Chicago Bears football is just two days away from making its triumphant return, and the excitement is growing in ways that haven’t been seen in years.
The Bears take on the Baltimore Ravens in the annual Hall of Fame game in Thursday, August 2 at 7 p.m. CT on NBC and the NFL Network. Although it’s only a preseason game, watching the Bears step onto the field and playing competitive football again is a joy after seven months of waiting.
The preseason is always a great chance for young depth players to make a name for themselves and stake their respective claims to making the 53-man roster. Although the talent that the Bears brought in this year may result in fewer unheralded talents making the roster, it will still be interesting to see which bubble players can make the cut. Here are three players who could boost their stock significantly with a good outing against the Ravens.
RB Ryan Nall
Considering how prominent of a role both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will play in Chicago’s offense this year, odds are neither of them will play all that much in Thursday’s game. That will leave a bulk of the rushing load to be carried by Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell and undrafted free agent Ryan Nall. Cunningham’s spot on the roster is likely safe, but it’s Nall who has the most to gain from this week.
Nall has done well at training camp thus far, displaying nice vision, strength and speed for his size. The Bears will most likely carry either four running backs or three running backs and a fullback, and both of those situations benefit Nall. Not only will he see snaps as the main half back in the backfield, but he will presumably see some snaps as a fullback and as an H-back tight end, as well.
He has already proven that he’s versatile, but he can further increase his value to the Bears by excelling at those positions.
EDGE Isaiah Irving
The Bears entered training camp with a huge hole at the outside linebacker position. They enter the Hall of Fame game with an even bigger hole, as both Aaron Lynch and Kylie Fitts are nursing injuries. Although Fitts has since returned to camp and is practicing lightly after suffering an arm injury last week, he likely won’t get a heavy workload. That opens up a huge opportunity for Isaiah Irving.
Irving played in seven games last season after being promoted to the active roster in early October. Although he didn’t see much playing time on defense, he’ll have much more of an opportunity to do so this year. With Leonard Floyd and Sam Acho being the only players at full strength ahead of him on the depth chart, Irving will see his fair share of snaps on Thursday.
He isn’t a lock to make the roster, but, with a strong preseason, the odds that he does will become much higher. Look for that strong preseason to get started this week.
TE Daniel Brown
With the likes of Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Dion Sims already on the roster, the Bears would be perfectly fine from a talent perspective if they decided to carry just three tight ends on their 53-man squad. Such a grouping would leave three tight ends on the outside looking in, the most notable being Daniel Brown.
Brown played in 14 games last season and started in two of them, totaling 13 catches for 129 yards. While Shaheen and Sims will see most of their time as in-line Y tight ends, Brown will more than likely take on a similar role to Trey Burton as a U tight end. He’s an athletic tight end with good hands, and he was on the field for 42.72 percent of the Bears’ special teams snaps last year, more than any other tight end on the team.
Brown was listed behind Ben Braunecker on Chicago’s first depth chart of the year. The fourth tight end spot will likely be down to those two, if the Bears even decide to carry four on the 53-man roster. If Brown wants to stay on the team, then he will need to stand out in the preseason.
Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He is also an NFL Draft writer at USA Today SMG’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.