Hoge’s Bears Offseason Notebook No. 11: Post-Draft Depth Chart Breakdown
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By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) — With the NFL Draft behind us, the Bears’ roster is now maxed out at 90 players, which allows us to start looking at the depth of each position group.
There will still likely be some small changes here and there, but we’re at the point where cuts need to be made if there are any additions.
Let’s take a look at each position as it stands after the NFL Draft:
Starter: Jay Cutler – No questions here. Cutler will be starting Year 1 of a seven-year contract with the Bears.
Backup: Jordan Palmer or David Fales – The Bears added competition by drafting Fales out of San Jose State in the sixth round. Palmer actually worked with Fales to get him ready for the draft, and he’ll play a role in developing the rookie. One would think Palmer would still have the best chance of being the backup in Week 1 against Buffalo, but keep in mind that he has only thrown 15 more NFL passes than Fales.
Also on the roster: Jerrod Johnson – After picking up Fales in the draft, Johnson is a long shot to make the team.
How many make the team: 3. Coach Marc Trestman has said in the past he likes to carry three quarterbacks, and the Bears found out last year it’s a good idea to keep three with Cutler’s injury history. Fales will be given a chance to develop, and the Bears like Palmer in that quarterback room.
Starter: Matt Forte – The durable, dynamic back returns for his seventh season.
Backup: Ka’Deem Carey – The fact that the Bears drafted the rookie out of Arizona before addressing the safety position tells me that they like Carey a lot.
Third string: Michael Ford and Jordan Lynch – Don’t be surprised if both make the team. Lynch may be listed as a running back, but I have a feeling he’ll be used in multiple roles, lining up as a receiver also. Meanwhile, the Bears like Ford, and he’ll be factor in the return game, too.
Also on the roster: Shaun Draughn – Draughn had 59 carries with the Chiefs two years ago, but he’ll have an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster.
How many make the team: 4. You usually only keep three running backs, but Lynch is a unique athlete, and I think Trestman will find a way to use him in his offense.
Starter: Tony Fiammetta – He signed a two-year extension with the Bears and will be a part of the offense again this season.
Also on the roster: Willie Carter – Signed a reserve/futures contract after not finding a spot last year.
How many make the team: 1. Unless Fiammetta gets hurt, he’s the Bears’ fullback.
No. 1: Brandon Marshall – I’m sure you’ve heard of him.
No. 2: Alshon Jeffery – After a breakout sophomore season, Jeffery could be even better this year.
No. 3: Marquess Wilson or Domenik Hixon – The Bears are hoping Wilson jumps into the rotation in his second season, but they signed Hixon to push him.
No. 4: Josh Morgan or Josh Bellamy – Morgan’s Bears’ career got off to a rough start when he was arrested on charges of assault a week after signing. Bellamy was acquired off of waivers and has spent most of his career on practice squads.
Also on the roster: Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and Chris Williams - Weems took a pay cut to stay with the team, but the Bears will evaluate their newcomers on special teams to see if they need to keep him. Toliver is a big-bodied receiver who spent 2013 on Chicago’s practice squad, and there’s an outside chance he develops into something. Williams is kick/punter returner.
How many make the team: 5 or 6. Weems’ fate on this roster might be determined by Jordan Lynch. If Lynch can play special teams and contribute on offense, he has more value. Williams might be kept just as a returner, as Hester was last season.
No. 1: Martellus Bennett – Back for his second season with the Bears, he has to stay healthy.
No. 2: Dante Rosario or Fendi Onobun – The Bears didn’t add a single tight end in the draft or after the draft with rookie free agents. That tells me they think Onobun can beat out Rosario to be the No. 2 tight end.
Also on the roster: Matthew Mulligan and Zach Miller – Mulligan has some experience and played in 15 games for the Patriots last year, but he’s just a guy. Miller isn’t the Zach Miller you’re thinking of — this one hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2011 when he was with the Jaguars.
How many make the team: 2. Rosario or Onobun? Remember, Eben Britton was re-signed and can still be used as an extra blocking tight end like he was last year.
Starting LT: Jermon Bushrod – The veteran brought much needed stability to Cutler’s blind side last year.
Backup LT: Joe Long or Charles Leno Jr. – With Jonathan Scott gone, general manager Phil Emery wants competition for the backup left tackle spot, and these are probably the leaders in the competition. Long was signed off the Steelers’ practice squad last December, and Leno was a seventh-round pick over the weekend.
