Here are the Bears Players and Position Groups With the Most on the Line on Thursday

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Here are the Bears Players and Position Groups With the Most on the Line on Thursday

Chicago Bears

The end of the preseason is upon us, but there are still jobs to be won before the Chicago Bears and the NFL’s other 31 teams cut their rosters down from 90 to 53. Starters won’t figure into tonight’s exhibition against the Buffalo Bills, which opens up playing time for dozens of players on the bottom half of the preseason roster to play their way onto the team.

Before we jump into Thursday’s preseason finale, let’s highlight the players and position groups playing for something more tonight.

RUNNING BACK

The running back position is one where the Bears are loaded at the top with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Benny Cunningham, but also have a legitimate competition brewing for the fourth spot on the depth chart. Taquan Mizzell, Ryan Nall, and Knile Davis could each stake their claim for inclusion on the 53-man season-opening roster with a strong effort against the Bills.

Chicago used their spot high atop the waiver wire to claim Mizzell after he was released by the Baltimore Ravens upon the conclusion of training camp in 2017. Mizzell stuck with the Bears throughout the entirety of the season, has flashed some speed, and has experience as a return specialist. HOWEVER, Mizzell’s his role was limited last season as he played just two offensive snaps and eight special teams plays. He has 58 rushing yards on 25 carries, 55 receiving yards on 11 catches, and two total touchdowns during this preseason.

Nall leads the team with 144 rushing yards this season, but 69 came on the nicest run of the preseason for the Oregon State product. While others might have seen Nall as primarily a fullback, the Bears signed Nall as an undrafted free agent this spring with the idea of getting him reps as a pure running back. Nall has rewarded the Bears with a different look from the position. If Nall can also contribute as a fullback and special teams contributor, it could bode well for his future with the team. Then again, the team could opt to keep its one pure fullback, Michael Burton.

Knile Davis is a wild-card here. The Bears added Davis after its final public practice in Bourbonnais and the former Kansas City Chiefs rusher has familiarity and a grasp of the concepts of Matt Nagy’s offense. But Davis didn’t play at all in 2017 and hasn’t been a productive member of a backfield since 2014, so he probably has the most to prove out of anyone among the Bears’ group of reserve backs.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER / EDGE DEFENDER

The Bears have issues in this group, and because Khalil Mack isn’t walking through that door any time soon, the team will need to assess what it has inside the walls of Halas Hall.

Kasim Edebali was a late offseason signing who has looked like a usable pass-rusher during the preseason. Edebali can get lost in the mix because he isn’t a starter, doesn’t have the prospect draft pick pedigree of Kylie Fitts, and isn’t on a one-year “prove it” deal like Aaron Lynch, but let’s keep an eye on him tonight. Same for Fitts, Isaiah Irving, and Lynch, if he happens to suit up.

WIDE RECEIVER

Between the Hall of Fame Game breakout and his performance against the Chiefs’ first-unit defenders, rookie Javon Wims has probably done enough to secure a spot on the season-opening roster. But if the Bears were to open the season carrying six receivers, that means there is one more spot to be earned. Get pumped for a Thursday night wide receiver battle.

One ex-NFL player seems to think Josh Bellamy is due for a breakout, but if that doesn’t happen, the veteran wide receiver can always fall back on being a special teams contributor. Bellamy has been a core special teams player since the Marc Trestman era and his experience with that unit might give him a leg up.

Then again, Bennie Fowler worked with special teams assistant coach Brock Olivo in Denver last year. Perhaps Fowler has the upper-hand here.

Or maybe Marlon Brown, who caught seven touchdown passes and gained 524 yards as a rookie in 2013 is the guy the Bears want to keep on the roster. You can’t teach size, and at 6-5, 214 pounds, Brown has plenty of it.

Tanner Gentry and Demarcus Ayers are two receivers on the bubble most likely to land on the practice squad, but they’ll have their chances to put something on tape on Thursday night.

TIGHT END

Keeping five tight ends isn’t out of the question, but the number crunch could be problematic for another position group (say, wide receivers, running backs, or offensive linemen).

Not that anything that happened last year would dictate the decision-making process for the brass this year, but the 2017 Bears carried four tight ends. If the 2018 Bears followed that path, then they’re looking at Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker fighting for a spot behind Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, and Dion Sims.

Brown and Braunecker have each had their moments, but it’s most likely the Bears will choose to keep only one and try to slide the other through waivers and onto their practice squad. HOWEVER, with Shaheen’s injury status up in the air and Sims having missed preseason games due to a concussion, there is a very real possibility that the Bears will have to keep both Brown and Braunecker on the roster in order to have enough healthy bodies at the position. There is also a chance, however unlikely, that Sims is let go in a move that would save the Bears a few million dollars in salary cap space.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Rashaad Coward has taken his fair share of snaps at right tackle, but as of now, the jury is still out on the converted nose tackle. Expect to see a ton of Coward at right tackle again on Thursday so the powers that be can get an extended look at this project. Coward could ultimately land on the practice squad because of a roster squeeze at other positions, but fellow linemen such as Hroniss Grasu and Jordan Morgan could be playing for their Bears careers tonight as the find themselves firmly on the bubble.

SECONDARY

Deiondre’ Hall is going to miss the season-opener against the Packers because of a suspension. His spot on the roster was shaky until it was announced that DeAndre Houston-Carson was going to miss some regular season time with a broken arm. Hall might make the initial cut, but his role could be in jeopardy if the Bears find someone intriguing on the waiver wire.

There is a ton of competition among the Bears’ collection of young cornerbacks. Marcus Cooper Sr., Doran Grant, Kevin Toliver II, and Michael Joseph could be battling for one spot in the secondary. This is where special teams experience is key. Sherrick McManis is probably making the roster here, but the long-time special teams ace can’t play forever. (Right?)

QUARTERBACK

It’s the Tyler Bray Show starring, you guessed it, Tyler Bray.

The Bears’ third-string quarterback is scheduled to get all the reps on Thursday, and that’s a pretty big responsibility if you really think about it. On top of that, Bray is playing for himself and his own future. It’s possible that injuries that cause roster crunches at other positions could lead to the Bears squeezing out their third quarterback.

Perhaps a third signal caller is a luxury item, but Mitch Trubisky has raved about what Chase Daniel and Bray have provided him during the process of learning the system. It’s easy to envision the Bears sticking with three quarterbacks, for better or worse.



Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.