The Chicago Bears travel to Cleveland today to play the Browns tomorrow in the final tune-up for the regular season. Many feel that there are still roster spots up for grabs depending on how certain players perform. My experience tells me that most decisions have already been made, and the only thing that will change is if an injury occurs. That said, here are some thoughts and questions I have going into the game.
Will the Bears Claim or Trade for any Players?
Often when a new regime takes over a poor football team, the front office takes advantage of their high waiver priority to claim some players that they feel are better than what they currently have.
The key phrase here is “better than they currently have.” In the fan's view, many of these names will sound exciting, and if the Bears don’t claim them, they will complain. The Bears coaching staff and front office have a good idea of what each player on the roster brings to the table regarding skill-set. Some positions, like defensive line or offensive line, are easier to bring in a new player and get him up to speed regarding his responsibilities in the Bears scheme. Other positions, such as wide receiver, it’s more difficult. It generally takes a veteran wide receiver a couple of weeks to feel comfortable in a new system and be able to produce.
I feel the Bears are fairly happy with their current wide receiver corps. Fans don’t know the talent level of these players because they have seen little of them in the pre-season, but the coaches have been with them for the last four weeks of practice and the entire off-season program.
The way I see it, the Bears won’t claim a receiver unless some of the injured receivers are not going to be ready to play for a while. Why? We don’t have the real answer, as the Bears don’t have to really say what an injury is or how long a player will be out until the week leading up to the first game. As I said above, at the receiver position, it takes a few weeks for a new player to be comfortable in the new system. That means he will be of no use to the Bears in the opener and perhaps the second game. By that time, the injured players may be ready to go.
Where I will change my opinion is if a player who is familiar with the Bears' current system becomes available. That type of player could be brought in and be ready to play after just a couple practices.
What will be interesting is to see what players, if any will be placed on injured reserve next week. Remember this; if the player is placed on IR during the cut to 53, he is out for the season. In order for a player to come back in as little as four games, he has to be placed on injured reserve AFTER the team cuts the roster to 53. Because we don’t know the severity of these injuries, candidates for IR could be wide receivers N’Keal Harry and Byron Pringle and corners Thomas Graham and Tavon Young. Some of these players may be ready to practice next week, but we are left guessing because the Bears don’t have to disclose any of this information.
The Offensive Line
Based purely on how they have lined up in practice, I feel Chicago’s starting offensive line is set. For the last two weeks, the line left to right has been Braxton Jones, Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher, Teven Jenkins, and Larry Borom. The only possible change would be at center if Lucas Patrick is ready to go. If his thumb injury was to his left hand, there would be no question that he would be playing but being it’s the right thumb, we won’t know anything until he actually returns to practice.
The pre-season has shown us that Sam Mustipher was vastly improved over a year ago. In my mind, the main reason is he’s about 20 pounds lighter than he was last season. The Bears previous line coach Juan Castillo wanted his linemen huge, and with some, it took away their movement skills because they were too heavy for their frame. Mustipher was over 330 a year ago, and now he is about 310 and looks like an entirely different player. If Sam has to “hold the fort” for a few games, if Patrick isn’t ready, I have no doubt he will do a good job!
The biggest story of the OLine this camp has been Teven Jenkins. He has gone from a second-team right tackle to a third-team right tackle to a starting guard in less than a month. There were rumors that he would be traded. The way it looks now is those trade rumors were either false or perhaps used as a motivational ploy to get Jenkins to play to his talent level. After watching him last week versus Seattle, it is clear that he may be one of or perhaps the most “talented” offensive linemen the Bears have. He needs to get comfortable with playing guard. In watching his play, I saw just one missed assignment, and that was questionable if it actually was a miss.
When Jenkins met with the media yesterday, there was a noticeable change in his demeanor from his initial meeting a few weeks ago. Three weeks ago, he acted as if he wanted no part of having to take questions from the media, Yesterday, he was far more at ease and even jovial.
How many Quarterbacks will be on the 53?
Around the League, it varies as to the number of quarterbacks a team carries on the active roster. Some want three, while others prefer two, with the third on the practice squad. My thinking is the Bears will keep two (Justin Fields and Trevor Siemian) on the active roster. Nate Peterman will be signed to the practice squad. Because Peterman is a vested vet, he does not have to go through the waiver process, so the Bears can basically get a deal done with him for the practice squad before they actually release him.
Until a few years ago, a six-year vet like Peterman could not be placed on the practice squad, but with the rule change, clubs can have several veterans on the practice squad. That makes cutting the roster down much easier.
Will the Bears show much tomorrow night?
Coach Eberflus stated that most starters will play about a half, except for a few veteran players. Personally, I feel this is a good idea, as the starters need as many game reps as possible. With two weeks to prepare for the opener, there is not as much worry about injuries.
The Bears have played a very simple offense and defense in the first two games. They have shown the 49ers little in which to use for the opener. Even though there will be a “game plan” for tomorrow night, it will still be very elementary compared to what they will do in two weeks. This game is more about the starting unit getting real game reps than showing any offensive or defensive scheme.