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Bears mailbag: Upcoming roster decisions, UDFA predictions, the kicking situation and much more

The Windy City Gridiron Mailbag is back and we are hitting the ground running with the opening weekend of Training Camp. It’s a jam-packed addition with plenty of questions to answer.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Minicamp Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Chicago Bears-Minicamp Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Football season is almost back in full swing as all 32 NFL teams will officially report for Training Camp by the end of the week. That means the Chicago Bears will be back in action, looking to win back-to-back division titles for the first time since 2005-2006.

While the top end of the roster appears to be pretty well set, barring injury, there’s still plenty of questions to answer and plenty to watch for in the coming weeks. For more on this week’s packed mailbag, let’s dive right in.

On Sunday, general manager Ryan Pace announced that new safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, along with two other players would start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Any time a top-end player isn’t healthy enough to dive right into the happenings of practice, there will always be concern.

With that being said, Pace said that he expect it to be short-lived and that they aren’t concerned about anything long-term. It sounded like a minor knee sprain that happened in the final Mini Camp of the off-season, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned. This is no longer the John Fox era and on top of that, they played the same cautious approach last year with Aaron Lynch after his Day 1 hamstring issue.

The goal has and always will be Week 1. Even with Lynch last year, he practiced the first day of camp, then did nothing until Week 1 and was out there starting. Until there’s a reason to worry about Clinton-Dix, I wouldn’t give it much thought.

Stephen Denmark is one of the more interesting players for me to monitor during both camp and the preseason. Not only was he the Bears’ final pick in April’s draft, but his size and overall testing numbers are very intriguing. In an ideal situation, I think he’s a practice squad candidate. He’s still raw at the corner position and came from a very low level of competition.

Problem is, this isn’t an ideal situation. The Bears are not only really damn good, but they have a very deep roster. This usually leads to worse teams poaching cuts and taking the bullet on having “green” players committed to their 53-man rosters. In the case of Denmark, I think there’s some cause for concern with exactly that. Special teams will be an added bonus, but it may come down between him and someone like a DeAndre Houston-Carson making the team as the final defensive back. In that case, they must choose between a more established player in the now, versus someone who has a higher ceiling moving forward, but may not contribute much in Year 1. My guess as of now is that they find a way to keep him on the final roster, even if it means overloading at defensive back.

My money is on Matt Betts. Not only does he seem to be a fan favorite, but he has enough in the “good” department where he could make things interesting during camp. Outside of their top three edge rushers, things are wide open in that department.

Betts just seems like the Tanner Gentry or Daniel Braverman hero we all don’t deserve, but that we need.

The Bears had one helluva undrafted haul after this past draft. There’s a group of names headlined by Emanuel Hall, Alex Bars and Dax Raymond. I think all three of these players have a good chance to make it, and another player I really like is edge rusher Chuck Harris out of Buffalo.

In terms of who I think has the best chance to make the Week 1 roster? Raymond because tight end is totally up in the air for that final spot or two. If they keep four, I think it comes down between him and Bradley Sowell. If they opt to keep five, I think both make it and the mystery of the situation will be gone. Bars and Hall also have a good chance, but there’s plenty more competition at those positions and will require big camps and preseasons.

As head coach Matt Nagy highlighted in Sunday’s presser, there won’t be a lead running back in this offense. At least not in the immediate future. Between Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis and rookie David Montgomery, Nagy will have to get creative in how to use them.

My guess is that Cohen plays a very similar role to last year and spends more of his time as an overall weapon that a traditional running back. Then you have Davis and Montgomery, whom the Bears both love. Davis is the veteran and likely to see the first real crack, but don’t sleep on Montgomery. They didn’t trade up with limited resources to take him for him to see only 10-15 snaps per game.

I think ultimately the balance will come down to a week-by-week basis. Who matches up the best and ultimately, can one of these two separate themselves from the rest? My gut is that Montgomery is the “lead” back by the end of the year, but even then, it won’t be in a traditional sense where he’s seeing (85%) of snaps and carrying it 20-25 times per game. Also, expect to see Cordarrelle Patterson taking a few snaps every once in a while at the position as well.

Since Hall wasn’t on the PUP list, that takes away one avenue of “stashing” him. It’s possible he could come down with another injury over the next month and they’ll find a way to red-shirt him, but if he’s healthy, it’s going to be hard to do.

Hall, much like Denmark and maybe even Bars, are going to be players that will be difficult to sneak over to the practice squad. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but because the Bears are much better and have a stacked roster, there will be many teams will an eye on their cuts late next month.

Pace is very calculated, so I have no doubt he has a plan in place, but how they weigh the immediate future’s impact with those players that may be something in the next year or two, will be interesting to monitor. Hall tops that list of players that they will have a difficult decisions with in the next month or so.

Outside of the kicking position, I’m not sure I’m overly concerned with any position, but there are depth questions that may take some time to play out. Here’s how I would rank them.

  1. Offensive Line
  2. Safety
  3. Outside Linebacker

There’s not many, but quality depth is hard to find at these positions. Swing tackle and overall depth on the offensive line is questionable, but it is for most teams. Safety is more about quality depth and outside linebacker comes down to that final spot or two on the depth chart.

All in all, this team is in very good shape, barring major injury.

Duke Shelley. No question in my mind that he’s the one rookie on this team that has the most to gain over the next year or two. Not only is he at a position where he could win the job sooner or later (mid year or 2020), but he has a high ceiling.

Thanks to his injury and the fact he played defense in the Big 12, he flew more under the radar than he should. But if you watch what he did at Kansas State, it was vastly impressive. He was consistently matched up outside against very tall receivers. More often than not, he won those battles. He’s aggressive and has a good nose for the ball. He’s my real “sleeper” in 2019 as someone who could end up having a bigger impact than expected when all is said and done.

My confidence is low with the current kicking situation. In terms of Eddy Pineiro or Elliot Fry, I don’t think either one is ultimately going to be the answer. The uncertainty this far into the process is unsettling. There’s no doubt about that.

The good news? They’ll have a few options once cut season rolls around at the end of August. Some of those possibilities could include the loser of the Browns competition, Matt Gay in Tampa Bay, or even a trade candidate like Kaare Vedvik from Baltimore, who will be traded if he has another strong preseason.

There’s also still veterans like Matt Bryant or Kai Forbath that could be called and added at a moment’s notice.

It’s not an ideal situation, but there’s still time to get this figured out and that’s what we have to remember.

I’ll end this on a surprise cut note. Again and I hate to sound like a broken record, but I feel like a lot of this roster is all but set. I don’t think we are going to see that Mike Daniels type cut like Packers fans experienced on Wednesday.

With that in mind, here are two players that I could see being cut or dealt:

  • LB Nick Kwiatkoski
  • DL Jonathan Bullard

Both players are in the last years of their rookie deals and neither are expected to play prominent roles. Cutting Kwiatkoski would be a riskier move, but if they value names like Josh Woods and Kevin Pierre-Louis over him, it could come down to a numbers game. Plus they could save around $2 million by cutting him.

Bullard is likely the final defensive lineman to make the roster, but would they really miss him if they opted for a younger player? I’m not so sure they would. I don’t expect anything huge, but those are two names that come to mind when talking about surprise cuts.