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Bears Mailbag: Roster surprises, Possible tight end solution and future decisions in the coming weeks

We’ve got another packed mailbag this week before the Bears take on the Panthers tomorrow in their first preseason bout of the season.

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

It’s finally game week Chicago Bears fans. Well, it may not be Week 1 of the regular season, but we finally have preseason football tomorrow and that should be a welcomed thing for fans of every team. For as long as this process seems, the Bears will play a total of four games over the next 28 days. That will follow a fast and furious cut down period of at least 37 players the following two days and then preparation for the team’s Week 1 matchup against the Packers.

There’s one open practice left at Bourbonnais, which just goes to show how close to the regular season we truly are. I don’t expect to see many of the tradition “starters,” but there will still be plenty to watch for over the next few weeks. Some of that we’ll cover in this week’s mailbag, so let’s get right into it.

This has been a question I’ve received quite a bit over the last few weeks. I have to admit, it’s one that doesn’t seem overly likely to me. Yes, Cordarrelle Patterson is a good-sized player. Yes, he possesses a versatile skill set. No, that does not mean he should be lined up as a tight end.

Simply put, Patterson is going to be a gimmicky player that will be featured in special roles and their primary kick returner. I don’t expect tight end to be a part of that package. He has the size, but playing tight end, regardless of what role that may be, requires a certain skill set that I don’t believe the veteran has. He’s not a great blocker and there’s many small things that go into being a tight end. I simply don’t see it, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see him lined up all over the field.

I would almost 100% guarantee that Adam Shaheen will make the final 53-man roster, barring injury. If his back continues to be an issue or he suffers another injury, he could go on Injured Reserve. But even so, I see no way the Bears cut their former second-rounder after just two accrued seasons.

Don’t get me wrong. The start of his NFL career has been frustrating, but the Bears have never been a team to give up on early picks, especially heading into his third year. Patience is key for Shaheen, even if it’s something that most fans don’t have a lot of when it comes to often-injured players like the young tight end. They are going to give him every opportunity in the world to not only earn a roster spot, but carve out a substantial role in this offense. Keep in mind, he’s one of the only players on this roster that fits the “Y” profile in head coach Matt Nagy’s offense.

I don’t expect to see him going anywhere any time soon, but especially not in 2019.

Tight end is an interesting position right now and one that warrants some concern. As of now, Trey Burton is not practicing. The team claims it’s all a part of their plan, but I don’t blame anyone for being slightly concerned at his almost week-long absence. Shaheen is another player fighting off injury with back issues, although he has been practicing the past few days.

After that, they’ve got Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell and a quartet of unproven and undrafted rookies fighting it out for possibly a final roster spot.

It’s possible that general manager Ryan Pace has certain players identified as potential cuts or even low-cost trade options. What I will remind fans is that it takes time to learn any offense, especially Nagy’s. So, even if they were to acquire some sort of new name at the position, he’s not likely to make a large impact for at least the first part of the season. The other thing to remember is that tight end is a position of need around the league, so there’s not likely to be a lot of talent that is simply cut free or on the trade block.

Keep in mind that I have not been there for any of the team’s training camp practices. With that being said, I’ve got plenty of friends and colleagues there that have been passing along information. As far as Leonard Floyd goes, he’s been present and doing his job. Usually during these types of practices, pass rushers aren’t going to stand out. I say usually because Khalil Mack is an except because he’s one of, if not the best edge rusher currently in the NFL.

Much like multiple other positions, we likely won’t know what type of year they are in for until we get into the regular season and they are playing regularly. The Bears have been very vocally, but publicly and through other sources that they love where Floyd is at. They have also said he’s had an exceptional off-season. Unfortunately, we’ve heard that same story each year since he was drafted. So that should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

Much like many other situations, including waiting for the start of the season, patience and trust in this coaching staff is going to be key. Just remember, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino was responsible for Terrell Suggs’ breakout season while in Baltimore. If he likes where Floyd is at, we might want to trust it until we see differently.

As some may know, I was pretty vocal about my displeasure with the Buster Skrine signing back in March. So far, it appears that I might have been wrong. He has had a very strong camp and appears to be a very ideal fit in defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s defense. His aggressive has worked in his favor and led to multiple play making situations.

Duke Shelley has also had a strong camp. While it’s not likely that he’ll start right out of the gate, fans can rest assured that they have quality depth at the nickel position and may have a future starter in the rookie. One thing to keep in mind- Nickelback is one of the hardest positions to learn and play as a rookie. Only time will tell how much of the field he sees, but they appear to be in good hands with Skrine for the time being.

Finally, Stephen Denmark is someone who projects more as a project than someone that will make an impact in 2019. He’s fought the injury bug so far this camp and it wouldn’t shock me if the Bears find a way to stash him on Injured Reserve. Only time will tell on that. There’s plenty of more NFL ready talent ahead of him right now, so I’d say that Denmark faces an uphill climb to even make the roster. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a future on this team, but it may not be in 2019.

I know that there’s a lot of focus on guys like Ryan Nall, Javon Wims or even Patterson moving around to a tight end type role, but I simply don’t see it.

Keep in mind that versatility doesn’t always just come from positions. For instance- The receiver position actually features three roles. The X, Z and slot positions are all considered receivers, but all three play different roles. For the Bears, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller all saw time at the separate positions. Robinson actually did a fair amount of damage out of the slot, while Gabriel played the majority of his snaps on the outside.

The same goes for running back. Yes, Tarik Cohen is labeled as such, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t take his fair share of snaps as a receiver.

There’s no real “easy” answer to your question, but Nagy has said on multiple occasions that he expects his receivers to know all three positions. He also expects his runners to be able to run, catch and block. So, Wims could play both outside and inside at receiver. David Montgomery and Mike Davis could see time in the back field and also split out wide as a receiver. These are all outside of the versatility that players like Cohen, Gabriel and Patterson will bring as well.

Long story short- I expect to see multiple players lined up in different spots. That’s just Nagy’s offense and that’s part of the creativity aspect that has him labeled as one of the brightest young offensive minds in football.

Right now, I think that at least 45 of the 53 spots are already “spoken for”, assuming injuries don’t change those plans. I’m not sure there are any true surprises that will make the roster that weren’t expected.

With that being said, my one name to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie tight end Ian Bunting. He’s had a strong start to camp and could challenge for that final tight end spot. He’s a big body and brings good versatility.

Outside of that, I’m not sure there’s a true surprise on this team outside of maybe kicker, but that would come from an outside source.

I expect all of the running backs outside of Cohen to see a fair amount of playing time during the next four games.

Montgomery and Davis will likely see early time in each of the next two to three games. It may not be a ton of time, but I’m sure they want to see what they have in both players, all while balancing the risk of injury.

Outside of that, I expect we’ll see mostly Kerrith Whyte Jr. and Nall for the second half of most games. That could actually be interesting, especially since I expect the team to keep four at the position. That would mean the final roster spot will come down between Whyte and Nall. Both will get plenty of carries and overall looks.

Let’s make one thing clear- It’s Mike Leach’s world and we are just living in it. A pure mortal like myself couldn’t come close to out-doing him in anything, belly flopping including. This man is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs.