With Training Camp and the Preseason completed, the next event on the agenda is to cut the roster to 53 players by 3:00 p.m. (CT) this afternoon. Some like to call today the “final” cutdown, but realistically it’s far from that. What the roster looks like on Sunday, September 11th, will be different than it looks at 3:00 this afternoon.
There very well could be waiver claims, players placed on injured reserve, and trades, the purpose of which is to make the roster stronger for the regular season than it is right now. By the end of the week, we will know what this roster will look like. In fact, even after the opening game, the roster could change some.
In the NFL, a vested veteran (four or more accrued seasons) has his salary guaranteed for the entire season if he is on an opening day roster. If a veteran signs with a club after the opening game, his salary is now week to week. This can make a huge difference for clubs with tight cap situations.
The Bears have a good cap situation going into the season with about $16 Million in cap space. That will change some today depending on who gets released. One thing we know is that Ryan Poles has been very prudent this year when it comes to spending money. This is because I honestly feel he wants to know exactly what kind of team he has. Once he gets those answers, the contractual situation with some players could change via extensions.
The National Media feels the Bears are the worst team in football because they have the weakest roster. I feel that is a naïve narrative in that they are just looking at names, and in reality, they don’t know much about the players. After training camp and three preseason games, this Chicago Bears team is much better than many in the National Media care to believe.
What I have seen in the preseason is a group of hungry players who consistently play hard. One of the most impressive areas we have seen is how disciplined this team is. In the three preseason games, the Bears were penalized a total of just 13 penalties. That is a remarkable feat because preseason games are the most heavily penalized games in a season. That disciplined play is a tribute to the coaching staff as they have taught the players to pay attention to detail.
Over the last four years, we saw that the Bears had plenty of moments where they looked like they were just coasting, not giving 100% effort on every play. This year’s team is far different in that they play with an aggressive attitude, whether offense or defense. The reason for that? When grading practice or games, this new coaching staff grades players with “loafs” if the coach feels he didn’t play hard snap to whistle. When a player is graded with a “loaf,” he is called out in meetings by the coaching staff. This has created a sense of pride among the players as they don’t want to be singled out. This change in attitude is very obvious when watching game tape.
One area on defense that I feel has dramatically improved is the secondary. Last year as a whole, the secondary played poorly. Talented players were not playing up to their talent level. This summer, be it with the starters or backups, the coverage is much better, they aren’t giving up big plays, and they are playing with an aggressiveness we haven’t seen since Lovie Smith was the Head Coach.
An area that has been much maligned in the off-season but showing improvement is the offensive line. This group is still a work in progress as the starting five haven’t played together yet. Center Lucas Patrick broke his right thumb early in camp and has not practiced since. If the injury was to his left thumb, he could have played through it, but since he snaps with his right hand, the injury has to be healed before he can return to the lineup. It will take a few games for the group to gel when that happens.
During the preseason the line showed improved play on a weekly basis. Sam Mustipher, who is filling in for Patrick at center, has played his best football since becoming a Bear. Once Patrick is back, Mustipher will be a valuable reserve because he has the ability to play both guard and center.
What position group is the strongest and deepest on this team? Without question, it’s the running back group. This group has outstanding talent, speed, and depth as well as the skillset to complement each other.
David Montgomery is the leader, and he is one of the most underrated running backs in the League. He runs with power, plays faster than his timed speed, and has great instincts. Kahlil Herbert has the speed to break long runs, can be tough inside or out, and is a reliable receiver. Rookie Tristan Ebner, with his explosiveness, could end up being a bigger version of Tarik Cohen. Watching his college tape, I knew he was excellent in space, but he has shown that his ability to run between the tackles is much better than I gave him credit for.
In most years a player like Darrynton Evans would be a lock to make the 53, but his status will be determined by whether or not the Bears keep four or five running backs on the roster. Fullback Khari Blasingame is a lock due to his ability as both a run and pass blocker.
With quarterback Justin Fields being in just his second season and new to the offensive system, the running game will be an important part of the offense's success. If the run game is strong, that opens up the play action pass game and in turn, helps Fields.
I am always an optimist, and while I don’t feel this Bears team is quite ready to challenge for a Playoff spot, I do feel they can win eight or nine games. If that happens, they will have laid the foundation for success in another year when Poles and company can find more talent in the Draft and Free Agency.
Let the National Media have their say, but this team will surprise people and will be fun to watch