Starting LG: Matt Slauson – Back with a newly signed four-year extension.
Backup LG: James Brown or Brian de la Puente – Brown completely disappeared last season after starting training camp as the No. 1 right guard, and it’s hard to know what the Bears’ plans are for de la Puente until we see an OTA practice.
Starting C: Roberto Garza – He’s back on a one-year deal and will remain the starting center until his play says otherwise.
Backup C: Brian de la Puente – The free agent could be this year’s Matt Slauson if he can find playing time.
Starting RG: Kyle Long – The Pro Bowler is still trending upward and is on his way to becoming one of the faces of the franchise.
Backup RG: James Brown or Brian de la Puente – Again, will be interesting to see what the rotations look like in OTAs and mini-camp.
Starting RT Jordan Mills – Some have speculated that Mills could lose his starting job, but I don’t see that happening. He still has upside and is one of the hardest workers on the team.
Backup RT Eben Britton – Britton filled in nicely Week 17 when Mills broke his foot.
Also on the roster: Ryan Groy, Taylor Boggs, James Dunbar, Rogers Gaines and Cody Booth. Boggs dressed in every game for the Bears last season as the backup center, while Gaines spent time on the practice squad. Groy, Dunbar and Booth are undrafted free agents.
How many make the team: 8. It’s hard to envision Britton and de la Puente not making the team, although I guess Britton isn’t a guarantee. If a young tackle emerges as a viable backup option, the numbers might make it tough for Brown and Boggs.
Starters: Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston or Willie Young – There’s no question that Allen is the starting right end, while Houston and Young will both see the field a lot. Young is more of a prototypical left end, while I believe Houston will be used in a variety of ways (hand on the ground, two-point stance and even three-technique).
Backups: David Bass, Israel Idonije and Cornelius Washington – Bass was drafted a round behind Washington in 2013 but was clearly the better prospect last season. Idonije returns to the Bears, but this defense will have new wrinkles, and he’ll have to fight for a role.
Also on the roster: Trevor Scott, Austen Lane and Tracy Robertson – Tough to see any of these guys making the team.
How many make the team: 5. The last spot could come down to Idonije or Washington, and it will just depend on what kind of jump Washington made during the offseason.
Starters: Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea – People forget how well Paea was playing last season before he was slowed by a turf toe injury. Of course, staying healthy is a problem for him.
Backups: Nate Collins, Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. Can Ferguson contribute at the nose right away? Ratliff, Collins and Sutton are all better suited as three-techniques. There’s some promising depth here.
Also on the roster: Brandon Dunn and Lee Pegues – Both players are undrafted free agents.
How many make the team: 5. Barring injury, it seems like the Bears’ five defensive tackles are pretty much set here.
Starting WLB: Lance Briggs – Per Emery, he’s the only defensive player who has been told he has a starting job.
Backup WLB: Khaseem Greene or Jon Bostic – I’d imagine Bostic sees the field on the weak side before they go to Greene again.
Starting MLB: D.J. Williams – It was smart of the Bears to re-sign Williams, but he has to stay healthy.
Backup MLB: Jon Bostic or Christian Jones – It was surprising to see Jones go undrafted, but he reportedly failed a drug test at the NFL Combine. He could end up being a steal, however, and given the lack of depth at linebacker, he has a shot to make the team. It will be interesting to see if the Bears view him as an option in the middle.
Starting SLB: Shea McClellin or Jon Bostic – This will be one of the biggest competitions in training camp, but I believe it’s McClellin’s job to lose.
Backup SLB: Jon Bostic – There’s a good chance he becomes the fourth linebacker who could fill in at all three spots in a pinch.
Also on the roster: Jerry Franklin, Lawrence Wilson, Jordan Senn, Devekeyan Lattimore and Tana Patrick.
How many make the team: 6 or 7. Some difficult special teams decisions are going to have to be made, which speaks to the improved depth on Joe DeCamillis’ unit. Jordan Senn was Carolina’s special teams captain the last two seasons, so if the Bears only want to keep six linebackers, they’ll have to choose between Senn, Greene and Jones.
Starters: Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings – Can Tillman stay healthy for all 16 games?
