Hoge: Reviewing Bears’ ‘Bubble’ Performances
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By Adam Hoge-
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) And with that, the preseason is over.
The Bears’ fourth and final tuneup before the regular season came and went Thursday night and we learned just as much from those who weren’t on the field as we did those who were.
Head coach Marc Trestman said all week that most if not all of his starters wouldn’t play. What he didn’t divulge is whether or not his three promising rookies — Kyle Long, Jordan Mills and Jonathan Bostic — would.
Not only did they not play, but neither did seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson. So what does it mean? For Long, Mills and Bostic, it means that all three of them will be starting in 10 days against the Bengals. For Wilson, it’s just further confirmation that he’s making the 53-man roster and it shows that they value him a lot — more than Joe Anderson, who also figures to make the team, but played the first half Thursday night.
After the game, Trestman said Bostic would have played if D.J. Williams wasn’t hurt and the same went for Wilson, who they wanted to keep healthy with Earl Bennett still recovering from a concussion. The head coach said WIlson is “next in line” behind Bennett.
Wilson was among a handful of reserves who sat out the game in addition to the starters. Fullback Tony Fiammetta and wide receiver Eric Weems sat out the entire game, while offensive linemen James Brown and Eben Britton only played on the field goal unit (Britton was also forced to come in late with the offense when Cory Brandon got hurt). Unless there are injuries that have have not been disclosed, that’s an indication that all four of them will make the roster.
So what about the players that did play? Trestman said after the game that “there will be two or three very difficult decisions” to make. He and general manager Phil Emery will meet Friday morning to make those roster decisions and here are some of the guys they will be discussing:
QB Jordan Palmer – Palmer at least gave the Bears something to think about. If they want to keep three quarterbacks, he appears to be picking up the offense and could bring some depth. Palmer was 11-for-17 for 111 yards, including a nice back-shoulder touchdown toss to Joe Anderson.
“It says a lot about his preparation,” Trestman said. “He came in here, he dug in, he has learned a lot of the offense and spent a lot of time, on his own, trying assimilate all of it. I’m happy for him that he came out and played very efficiently for us.”
WR Joe Anderson – Anderson’s progress slowed a bit in recent weeks as he was battling a shoulder injury, but he sure looked healthy Thursday night. Anderson caught all four passes thrown his way for 64 yards and a touchdown. It would be surprising if he doesn’t make the team.
“He’s right there in the mix,” Trestman said. “There will be some tough decisions in this 53, but regardless of what happens there, he’s certainly shown he can play in this league.”
RT J’Marcus Webb – It was a rough start for Webb when he committed a false start on the Bears’ first drive of the game and it was a rough end when his guy got to the quarterback and left tackle Cory Brandon had his leg rolled up on and was carted off with an ankle injury as a result. In between those plays, however, Webb played well. The problem is, he was playing against the reserves of a team that doesn’t figure to be very good. It also makes you wonder when he knows his job is on the line and he still begins the game with a false start. The Bears always want us to remember that he’s a seventh round pick, but considering this is his fourth chance, it might be time they remember the same thing.
“To evaluate J’Marcus from the sideline wouldn’t be fair to him. We’ll take a look at the tape very early in the morning and make some decisions,” Trestman said.
TE Fendi Onobun – The reaction by Bears fans when Onobun makes this team is going to be priceless. I will say I’m less convinced than I was before Thursday night’s game, but my gut still says he makes the roster. Onobun received eight targets Thursday night because the Bears wanted to see what he could do with that many looks. During the regular season, he will primarily be playing the H-back role and won’t see nearly as many targets (Evan Rodriguez had seven total targets last season in that same role). The Bears like his potential down the road as a pass catching tight end, but it’s clear he has a long way to go. They can live with some drops, but not when they result in an interception returned for a touchdown, which happened Thursday night. As long as they believe in his blocking skills, I still think he makes the cut.
“I’m 26 years old and didn’t start playing until I was 23,” Onobun said after the game. “Just learning the process, learning the game, learning how to read defenses, learning how to run routes, it’s really different for me … Whatever happens tomorrow, I know I gave it my all.”
TE Kyle Adams – Yet another indication that Onobun will make the team is that he received much more playing time than Adams. Keep in mind that every time Onobun has dropped a pass, he’s been open, which is a positive sign regarding his route running ability. Adams would be the safer pick for this team this year, but we know Phil Emery likes athletic, versatile players, even if they’re projects, which is exactly what Onobun is.
RB Armando Allen – Ran for 39 yards on 10 carries. A 3.9 average isn’t great, but Allen did break off an 18 yard run and the blocking in front of the running backs wasn’t all that great Thursday night. The Bears know more about him than they do Ford, but that could either be an advantage or disadvantage for Allen.
RB Michael Ford – Ford had his best rushing night of the preseason with 48 yards on nine carries, including a 27-yard run he nearly broke all the way. He’s probably a better kick returner than Allen too so that could potentially give him an edge.
WR Terrence Toliver – Toliver has come on strong in the last two weeks and finished with six catches for 49 yards Thursday night while playing the whole game. He’ll probably be a victim of a lack of roster spots, but he’s definitely a practice squad candidate.
S Brandon Hardin – It was a rough night for last year’s third-round pick and that’s being kind. I’m not sure Marc Trestman would keep him if he was still coaching the Montreal Alouettes (sorry, that’s being not so kind). Basically, Hardin looked like a guy who hasn’t played football in two years. It’s hard to imagine him making the roster.
DE Aston Whiteside – After spending last year on the practice squad, Whiteside has shown some flashes, including a TFL Thursday night. The problem is that he’s undersized and it may come down to him and Washington.
DE Cornelius Washington – The sixth-round pick probably hasn’t had as good of a preseason as Whiteside, but he’s learning and has a greater upside. Gut says he makes it.
CB Demontre Hurst – The undrafted free agent was probably the best player on the defense Thursday night. He led the team with seven tackles and had an interception and a quarterback hurry on a blitz. Both he and C.J. Wilson are practice squad contenders, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Hurst makes the 53.
DT Zach Minter – Minter was only credited with one tackle, but he’ll grade out well on film. He drew a hold and a false start and was getting into the backfield a lot. He has a good chance to make the squad.
LB J.T. Thomas – Despite not practicing Wednesday because of a hamstring injury, Thomas played Thursday with his job on the line and played well. He accumulated a sack and three tackles on the night.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.