With the final preseason game against the Browns the last remaining hurdle, there are current Bears’ players who will be former Bears’ players by Friday’s last roster cut-down. What does or doesn’t happen in Cleveland may determine who Lovie Smith and his coaching staff decide to keep although a lot of those decisions have already been made and some additional subtraction may occur in order to select personnel cut by other teams.
A look at what’s left to decide for the 2012 Chicago Bears roster:
- No. 3 Quarterback (as in, who holds the clipboard for Cutler and Campbell). Is it already a fait accompli that Josh McCown is kept as the third string QB? Rookie Matt Blanchard was cut earlier, so apparently McCown, who was added late last season because he knew Mike Martz offense better than the average ex-QB on the street appears secure. But if it comes down to playing McCown at some point, the Bears are in trouble.
- No. 3 Running Back. Kahlil Bell was thought to be insurance for Matt Forte and Michael Bush until management asked him to take a cut from his new $1.25M deal down to about $750K or so. Bell declined, wasn’t claimed by another team on waivers and can make his own deal now with another team. So, it’s down to Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker, with Booker’s kick-off return ability giving him a slight edge over his younger competitor.
- No. 6 Wide Receiver. The receiving corps will be Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Eric Weems and…either veteran retread Rashied Davis or second year man Dane Sanzenbacher. Davis, at 34, doesn’t appear to have much left, even on special teams, so, one suspects, youth wins out here.
- No. 3 Tight End. Starting TE Kellen Davis looks good coming off the bus as a football player, but hasn’t looked like either the blocker or pass receiver who merits a #1 job. But because his competition is Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams and rookie Evan Rodriguez, he starts for now, although Adams looks like the best of this bunch until Rodriguez learns to block a little. Veteran Spaeth is expendable.
- O-Line Depth. If J’Marcus Webb is still playing during the 4th quarter against Cleveland, then Chris Williams either replaces him at starting left OT or is kept as insurance. But Williams might be too expensive as a back-up and Lance Louis can always slot in from guard to tackle. A bit risky to keep rookie tackle James Brown whom the coaches like as a project. Surprise cuts and potential waiver pick-ups could happen for an offensive line which will keep sports talkers yakking all year.
- D-Line Depth. Former Northwestern star DE Corey Wootton is like TE Davis: looks good with his shirt off, but disappoints when it really counts. He’ll probably stick around however, as rookie Shea McClellin still has a learning curve. Stephen Paea’s bad ankle has messed up coach Rod Marinelli’s rotation at tackle where starting DE Izzy Adonije is likely to be moved inside on third downs. Brian Price was a training camp pick-up from Tampa Bay. There might be another waiver acquisition for the defensive line, especially if Paea isn’t ready for the Colts’ game.
- Linebackers. Brian Urlacher’s knee injury was the biggest mystery story from this year’s training camp and it remains so right up until kick-off for the season opener at Soldier Field on September 9th. Veteran Blake Costanzo has looked better than Nick Roach as Urlacher’s back-up and J.T. Thomas is being groomed for the post Urlacher/Lance Briggs future. More shopping the waiver wires in this area, too.
- Secondary. Charles Tillman is probably the best corner the Bears have ever had in franchise history, but Peanut was thoroughly roasted in the Giants game and fans are worried his best playing days are done. That would be a disaster and one game, barring injury, does not a career end. Veteran Kelvin Hayden was added to back-up starters Tillman and Tim Jennings and rookie Isaiah Frey benefits from fellow rookie Brandon Hardin’s IR status. Starting safety Chris Conte has a bad shoulder which has kept him out and the only certainty is that next spring, the Bears will no doubt draft yet another safety.
- Kickers and Special Teams. Dave Toub is the Bears’ best coach and his kick-off and punt return/coverage group is always ready to answer the bell when it counts despite the pre-season mix-ups. Kicker Robbie Gould is among the league’s best, but there is concern that punter Adam Podlesh’s hip could keep him out longer than expected and rookie Ryan Quigley is already facing competition this week as the back-up from late camp invitees.