They've been grinding at it in practices for a hearty two weeks in Bourbonnais, but tonight, palpable Chicago Bears football has returned. Of course, it's football of the preseason variety so it isn't of the greatest significance for every player participating.
Still, training camp is the foundation and baseline set for preseason action and roster evaluation while these games work in the final table. Same drill, same procedure. Based on the past couple weeks of every single practice that I've seen firsthand at Olivet Nazarene University, here's who I believe will ultimately make the Bears' final roster before any games begin.
Mike Glennon, Mitchell Trubisky, Mark Sanchez
Of every position group, figuring the men under center for the Bears was by far the easiest task. Glennon and Trubisky are locks to make the final team for obvious investment reasons (salary and recent draft capital, respectively). There's virtually no debating that sentiment. You have the present (Glennon) and the near future (Trubisky) in the fold.
Meanwhile Sanchez has been anything but spectacular in camp. However, for a No. 3 quarterback he's been just fine. Connor Shaw won't appear against the Broncos for both health reasons (recently had a screw removed) and likely play as well, as by my count, he hasn't thrown one pass in any camp team drill. Shaw has received no opportunities from Chicago's staff which is more than fine considering the current developmental parameters. The Bears very much like Sanchez and his influence on their top two quarterbacks and it'll be enough for him to stick around barring an absolutely abhorrent August slate.
Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
Howard and Cohen, much like Trubisky and Glennon, are obvious selections. You have both the bell cow of the Bears' offense in Howard and the lightning quick, change-of-pace spark plug in Cohen. A dynamic duo in the works. All they need is a nickname at this rate.
As far as that third back, you might be asking where Ka'Deem Carey or Jeremy Langford are. In the case of Langford, he's participated in almost none of camp due to a re-aggravation of the ankle injury he suffered last year. Without receiving reps to help him separate himself as a viable depth option, you note that Cohen can probably do everything he does but better. For Carey, he's inherently been unimpressive any time he carries the ball, isn't much of a receiver, and hasn't taken advantage of extra time due to Langford's injury.
Cunningham, who has been on and off with non-contact but makes plays out of the backfield as a receiver and plays special teams - has that crucial edge in tight roster decisions.
Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Victor Cruz, Markus Wheaton, Tanner Gentry, Joshua Bellamy
Yes, I see the Bears keeping six wideouts in 2017. There's too much talent and upside contained within this group not to maintain it as best as possible. Meredith is the Bears' best receiver and we'll see how good he can be as the de-facto No. 1. White has endured inconsistency issues in camp but the Bears will make every effort to allow him to acclimate and get comfortable after his previous leg injuries.
On Cruz, to me, he's clearly already Chicago's third-best receiver. The 30-year-old is a far cry away from the former New York Giants star that was a huge piece of a Super Bowl champion, yet definitely has some good football and tread left on his tires. I'd expect a hearty rebound in performance for the veteran in this Bears offense that can let him thrive. For Wheaton, he's missed most of camp due to an appendectomy, but due to his $6 million guaranteed this year, he's a lock to make the team. We'll have to see how his performance shakes out even if I'm skeptical.
Where it became interesting for me was these last two selections.
Based on Gentry's consistent flash playmaking in camp - especially in traffic and plays down the field - I expect his play to carry over into the preseason and effectively dunk on other team's depth defensive backs. He's too good and for me, has too much potential to stash on the practice squad. Gentry is no "training camp hero". If the Bears attempt the practice squad route, there's no chance another team doesn't swoop in and snatch him away.
And then there's Bellamy, who I know many aren't fond of because he isn't much of a reliable receiver. I do know for a fact though, that the Bears consider him one of their core pieces if not the core piece on their specialist coverage units. That outweighs a receiver like Kendall Wright who not only hasn't done much for me to warrant ever noticing him in practice, but also would only create $1 million dead money in cap space if the Bears chose to cut him.
Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown
Sims and Shaheen figure to play a huge role in Chicago's offense over the next couple of seasons. Shaheen, in particular, looks like he could be a superstar with some fine tuning over time.
After them, I debated keeping four tight ends here but in my opinion, the Bears would be better served keeping some more front line depth on both sides, as opposed to a tight end like Zach Miller that may or may not stay healthy and is at the tail end of his career at 32-years-old. Brown sticks over Miller because he's impressed me as both a quality safety valve for Bears passers in camp and as an improved blocker. He's been one of the underrated performers in Bourbonnais by my estimation.
In the end, Brown's upside and youth at 25-years-old are a more serviceable thought for Chicago to keep around offensively in comparison to Miller.
