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Pre-Camp Fun: Projecting the final 2018 Chicago Bears defensive depth chart

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The first installment of my Chicago Bears’ 53-man roster projections had a total of 25 players making the roster on the offensive side of the ball. That leaves 28 spots remaining, including the three special teams players that will round out my picks.

Defensively, there will be plenty of competition at the back end of the roster. After producing top 10 statistics last season, there has been little movement among the starters, but depth will be the focus heading into the 2018 season.

From an acquisition standpoint, the Bears did the majority of their damage in the draft process. This includes four draft picks and a handful of talent within the undrafted free agent market. Contrary to previous years, it’s unlikely any undrafted players crack the final roster.

For a deeper look at the second half of the projected depth chart, it’s time to dive in.

Defensive Line (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols and John Jenkins

NFL: Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Hicks and Goldman will see the majority of snaps in both base and sub-packages. Yet, another starting caliber anchor needs to emerge for this group to take the next step.

After losing Mitch Unrein in free agency, there’s a hole that one player must fill, and the team feels comfortable they have the players on the roster to do so.

Bullard, Robertson-Harris and Nichols will all have a shot to win the final five-technique defensive end starting spot with the first chance to spell either Hicks or Goldman in sub-packages. It’s assumed that former third-round pick Bullard will get the first chance to do that.

If Bullard sputters, keep an eye on Robertson-Harris. The former undrafted free agent began to come into his own last season after spending a red-shirt rookie year on injured reserve.

Outside Linebacker (4): Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Sam Acho and Kylie Fitts

NFL: Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the edge rushing position could be the 2017 Bears’ version of the receiving group. The position is dangerously thin, with three of the four players highlighted suffering from injury concerns throughout their careers thus far.

If Floyd stays healthy, he has the chance to be a 10-sack per year player. Problem is, behind him is a lot more projections than proven results.

If healthy, Lynch is likely to get the first shot in camp to lock down the starting position opposite Floyd. It’s worth noting that he’s already had two minor leg injuries that have slowed him down in OTAs/minicamp.

Acho is a solid player that has never brought much from a pass rushing perspective during his time in Chicago, and Fitts was plagued by injuries his entire collegiate career.

Keep an eye on both Isaiah Irving — Who impressed the coaching staff in May — and newly signed Kasim Edebali. Both could push for a final spot, which could force Fangio to carry five edge rushers into week one.

Inside Linebacker (5): Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe and John Timu

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Currently I have the Bears taking nine total linebackers into the start of the season. With this projection, this would equate to a fifth player inside.

After spending the eighth overall pick on Smith, it would be a bad thing if the speedster from Georgia wasn’t starting week one alongside Trevathan. That that doesn’t mean Kwiatkoski won’t carve out some sort of role though. Think Christian Jones the previous two seasons when guessing what he might be in 2018.

The Bears made a surprising fourth-round selection on Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe. This means he’s all but locked onto the roster, even if it’s simply for Special Teams and developmental purposes in year one.

If they do choose to keep five players, the final spot likely comes down to Timu and Jonathan Anderson for what feels like the 15th straight year. Timu is simply a better player even if he’s less gifted athletically, which gives him the edge.

Cornerback (6): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Marcus Cooper, Sherrick McManis and Jonathan Mincy

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

All three 2017 starters have returned on new deals, which takes the mystery out of the top end of this position, and special teams stud McManis seem like a sure bet too.

With four spots being locked down barring injury, the mystery lies within the final two spots.

On the boundary, expect Cooper, Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and possibly Rashard Fant to push for the first outside corner off the bench. Notice all but one are Undrafted Free Agents with a lot to prove over a short time, which gives the edge to Cooper.

In the slot, Callahan is locked in but the battle between Cre’Von LeBlanc and Mincy will be a fun one to monitor. Mincy was a former CFL standout that chose the Bears over multiple other teams back in late December after a workout.

Overall, there’s real upside within the final spots but none of them are proven.

Safety (4): Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in what feels like forever, safety was not addressed this off-season. After last year’s emergence from Jackson and Amos, it’s easy to see why this wasn’t a priority.

Both 2017 starters will return for another season together and barring injury, this could be a duo that roams the back-end of the secondary for the foreseeable future. Creating turnovers and game changing plays will be expected, but this is a young, ascending pair.

Depth is somewhat of a question heading into the season but reports coming out of OTAs are that Bush has impressed the coaching staff. If that holds true, he appears to be the front-runner as the first man off the bench. Houston-Carson is a special teams ace that could see snaps at a third safety or even in the in the slot. He’ll likely compete with Deiondre Hall for the final spot.

Special Teams (3): K Cody Parkey, P Patrick O’Donnell and LS Patrick Scales

NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Since the departure of Robbie Gould at the start of the Pace era, the kicking position has been problematic, to say the least.

Last year alone, they went through three separate place kickers, which is explains the team’s aggressive pursuit of Parkey. With the former Dolphin locked up for the next four years, the hope is that there will finally be some stability at the position.

At punter, O’Donnell has improved each year in the league but it appears the new coaching staff isn’t quite sold on him yet, hence the one-year prove it deal. He does have competition in the way of undrafted free agent Ryan Winslow, but it’ll be an uphill climb for the former Pittsburgh leg if he plans to make the team.

Defensive Depth Chart: (25)

DE Hicks/Nichols

NT Goldman/Jenkins

DE Bullard/Robertson-Harris

OLB Floyd/Fitts

ILB Trevathan/Iyiebuniwe/Timu

ILB Smith/Kwiatkoski

OLB Lynch/Acho

CB Fuller/Cooper

SS Amos/Bush

FS Jackson/Houston-Carson

CB Amukamara/McManis

NB Callahan/Mincy

Special Teams: (3)

K Parkey

P O’Donnell

LS Scales