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6 Bears players with most to prove in preseason

WCG’s lead draft analyst looks at some young Bears players fighting for a roster spot this preseason.

Chicago Bears (33) Vs. New England Patriots (14) At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

August is officially upon us, meaning that Chicago Bears football is just around the corner.

Granted, the closest football on the horizon is preseason action, rather than regular season competition. That said, the preseason isn’t just a chance to feed the crippling addiction we Bears fans have for football; it’s also a chance for players to prove their worth to make it onto the 53-man active roster.

Since the preseason predominantly features younger players, I wanted to look at a few Bears early in their careers who find themselves on the roster bubble as training camp continues on. For one reason or another, these six players find themselves in position to make or break their chances to make the team once the regular season kicks in.

WR Velus Jones Jr.

It feels weird to put a player who was a third-round pick just one year ago as a roster bubble candidate. That’s the situation the Bears have with Jones, however.

There’s no denying Jones is an electric athlete with a speed-power value that could project him as a valuable gadget piece at the next level. The problem has come through his lack of refinement as a route runner, his issues with drops in training camp, and the fact he had 3 fumbles compared to just 16 offensive touches in 2022.

Jones feels like he should be able to make the team as a backup, but fourth-round rookie Tyler Scott seems to have passed him up on the depth chart. That sees VJJ competing with the likes of Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis and Nsimba Webster for a roster spot. It’s probably not super likely the former Tennessee wide receiver gets cut, but the chances aren’t exactly zero.

CB Kindle Vildor

Vildor has started 21 games in the last two seasons, but there’s a realistic chance he doesn’t make the team in 2023.

The addition of second-round pick Tyrique Stevenson presumably pushes Vildor out of Chicago’s starting lineup, while fifth-rounder Terell Smith has found himself taking considerable reps as a starter in training camp. Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon’s roster spots are guarantees, leaving a competition for what will likely be the final two spots they have at cornerback.

Jaylon Jones showed flashes as an undrafted free agent last year, Josh Blackwell has better slot and special teams value, and Michael Ojemudia still has that third-round pedigree from the same draft class as Vildor. Though it seems likely he makes the team, there’s a real chance Vildor doesn’t crack the 53.

DT Travis Bell

The lone 2023 draft pick on this list, Bell finds himself in a tough spot to crack the Week 1 roster as things stand right now.

Fellow seventh-round pick Kendall Williamson benefits from weak depth alongside him at safety, and the rest of Chicago’s 8 other draft picks seem like locks to make the team barring injury. The Bears don’t have a proven star or even above-average starter at defensive tackle, but they have a handful of solid backup types who have been in the league a bit.

Assuming Andrew Billings and Justin Jones make the team, they join draft picks Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens on the roster. That leaves Bell, a seventh-round rookie from the FCS, competing for a final roster spot with Andrew Brown, Bravvion Roy and Jalyn Holmes. Bell comes highly regarded by Bears general manager Ryan Poles, but unless he tears it up in the preseason, a practice squad spot may be more likely for him in Year 1.

RB Trestan Ebner

In a Bears ground game that led the NFL in both rushing yards and yards per carry, Ebner managed to average just 2.3 yards per carry last year.

It’s not realistic to have sky-high expectations for a sixth-round rookie right out of the gate, but Ebner struggled in a way that no other running back on the Bears’ roster did. The competition is more fierce this year, too, as the three-headed monster of Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson all project higher than him on the depth chart. That’s not even factoring in Travis Homer, who brings more experience and proven value as both a pass protector and on special teams at the NFL level.

Ebner was a dynamic athlete at Baylor who looked like he could carve out a niche for himself as a change-of-pace backup in the pros, and there’s still a shot he becomes that guy eventually. That said, Chicago’s backfield could be too crowded for him to crack the active roster again this year.

OL Alex Leatherwood

Leatherwood was the Bears’ prized addition off waivers after final roster cuts happened around the league last year, but he only ended up playing in 4 games in 2022.

The Raiders’ 2021 first-round pick has guard-tackle versatility and has an unparalleled pedigree when you compare him to Chicago’s other backup offensive linemen, but he didn’t exactly stand out as an upgrade when he subbed in for the team’s incumbent starters, who weren’t exactly great to begin with.

Leatherwood is still just 24 years old, and the physical upside is still there for him to develop into something better down the line, so it seems pretty likely he makes the team at this point. That said, there wasn’t much he showed last year separating him from the other backups up front, so the Bears could cut their losses if he other players outperform him in the preseason.

C Doug Kramer

One of the Bears’ sixth-round picks from 2022, Kramer missed his rookie campaign due to a Lisfranc injury. Now, it seems like he might not end up taking a regular-season snap for the team that drafted him.

That’s a brutal reality to face, but the odds are against Kramer to make the team this year. He doesn’t have collegiate experience as a guard, and that lack of positional versatility can be a killer when it comes to a backup offensive lineman’s chance to make a roster. Cody Whitehair has the starting center gig on lock, and both Lucas Patrick and Ja’Tyre Carter can play both guard and center, giving them an edge in that regard over the former Illinois starter.

Kramer has some solid collegiate tape to his name, but the preseason will be very important for him if he is to make the Bears’ 53-man roster.