The Three Bears list battles to watch in the preseason finale against the Browns
The Bears enter their preseason finale Saturday in Cleveland with a clear roster picture, for the most part.
Head Coach Matt Eberflus and General Manager Ryan Poles will have tough decisions to make based on the health or lack of health of certain groups of positions.
The offensive line has been an ever-changing picture during training camp, but I think this group is relatively solid going into Week 3 of the preseason.
Assuming Teven Jenkins consolidates his spot at starting right guard on Saturday, the Bears offensive line should be relatively well established heading into Week 1.
But there are three groups of positions with roster spots still up for grabs. The preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns should help us put the rest of the puzzle pieces together as the Bears head into cutback day.
Here are three positional battles to keep an eye on Saturday night in Cleveland:
Locks: Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry
On the bubble: Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis
Need help : Isaiah Coulter, Nsimba Webster, Chris Finke, Kevin Shaa
The Bears’ large receiving body has been effective for most of training camp.
Pringle has been out for two weeks with a quad injury, while Harry will likely be placed on short-term IR once the rosters are finalized. Jones made his preseason debut in Seattle against the Seahawks but hasn’t played all week. Sharpe made a promising preseason debut in Game 1, but hasn’t practiced in a week and hasn’t played in Seattle.
Of the receivers who practiced this week, only three (Mooney, St. Brown and Pettis) caught a pass in an NFL game last season. It is a problem.
The big question with the Bears is, how many receivers will they keep?
The Bears will retain the five locks listed above on the 53-player roster and will likely place Harry on IR once the rosters are finalized.
That probably leaves a spot, maybe two, for the remaining guys to fight. If healthy, Sharpe should be close to a lock for the roster. The veteran developed quick chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields, and he showed his hands with a dazzling catch against the Chiefs. However, his health is a big question mark.
Sharpe missed the start of camp while on the non-football injury list and has not participated since the pre-season opener. If he doesn’t have good health, the Bears could try to cut him, sneak him through the waivers and add him back once Harry goes on IR.
Pettis has been on the bubble all camp, but the Bears’ decision to release Dazz Newsome opens up a spot for Pettis as a punt returner and depth receiver. Like Sharpe, the Bears could try to pass Pettis by waiver if they choose not to keep seven receivers.
Coulter is the only one who could potentially make moves with a great game against the Browns. But it’s long.
Locks: Justin Jones, Robert Quinn, Trevis Gipson, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Dominique Robinson, Khyiris Tonga, Angelo Blackson
On the bubble: Mario Edwards Jr., Trevon Coley, Micah Dew-Treadway
Need help : Mike Pennel Jr., Charles Snowden, Sam Kamara
Here is another position clouded by availability.
Blackson and Edwards missed a significant portion of camp with minor ailments. I think the Bears would like Blackson to be their starting tackle if he’s deemed healthy. However, Tonga undoubtedly lobbied for that spot during the camp.
As for Edwards, he finds himself in a strange situation. During OTAs and minicamp, the Bears claimed they planned to play Edwards inside. However, he moved away during camp and now finds himself squarely on the bubble.
When healthy, Edwards is a more talented player than Coley. But Coley had a great pre-season and is healthy. Edwards’ health issues, whatever they may be, cast doubt on his place on the list.
This brings us to Dew-Treadway.
The Bears are bullish on the undrafted rookie from Minnesota. Defensive line coach Travis Smith was thrilled with Dew-Treadway’s intelligence and versatility on the defensive line. Dew-Treadway worked on his technique during camp and the Bears staff are happy with his progress.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears chose to keep Dew-Treadway because of his upside and flexibility.
If Edwards is healthy, he should be on the list. Coley got into the conversation with strong performances on game day. Dew-Treadway has embraced the HITS principle (Hugging, Intensity, Takeout, Intelligence) and has shown it to be valuable in many ways.
I would say two of the three will make the list. But the Bears could keep all three and shed light on receivers or defensive backs.
Speaking of …
Locks: Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson, Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker, Kindle Vildor, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Elijah Hicks
On the bubble: Lamar Jackson, Thomas Graham Jr., Tavon Young, Duke Shelley, Davontae Harris
Need help : Jaylon Jones, Jon Alexander, Dane Cruikshank, AJ Thomas, Greg Stroman Jr.
Health is a theme with these roster battles, and it’s a big factor in handicapping the number of defensive backs the Bears keep.
There are seven locks. Hicks might be considered a bubble guy, but he’s valuable on special teams and the Bears have high potential. He is in.
Jackson is likely also in the game due to his ability to play on special teams and fit on the outside when needed.
Nickel is where the problems arise.
Graham missed all of camp with a hamstring injury, while Young sat out with a leg issue. Based on each player’s prediction, I’d expect the Bears to keep one, with Graham having the slight advantage.
However, if both can be healthy by Week 1, it won’t be surprising to see the Bears retain both and go into the season with 10 defensive backs.
But Gordon’s ability to play the nickel could make it easier to drop Young or Graham if they’re not on track for Week 1.
As for the rest of the group, the only one I see potentially entering the conversation is Harris due to his value on special teams.
I think it will be difficult for others to break 53.
Click here to follow the Under Center podcast.
Download MyTeams today!