By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) — It’s only March, but one of the best ways to analyze a roster at any given time is by looking at the depth chart.
Glancing at the Bears’ current depth chart (you can follow along here), you’ll see an offense that has very few holes and a defense that has plenty. Let’s go through each position group:
The Bears’ currently have two quarterbacks signed to the roster, with Jay Cutler agreeing to a long-term extension and Jerrod Johnson signing a reserve/futures contract. Johnson is not the solution as a backup, however, and the Bears will try to re-sign Josh McCown or look elsewhere.
This is a pretty full group right now, but you have to wonder if there will be a change at backup running back. Michael Bush carries a $3.85 million cap hit into 2014, $2 million of which is dead money. His production last season certainly wasn’t worth $3.85 million, but with $2 million of that already gone, the question is really whether or not Bush is worth the $1.85 million they could save by cutting him loose.
With Tony Fiammetta signing a two-year extension, he’s the fullback going forward as long as he’s healthy. Don’t be surprised to see an extra body in camp, however.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery might be the best receiving duo in the NFL, but the depth at the position is still questionable. Cutting Earl Bennett would save $2.45 million, but that would immediately bump the unproven Marquess Wilson up to the No. 3 spot with only Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and Chris Williams (more on him later) behind him. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if general manager Phil Emery ends up using a draft pick on a receiver who could also be in the mix as a kick/punt returner.
What would happen if Martellus Bennett went down with an injury? To be honest, the Bears dodged a bullet in 2013 as they were already using an offensive lineman (Eben Britton) as a tight end. They liked Dante Rosario enough to bring him back, and there is still hope that Fendi Onobun can develop into a legitimate tight end, but there will likely be more competition here for the No. 2 spot.
The starters are set, and there may not even be any big moves for backups. That’s remarkable considering the state of the offensive line this time last year. The big question here is what do the Bears think about Taylor Boggs? Can he be the heir to Roberto Garza at center or will they look to the draft to add someone?
Elsewhere, Joe Long was one of a couple under-the-radar signings the Bears made during the 2013 regular season that were really for 2014. Can he fill the Britton role?
At guard, James Brown didn’t play at all last season, but he is a capable backup at the position.
There almost certainly has to be at least two big additions here, whether through free agency or the draft. One starting spot is already open and another could be vacant if the Bears end up cutting Julius Peppers loose. The re-signing of Corey Wootton can’t be ruled out, but even if that happens, the Bears will have to make splash to find an immediate, top-end pass rusher.
You can certainly do worse than Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff as your starters, but this appears to be a great spot to use an early draft pick on an impact 3-technique to rotate in right away and groom to be your go-to inside pass rusher.
It will be interesting to see if the Bears bring back D.J. Williams, as Jon Bostic is far from proven as a starting middle linebacker. Either way, it would be smart to draft another inside linebacker to add to the mix. A healthy camp competition both inside and on the strong-side would do the Bears a lot of good. Shea McClellin’s transition at the Sam will be one of the biggest stories in Bourbonnais.
It was smart of the Bears to re-sign Kelvin Hayden, who missed all of last season with a hamstring injury. But it would be wrong to assume he’s going to be the No. 2 corner. The way I look at it, Tim Jennings is the only starter locked into the secondary right now, but he’s not necessarily a No. 1 lockdown cornerback. Free agency would be a good place to look for that type of guy, while Hayden and Isaiah Frey compete for the nickelback spot and serve as solid backups.
No position is in need of a bigger makeover than safety. Two new starters need to be added, as Chris Conte won’t be handed anything going into training camp. It’s time more money was invested into this position.
With Adam Podlesh released, Drew Butler and Tress Way are the two guys currently in position to compete for the punting job. It will be interesting to see if anyone else is added to the mix.
Will Patrick Mannelly return? If not, Brandon Hartson could take over the long snapping duties.
And now that we know Devin Hester won’t be back, who is next in line to to handle return duties? Remember that the Bears quietly signed Chris Williams off the Saints’ practice squad near the end of the regular season. He had six return touchdowns in the CFL in 2012 and is only 5-foot-8, so that appears to be his only role. Michael Ford, Eric Weems and Earl Bennett have also been in the mix in the past, but as I mentioned before, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears add someone who can double as a receiving and return weapon.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.