The spring season of warmer temperatures and allergies means the Bears begin preseason training in earnest soon. The highly anticipated debut of Matt Nagy as head coach is several months away, but there is much preparation to do. Every acquisition period of the off-season is over, so it’s time to polish up. From here on out, it’s all uphill.
This weekend, the Bears and Nagy host their 2018 rookie class for an introductory mini camp at Halas Hall. Then, Chicago’s veterans get in on the fun starting next Tuesday for organized team activities. Come June 7th, the summer “break” finally arrives before the organization makes it’s return to Bourbonnais on July 19th for training camp. One distance marker after another.
Once these summer milestones have been checked off, we’ll have a clear idea of who is going to play for the Bears in 2018 and how they’re regarded,
Before the fun kicks off, here’s a prognostication of how Chicago’s final roster shakes out come September. This is a fortune telling after every Bears’ competition has taken place.
- Mitchell Trubisky
- Chase Daniel
This projection must lead with the man who needs to become a superstar and can take the Bears to the top. That person is Trubisky, who for the first time, has the full backing of the franchise after last year’s preseason Mike Glennon debacle. He’s Chicago’s No. 1 quarterback in 2018 and is ideally in this same position for a decade and more.
For now, Trubisky’s backup is the well-compensated veteran in Daniel. Previously, the Bears carried three passers but that was with mentor Mark Sanchez. Daniel is the only other quarterback the Bears need carry on the 2018 active roster with Trubisky in the fold. Because if anything happens to the face of the franchise: this team isn’t going anywhere.
- Jordan Howard
- Tarik Cohen
- Benny Cunningham
- Ryan Nall (2018 undrafted free agent)
The Bears have carried at least four running backs in each of the last two seasons. While that was with the archaic John Fox and Dowell Loggains, don’t anticipate that drastically changing under Nagy. Chicago needs a stable of runners behind Trubisky for both offensive versatility and insurance.
Going into this season, Howard is going to once again feature prominently in the Bears’ offense. He’s led the team in rushing the last two seasons and should have a field day away from the eight-man boxes and stacked defenses once geared to stop him in a more diversified offense. At least for now, Chicago isn’t trading their workhorse.
Like last year, the electric Cohen is going to be Howard’s backup. Unlike last year, he should have much a more exciting role as a runner and receiver that possibly receives close to as many snaps as Howard, but in a different manner. Cunningham is the Bears’ third platoon man. As a last touch, the undrafted free agent and former Oregon State Beaver in Nall fills in the “fullback” role, given his skill set as a bruiser and receiver.
- Allen Robinson
- Anthony Miller
- Taylor Gabriel
- Kevin White
- Bennie Fowler
- Joshua Bellamy
- Javon Wims
To close 2017, the Bears rolled into Minnesota with Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman, Markus Wheaton, and Bellamy. A sad of state affairs that four months quickly transformed.
For one, you don’t pay a receiver $14 million per year in free agency if you don’t expect him to be the best friend of your young quarterback. Robinson is slowly but surely recovering from an ACL injury suffered last September, but is the No. 1 for Trubisky and company. He will receive every jump ball, vertical throw downfield, and opportunity first in the confines of this offensive resurgence.
Following him, the competitive Miller and dynamic Gabriel follow in prioritization of targets for Chicago. Miller profiles mainly as a slot, but there are no true positional receiver designations in Nagy’s offense. Meaning, he’ll receive a good deal of work as a rookie and ideal complement to Robinson.
The bottom of the depth chart shows the last chance of White. The only reason he’s going to be on the Bears’ roster is his rookie first round contract from 2015. With the variety of injury issues White’s gone through, he’s nothing more than a No. 4 option. Meanwhile, special team aces in Fowler and Bellamy (gasp!) are solid as Chicago’s last ditch options, and get the pole position over 2018 seventh rounder Wims.
- Trey Burton
- Adam Shaheen
- Dion Sims
Connecting back to the receivers, the Bears carried four tight ends in 2017, which is unheard of. The logic behind that was a weak receiving corps. Seeing how Chicago could use other roster spots and has significantly upgraded their skill positions, expect a more palatable three “Y’s” and “H’s” this season.
Leading the charge is the sixth-highest paid tight end in football, Trey Burton. With the Eagles as a No. 2, Burton never caught more than 37 passes. Considering his compensation, the Bears expect him to easily eclipse those numbers as a receiver and offensive Swiss Army Knife.
Burton’s 1B will be Shaheen, who is Chicago’s red zone man and player to operate with down the seam. The Bears want offensive versatility with multiple tight end packages and Shaheen offers that gift.
Sims rounds the group out, despite his struggles last year. Chicago is still high on his abilities as a blocker and he profiles well as a No. 3 regardless of whether he’s worth his contract (he isn’t).
- Cody Whitehair
- Charles Leno Jr.
- James Daniels
- Kyle Long
- Bobby Massie
- Eric Kush
- Jordan Morgan
- Earl Watford
- Hroniss Grasu
- Bradley Sowell
Aside from Daniels’ draft selection, the Bears go into 2018 with the same starting group as last season. That means from left to right, your front five will feature Leno, Whitehair, Daniels (yes, he’ll be at center by Week 1), Long, and Massie.
To note, the Bears also have the same precariously thin tackle depth.
What’s changed since Chicago last took the field in a meaningful game is that their depth on the interior has improved. They’re more suited to play consistently well as a unit under new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand too.
