Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Bears for WARR
Ready to round up its extended preseason, the Chicago Bears will wrap up their exhibitions with a battle against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field tonight.
This should be another night mostly belonging to the backups except for a few exact exceptions. Roquan Smith was primary among these exceptions, seeing as the hopeful Bears starter at inside linebacker has yet to play in any game this preseason, but coach Matt Nagy ruled him out too, meaning the rookie’s anticipated debut will take place no sooner than Sept. 9th regular season opener at Green Bay.
For the most part Chicago’s injury front is mostly yielding positive news for the Bears especially when you consider last year’s injuries or the year before, there haven’t been any starters lost for the season in preseason play like in 2017 (Cam Meredith).
Ever cool and confident, Nagy has expressed to the media his belief that both Smith and Leonard Floyd have a good chance to play the Packers on opening night. Nagy also believes that tight end Adam Shaheen will avoid a trip to the injured reserve, which will be key to that position’s depth. The importance of tonight’s preseason resides mostly on the players who currently stay on the fringes of the Bears. All teams are going to have to cut their rosters down to 53 by Saturday.
In most cases teams should have nearly all those 53 spots figured, however, there may be a couple bubble guys that can impress the coaches enough to make the roster in this final scrimmage.
Mostly, this is a game for players to show off what they can do and put enough tape together to land on a roster somewhere. It’s been a long preseason for their Bears, but after tonight everything counts. Here are some things to keep an eye on for tonight’s game.
The Bears offense will look a little different tonight as projected-third stringer Tyler Bray will get the start at quarterback, but there is some uncertainty regarding Bray having a spot among the final 53.
Some teams will carry two quarterbacks while others will carry three, such a choice mostly depends on a team’s strengths and prospective depth in other positions. Every roster spot is so important and having an extra player at the most important spot that can actually play on Sundays could be huge. Of course, we know the Bears value both Bray and Chase Daniel being in the quarterback room helping the development of Mitchell Trubisky, but it will be interesting to see how Bray plays and whether that has any consequence on his roster spot.
A few more positions have battles going on, a somewhat surprising example lies in the backfield. Michael Burton is a solid player but do the Bears want a traditional fullback on the roster? Instead of Burton, the Bears could use his spot to keep a more flexible talent at running back like Ryan Nall or perhaps one of the tight ends, Daniel Brown or Ben Braunecker, could line up as a direct blocker from time to time.
Nall has had a good camp and preseason, he is a big guy that has good movement and looks like a fullback but with running back skills. It is likely the Bears will try to put him on the practice squad, but he could be one of those bubble players the coaches are still considering.
There is also a fierce competition for the eighth offensive lineman spot. The Bears will have at least seven lineman (Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, Bobby Massie, Eric Kush, Charles Leno Jr., James Daniels and Bradley Sowell), there will be a decision to make to decide if they want another lineman. Rashaad Coward is an interesting prospect that was a former defensive lineman turned tackle, he has played well in camp and preseason but he is still raw. Other options exist in draft picks Hroniss Grasu and Jordan Morgan, but they seem to be losing momentum in comparison to Coward.
On defense a group to keep an eye on on defense is the linebacker position, featuring Danny Trevathan, Smith and Nick Kwiatkoski on the inside and Floyd and Sam Acho on the outside, all locks for the roster. Short of being absolute locks but still pretty safe are Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts and Joel Iyiegbuniwe, which would make four inside backers and four outside linebackers.
Last year the Bears carried four at each position, so they may have their lineup set, but its very possible that the Bears keep an extra outside linebacker like Aaron Lynch or Kasim Edebali if the Bears aren’t comfortable with Lynch’s ability to stay healthy. As for the inside linebackers John Timu and Jonathan Anderson are likely on the bubble.
With a new coach and a new outlook, this preseason and training camp has been far different than what we have seen from the Bears in the last few years. The Bears have opted for more player rest and protection by not playing the starters all that much. People will debate if all the rest was a mistake, especially if the Bears struggle out of the gate, but it is possible that Chicago may have one of its best starts in years due to having all their projected starters ready to go.
It will be interesting to see the final roster and how it will reflect what the coaches value more regarding lineman vs. skill positions or vice versa. The Bears have installed their new offense, the defense is dealing with minor injuries but if they get all the guys back in time then they should be ready to go as well.
Congratulations, Bears fans, you made it through the preseason so get your fantasy drafts done and make your plans for a big time season opener on September 9th.
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