Cody Whitehair, Josh Sitton, Kyle Long, Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie, Hroniss Grasu, Tom Compton, Jordan Morgan, Taylor Boggs
The Bears have better fortune this year regarding their starting five provided Long recovers in full from his off-season ankle surgery. They could have one of the more underrated offensive fronts in football with another full season season together under their belt.
What's concerning is the depth behind them.
Eric Kush's torn hamstring now leaves both the interior and tackle depth in a precarious spot. Compton is essentially Chicago's swing tackle but I wouldn't characterize him as "good". Grasu and Morgan are both unproven - one due to injury in Grasu and Morgan as a developmental rookie from a small school. Boggs makes this roster because the Bears can't afford to let any versatile interior talent walk away, even if they're mediocre. A Chicago offensive line situation that will have many tugging their collar often.
Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Jaye Howard, C.J. Wilson
An ascension in play from Bullard would do wonders for this group. Hicks, coming off of a seven-sack season should continue his stellar play. And Goldman, provided he can stay healthy, is one of the more overlooked nose tackles in the NFL as the likely lynchpin of the Bears' defense. Howard hasn't worked himself back into full health yet as the Bears admitted he's still somewhat recovering from off-season hip surgery in Kansas City. If he can get back into the swing of things though, there's no denying his potential demonstrative impact for this group as either a starter or off of the bench.
Wilson makes the roster by pure virtue of familiarity with the Bears' scheme and needed depth behind the core four big men.
Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee, Sam Acho
Floyd, as Lester wrote back in July, needs to become a "Monster of the Midway" - a superstar that every offensive coordinator fears on a weekly basis. He doesn't have much help or star power beside him to assist in that effort though when McPhee is currently sidelined at the moment.
This is a group with one true potential long-term difference maker in Floyd and a bunch of serviceable veterans in Houston, Young, and Acho, as well as a questionable asset in McPhee (of whom it makes no sense to cut this year). The depth here is a mirage but it's not like Chicago has many other options until next year's draft and free agency period to garner a much needed upgrade.
Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jonathan Anderson, Christian Jones
Chicago's top trio at linebacker can arguably be one of the best in the league barring a quality return from Trevathan, who has slowly participated more and more during camp. Kwiatkoski is the likely future of the position here to eventually replace the older 31-year-old Freeman as he's become a much more technically sound linebacker. One of the guys you can count on in the front seven to step in as necessary.
All that matters here is the depth behind these guys and to me, Anderson has been a revelation. The third-year pro has found himself routinely around the ball in practice and showcases instincts as well as explosive tackling ability the other linebackers fighting for a job just don't possess.
For Christian Jones, he's been someone Bears coaches have lauded of late in his growth. Someone that was once fluctuating wildly with inconsistency earlier in his career, now has Chicago figuring him, at minimum, as a core specials teams piece. He's been impressive to say the least.
Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Cre'Von LeBlanc, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis
Amukamara has been the Bears' best corner in training camp to this point and is Chicago's No. 1 man on the outside. Cooper, who after being tended to early on with injury, has also settled in and began to make plays on the ball. A solid if uninspiring starting duo, at least for now.
Your nickel corners will be Callahan and LeBlanc, who still have to sort out who the official starter will be this preseason. Regardless of who that mystery man will be, both will make the roster and both look noticeably better and more confident as players.
For McManis, he offers nothing but good special teams play. He's a terrible cornerback, really. But he was a 2016 captain and Pro Bowl alternate and at 29-years-old still holds some value to this roster.
Quintin Demps, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Deiondre' Hall, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Many have asked me how Harold Jones-Quartey and Deon Bush have performed with their roster spots likely on the line. I'll finally answer and tell you it hasn't been pretty. Neither of these two can cover well, or even at all. Both are relics of an older NFL where in-the-box safeties were more valued. Today they're outdated and prone to being exposed on a regular basis.
Amos also fits that description, but he's the best of the worst among that trio. The Bears will have to likely wait another year to garner another swing safety and replace Amos comfortably. For other young safeties, it's my belief that the Bears are grooming Hall to be the eventual starter next to Jackson - after Demps ages - as he's shown plenty of flash for a player transitioning from corner to safety.
Finally Houston-Carson is a special teams dynamo that you can't let go to waste. An under-appreciated young player that's stuck out during specialist periods.
Connor Barth, Pat O'Donnell, Patrick Scales
There's not much to add here regarding these three. In my mind, Barth and O'Donnell are essentially average or even mediocre for their positions at kicker and punter, respectively. Without tangible competition, they're the starters though. Scales is what he is: a long snapper.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.