A healthy Kush makes his return, Morgan has a year of seasoning under his belt, and 2015 third rounder Hroniss Grasu should have a slight rejuvenation by having improved health in tandem with working with his college coach in Mark Helfrich. The big boys are alright.
- Akiem Hicks
- Eddie Goldman
- Roy Robertson-Harris
- Jonathan Bullard
- Bilal Nichols
- John Jenkins
If the Bears had any semblance of worthy depth in 2017, Hicks doesn’t fade out in pass rushing production in the second half of the season and is voted an All-Pro. He’s the centerpiece of Chicago’s defense and should receive greater spells with balanced quality behind him. He and Eddie Goldman create a sturdy duo up front to build around.
Robertson-Harris takes the end slot opposite Hicks in another year of development. While Bullard and the young upside man in Nichols give Chicago the four-man defensive end rotation for relentless waves they’ve been seeking. Jenkins tops off this budding positional group for insurance purposes.
- Leonard Floyd
- Aaron Lynch
- Kylie Fitts
- Sam Acho
Since being drafted in the top-10 in 2016, Floyd’s career thus far has been up and down. When he’s locked in, he’s accumulating sacks and pressures at will. He’s effortlessly chasing around one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL in Cam Newton, and showcasing his special athleticism. When Floyd’s off, he’s unfortunately unhealthy and missing games. None of this seems to concern the Bears who are more than fine with Floyd as their No. 1 outside linebacker going forward and top edge pass rush man.
To support Floyd, “reclamation” projects in Lynch and Fitts fit the profile of what Chicago seeks in length and power on the edge. The raw talent they present should be enough for the Bears to skate by for another season at this position. The consummate professional in Acho is fine as the fourth contributor and leadership presence: provided Lynch and Fitts are up to snuff.
- Danny Trevathan
- Roquan Smith
- Nick Kwiatkoski
- Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Investing two draft picks in the first four rounds of one class likely spells the eventual end of Trevathan as soon as his contract expires after 2019. Until then, when healthy, he’s one of the NFL’s premier inside linebackers with the penchant for the big play while leading a finely tuned defensive machine.
Next to Trevathan is the future face of the Bears’ defense in Smith, who could be a 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate to properly measure his impact. 2016 fourth rounder Kwiatkoski becomes Chicago’s swing man in the middle, and the bright but untapped Iyiegbuniwe (say that three times fast) gets time to acclimate to the NFL level.
- Kyle Fuller
- Prince Amukamara
- Marcus Cooper
- Bryce Callahan
- Kevin Toliver (2018 undrafted free agent)
- Sherrick McManis
The Bears sent a message to the league and Fuller when they only took a few hours to match an offer sheet from the Packers: he is their defensive backfield star, and they believe his stellar 2017 performance wasn’t a fluke.
Given the chemistry he enjoyed with Fuller last season, the Bears brought back Amukamara to recapture that magic. He’ll comfortably be the No. 2. The rest of the group showcases a second chance for Cooper following a disappointing 2017 that went downhill after a missed field goal return gone wrong, the Bears’ No. 1 nickel corner in Callahan, and boundary depth with Toliver.
Toliver went undrafted but has the ability to stick once he learns the nuances of the NFL. Considering how thin Chicago might be at cornerback, they could use developmental prospects like him in the pipeline. Don’t expect McManis to make any appearances defensively as he’s on the Bears’ roster as their top special teamer.
- Eddie Jackson
- Adrian Amos
- Nick Orr (2018 undrafted free agent)
- DeAndre Houston-Carson
Jackson had five takeaways as a rookie in 2017: the most for a Bears’ safety since Chris Harris in 2010. It was an impressive debut for the rangy ballhawk that could’ve shined even more with experience. Jackson won’t have that issue going into his sophomore year as a professional and is on his way towards evolving into a household name.
Next to, or rather, in front of Jackson, is again Amos. Forever a Pro Football Focus darling, Amos does his job as a hybrid linebacker in the box. Thanks to Jackson’s speed, Amos can thrive in and focus on this role. Just don’t ask him to be stretched, like in pass coverage.
Behind the Bears’ first stable safety duo in a long time, is the undrafted free agent Orr. He’s a little rough around the edges, but had seven interceptions in his last two seasons at TCU. Chicago needs more playmakers on the back end and he fits that to a tee.
As the primary special teams contributor among these names, the former sixth rounder Houston-Carson gets another year as an incremental third phase piece. This comes after a solid 10 tackle and two forced fumble season in 2017.
- Cody Parkey
- Pat O’Donnell
- Patrick Scales
For two years, the Bears rolled with Connor Barth to replace Robbie Gould. For two years, Barth routinely made the easiest kicks look like endlessly difficult as he morphed into the liability he has always been in his career.
Fear not, that Bears’ kicking nightmare is over with the addition of Parkey. The Bears made Parkey the eighth-highest paid kicker in the NFL, a sure sign as any that they think he’s the answer to their recent woes. And, that Parkey is the kicker for them to jump into contention with. After making over 90 percent of his kicks in 2017, and breaking an NFL rookie scoring record with Philadelphia in 2014: who’s to blame Chicago for having faith in their new kicker?
To the stimulating punting competition, the Bears did acquire someone to push O’Donnell in undrafted free agent and former Pittsburgh Panther, Ryan Winslow. No, he won’t beat O’Donnell by the close of the preseason as “MegaPunt” gets another year as the starter.
The previously injured Scales handles all long snapping duties barring another unfortunate injury. The Bears valued him so much, they stashed him away after a torn ACL. Never underestimate the power of the long snapper.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.