Nickelback: Kyle Fuller – The first-round draft pick should see the field a lot. This is a good role for him as a rookie, as they can move him all over the field.
Backups: Kelvin Hayden and Isaiah Frey – It looked like these two would be battling it out for the nickelback job until Fuller was drafted. Both provide decent depth, especially Hayden.
Also on the roster: C.J. Wilson, Demontre Hurst, Sherrick McManis and Derricus Purdy.
How many make the team: 5 or 6. Again, this will be decided on special teams. If the Bears go with six wide receivers or seven linebackers, Frey or McManis could be in trouble.
Starters: Ryan Mundy or Chris Conte or Brock Vereen or M.D. Jennings – These are the four safeties who appear to have the best chance to win the two starting spots.
Backups: The two of the above four who lose the competition.
Also on the roster: Craig Steltz, Danny McCray, Derrick Martin, Sean Cattouse
How many make the team: 5 or 6. Steltz and McCray will be battling for a special teams spot, and it’s possible both could be kept. I’m not sure M.D. Jennings is guaranteed a roster spot.
Starter: Pat O’Donnell – I find it hard to believe that a punter who was actually drafted won’t win the job.
Also on the roster: Drew Butler and Tress Way – Way was in camp last year and lost the competition to Adam Podlesh, who struggled all season. Butler is the son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler.
How many make the team: 1. Probably O’Donnell.
Starter: Robbie Gould – He’s the only kicker on the roster and the highest paid special teamer in the league.
On the roster: Brandon Hartson and Chad Rempel – Both of these guys could be gone if Patrick Mannelly decides to come back for one more season.
On the roster: Chris Williams, Domenik Hixon, Michael Ford, Josh Morgan, Shaun Draughn, Eric Weems – This seems to be wide open, but I have a sneaky suspicion Williams is their guy.
@AdamHoge I highly doubt they would, but would the Bears move Jennings to NB so Fuller can play CB?—
Neil Martyn (@Knee_Mart) May 12, 2014
I don’t foresee this happening. I really think the Bears like the idea of using Fuller as the nickelback as a rookie and moving him all over the field. In one game they might match him up against a specific offensive threat and in the next they might use him as an in-the-box run supporter on 90 percent of the plays.
I’m really interested to see what the defensive rotations look like this season. If Fuller is used as a third cornerback, that means a linebacker is coming off the field, which may alleviate some of the concerns there. However, given the safety situation, could the Bears keep three linebackers and drop a safety instead when Fuller is on the field? Phil Emery has loaded this roster with versatile players and there are a ton of possibilities.
@AdamHoge Any ideas on Undrafted free agent targets?—
Kal El (@KalEl62) May 12, 2014
The roster is at 90, so the Bears are pretty much set on undrafted free agents. They do have some rookies coming in for tryouts this weekend, so there could be some minor changes, but don’t expect anything big.
mehh (@rdchknnflght) May 12, 2014
I’ve sort of thought all along that he’ll have to fight for a spot on this roster, but as I detailed above, his toughest competition right now looks like it’s Cornelius Washington, who didn’t do much as a rookie. I’m interested to see what Idonije has left, but to answer your question, I certainly don’t think he has a guaranteed spot on this roster.
Steve Piff (@Rufio8675309) May 12, 2014
I believe they envision Lynch as a hybrid-type player who they can build into the offense in special situations. He’s the kind of player teams are going to pay extra attention to when he comes onto the field, and that could create mismatches that Trestman can take advantage of. The Bears listed Lynch as a running back, but I don’t necessarily envision him lining up behind Cutler and taking handoffs (although he’s not a bad option in short-yardage situations). Maybe they do some wildcat with him, but I’d also like to see Lynch get some catches. He could be effective in space on short dump-offs or bubble screens in which he can pick up yards after the catch. To make this team, however, I imagine Lynch will have to contribute on special teams.
2015 NFL Draft watch list
Time to look ahead to 2015 already. Here are some early names to watch for 2015:
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
S Landon Collins, Alabama
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Phil Emery made it abundantly clear he wanted to increase competition at all positions this season, and that’s exactly what he has done. There are still some weaker spots — the depth at tight end, middle linebacker and safety could still be better — but in breaking down this roster, it’s evident this team is deeper than it was last year at this time. There are going to be some tough decisions to be made during the preseason when cuts are made, but that’s a good problem to have.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.