teams, because his safety experience is lacking. And for those of you hoping for a Danieal Manning like position change for the kid, that ain't happening. Hardin is strictly a safety, he's too stiff in the hips to go back to corner, and he's not big enough to move to linebacker. He definitely has potential to be a productive NFL player, but how many spots can the Bears afford to give to potential?
I think Hardin ends up released, and the Bears will try and sign their 2012 3rd round draft pick to the practice squad.
3) Tight End, Fendi Onobun
Onobun looks the part, he's big (260) and tall (6'6"), he's a fluid athlete, he's had scouts from six different NFL teams want to take a chance on him, but he's just not a very good football player. Can he become one? Sure, I suppose it's possible, but his last chance with the Bears may be this Thursday. Reports from training camp have Onobun looking good, but if a player can't perform on the big stage, he usually ends up looking for work.
Starting tight end Martellus Bennett had a long heart to heart talk with Onobun over the weekend. His message, 'stop thinking so much'. Bennett is good counsel for Onobun, since they've known each other for 12 years, and were former basketball teammates in high school. Maybe having a friend at his position, to help mentor him through the season, will be something the Bears take into consideration when cut down day approaches.
Bears head coach Marc Trestman sure sounds like he's willing to give Fendi the benefit of the doubt, "He's just got to work through this phase,'' Trestman said. ‘‘When he gets under the lights, [he has] to play consistently. I think he can do that down the road." Does he mean down the road in Chicago?
Trestman has also had Onobun running with the ones in some sets during practice and in the preseason games. I think the coaches believe football will click for their inexperienced project at some point, and they'd rather it be while a member of the Bears.
I'd expect both Onobun and fellow TE Kyle Adams to get a lot of time against the Browns, Adams brings more versatility, but Onobun is a much more dynamic athlete. There is a posibility they carry four TEs, but another position would then suffer.
I don't have a strong feeling one way or the other on Onobun's roster status. What I see on the field is a player not ready for prime time, but the coaches sure seem to talk him up. Perhaps his roster spot is connected to the final game more than any other player on the Bears. If he can stop thinking so much, and just play, maybe he makes a few catches against the Browns to show the coaches their work is paying off. But if he has any more drops, he's probably gone.
4) Running back, Armando Allen
Allen looked like a roster lock before he starting nursing his hamstring, and unheralded Michael Ford became the big star of the preseason. Allen was running with the ones in a few sets in training camp, and his receiving ability and his scatback look differentiated him from the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Allen was finally back at practice yesterday, but he'll still have to show that his all around game gives the Bears more upside than the hungry Ford.
Allen was a core special teamer last year, but Ford played special teams at LSU. That was one of the reasons the Bears signed him. The one plus Allen has over Ford, and it's a big plus, is he's a better pass blocker. If Ford struggles in picking up the blitz, don't expect Marc Trestman to put him on offense very often.
If healthy, I think Allen ultimately has the experience to make the roster, but I also think they hold on to Ford. Ford has shown too much this preseason to expose to the waiver wire, and with an offensive minded head coach, I think they will sacrifice a spot on the defensive side of the ball to carry four running backs.
What bubble players will you be focusing on this Thursday night?
More from Windy City Gridiron:
- The Bears Den: August 27, 2013 - Preseason news and notes
- Windy City Gridiron Fantasy Football is Here!
- Chicago Bears 2013 season preview: Q/A with SB Nation
- Ten Thoughts on the NFL: Chicago Bears and beyond
- OSS: The Nightcrawler
- 2013 Stats over/under: Julius Peppers
- Bears' Six-Pack Keys to Victory: Preseason Week 4, Cleveland Browns
- Has the Preseason Changed Your Opinion of the 2013 Bears?