Over the next two games, plenty of players will not only win roster spots, but starting jobs. Which means that some of these closely monitored battles of the past few weeks will find a resolution.
Saturday’s matchup will be a much better test for the team’s brand new offense. This is a game that we should see the starters play well into the second quarter before next Sunday’s “dress rehearsal” against the Kansas City Chiefs.
With the heat of roster competition ramping up and the season quickly approaching, here’s what I’ll be watching for this weekend.
For me, this is one of the most important competitions to keep an eye on during the game.
Prince Amukamara continues to work back from a groin injury, which leaves a big opportunity for the next best boundary corner. The question is, who is that player?
Marcus Cooper was absolutely horrid against the Bengals last week. Problem is, not a single player has yet to separate themselves behind him for that final boundary spot.
It’s completely possible that Bryce Callahan could slide outside in an injury situation, but the Bears would be best served on impacting one starting position and not two.
Besides Cooper, Kevin Toliver II, Michael Joseph and Doran Grant are a trio of players to keep a close eye on for that primary backup spot.
Interior Offensive Line
Last week, I noted this position as one of interest and it did not disappoint. The coaching staff has continued to make it perfectly clear that Cody Whitehair is going to be the long-term starter at the center position, but I’m still not buying it.
Against the Bengals, we saw rookie James Daniels show why he was a projected first round pick with his impressive preseason debut that lasted the majority of the game. The biggest issue with his performance? It was at center and not left guard. Head coach Matt Nagy continues to claim that was due to an injury to Hroniss Grasu, but I’m not sure I’m buying that just yet.
Where Daniels lines up with the second team will be a tall tale sign of where this staff truly envisions him.
On top of that, starting left guard Eric Kush struggled to contain Geno Atkins. That included giving up a sack and committing a holding penalty. When the team broke camp last Sunday, Nagy did say that the starting left guard spot is open for the taking. He mentioned Kush, Daniels, and veteran Earl Watford as the three players that will continue to compete for the job.
I’d expect Kush to get the start but if he struggles early, don’t be surprised if Daniels gets a look with the first team.
This is one of two starting spots left on the depth chart that are truly up for grabs.
Just one game after racking up eight sacks, the Bears pass rush was almost non-existent against the Bengals.
Normally, preseason products aren’t a cause for concern, but considering the lack of depth at the outside linebacker position, the concern is more than valid.
Isaiah Irving did not play due to a minor injury but it does appear that he’ll be good to go this weekend. Rookie Kylie Fitts looked slow and a bit lost. Veteran Kasim Edebali looked like the team’s best non-starting pass rusher, but even at that, he wasn’t overly impressive.
Nagy disclosed that veteran Aaron Lynch suffered multiple setbacks with his hamstring injury that has kept him out of practice dating back to the first day of camp, but it does appear he’s back on the road to recovery. Though, he’s still unlikely to play against the Broncos.
On the defensive line, both Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris played over three quarters and neither player did anything to separate themselves. Rookie Bilal Nichols isn’t likely to factor into a starting spot this early, but one of these three players absolutely needs to widen the gap starting Saturday night.
It’s quickly reaching a point in the preseason where a handful of players will need to make their mark. If not, the Bears will either be taking a large risk by rolling with what they have or they’ll have to get creative in adding some talent in the final week before the start of the regular season.
Pass Catching Battle
Out of all the roster battles, the receiving position is the most positive development. Whether that be the impressive depth at tight end with Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, and Dion Sims, or multiple starting options at receiver including Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller. It’s surprisingly good news.
For the most part, the starters have been figured out at both positions. Even so, there’s still a handful of roster spots that have yet to be determined and could lead to a surprise cut or two.
At one point, former seventh overall pick Kevin White was deemed a “lock” to make the roster. Now, I’m not so sure of that.
There were plenty of mixed reviews during camp practices, but in his preseason debut last Thursday, White looked like the same player who has underwhelmed in the five games he’s played the previous three years. At this point, I’d consider White’s job security questionable.
Which brings into question — Who would take his roster spot? At this point, Josh Bellamy appears to be just as consistent of a pass catcher, with more special teams value and most importantly, better availability.
Rookie Javon Wims saw plenty of time with the ones and twos, which is a big jump from seeing the majority of his time with the threes just a week ago. He’s a raw player but his size and impressive hands appear to be giving him a distinct advantage at a final roster spot.
Assuming those five players are locked in, who takes the final spot? Outside of White, Tanner Gentry, Bennie Fowler and Demarcus Ayers are players to keep an eye on, namely Ayers who has the speed and special teams value to make him more valuable.