By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) Now that the preseason is over, the Bears have some tough decisions to make. The club has until 3 p.m. Saturday to get down to the 53-man roster. By the time you read this, the process will have already begun.
As like most personnel men, I always try to look for the positives in every game or practice. No one ever got anywhere thinking of the negatives. While I don’t believe this team is ready to challenge for the NFC North title, they are far better than what we have seen over the last two seasons. They play hard and compete, and it’s obvious some young guys want to earn jobs and will play their hearts out to get them.
Let’s take a look at the roster spots where the toughest decisions loom.
Looking at some of the bright spots Thursday night, I thought reserve quarterback David Fales played very well. He received the most playing time he’s had since he came here a year ago. He played with awareness and poise and showed that he may be able to contribute. Fales completed 14 of 18 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over and didn’t take a sack. He was quick and decisive with his reads, and I don’t remember any poor throws.
Did he do enough to warrant the Bears keeping three quarterbacks this season? Being that current backup Jimmy Clausen has suffered two concussions in the last nine months, I would say yes.
Chicago claimed Zac Dysert earlier this week from Denver. Both Adam Gase and John Fox know him well, but I’m not a Dysert fan after having scouted him extensively while he was at Miami of Ohio. It’s my opinion that he just doesn’t have the intangibles necessary to play in the NFL.
The right tackle position has been a problem all preseason. On Thursday, Jordan Mills played about a half — and in fairness, he played his best football of the preseason. He got off the ball quicker, finished blocks and did a credible job in pass protection. Is it enough for him to stay? We will soon find out.
I felt that Charles Leno played better but still showed he’s not an NFL-quality offensive lineman. I have been pushing for the Bears to use second-year pro Michael Ola at the right tackle spot, but to date that hasn’t happened. Ola played left tackle and again played better than both Mills and Leno. He has the versatility to play either guard or tackle position, so we will see if he makes the final roster.
With starters Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal missing the last two games and Marquess Wilson also failing to stay healthy, the receiver position is thin. First-round draft choice Kevin White is out at least until midseason, so who makes the squad after the first three is a huge question mark.
Rashad Lawrence, Marc Mariani, Cam Meredith, Ify Umodu and Josh Bellamy have all had their moments during the preseason, but they’re young and inexperienced. Can they be trusted to produce if they have to play? This is a position that the Bears could look for veteran help over the next two days either via trade or waiver acquisition.
Rookie return man A.J. Cruz also didn’t play Thursday. Like with Bostic, is that because he’s a lock to make the squad or because the Bears already know they’re parting ways and wanted to keep him healthy?
At tight end, the Bears traded for Khari Lee and claimed Gannon Sinclair earlier in the last week. That tells me that as many as four tight ends could make the final roster. The Bears want to run the ball, and with that being the case, four tight ends on the roster is imperative.
In the first two preseason games, free-agent acquisition Sam Acho jumped out with his big playmaking ability. He hasn’t played since because of an illness. While he was out, two starters from last year have made their presence felt. Both Lamarr Houston and Willie Young have stood out the last two weeks, and both have showed edge pass rushing skills.
The question for right now is do the Bears keep five outside linebackers or is one of the trio of Acho, Houston and Young used for trade bait to upgrade another positon? Both Houston and starter Pernell McPhee have the versatility of being able to play down if they are needed there.
Have we seen the last of inside linebacker Jon Bostic? He didn’t play Thursday — was that because he has already made the club or because the Bears didn’t want him to get hurt before he gets cut? My feeling is it’s the latter. Bostic lacks the most important traits a linebacker needs: instincts.
Shea McCellin has resurrected his career this preseason, and the Bears have some young players who have stood out recently. Rookie free agents Matt Wells, John Timu and Jon Anderson have all had their moments, and it’s my feeling that at least one of them will make the final roster, while the other two could well end up on the practice squad.
The cutdown process
With the Bears having to cut down to 53 by Saturday afternoon, it wouldn’t shock me if they cut to below 53 players. It’s my feeling that the Bears roster will be very fluid for the next few weeks. There are players with other clubs who will be on this roster in the near future. They could come via trade, waiver acquisition or the signing of a veteran street free agent.
One note to remember is that if a vested veteran is on the roster for the opening game, his salary is guaranteed for the season. For that reason, we may see some veterans brought in after the first game. If that happens, their salary becomes game to game, and it’s much easier to keep them around.
I look for a turnover of as many as eight to 10 players over the next few weeks as coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace try to find the right people for this team.
Many of the young players who flashed during the preseason will be signed back to the practice squad beginning Sunday afternoon. These are all players who have a chance to develop but still aren’t quite ready for prime time. Once the coaching staff is confident they are ready to contribute, they can be elevated to the varsity.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.