Numbers game: A unit-by unit look at what questions the Bears will have to answer in putting together their 53-man roster


The Bears’ focus leading up to Saturday is on simulating a regular season game week, with legitimate gameplanning taking place for a dress rehearsal against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

But after Saturday’s game, the big task for the Bears’ coaching staff and front office will be paring 90 players down to 53 by Sept. 1, then seeing if there’s anyone worth bringing in off the waiver wire on Sept. 2. Everyone involved will have reams of data on which to evaluate these guys — even more than usual, given training camp started a week earlier and the Bears played that extra preseason contest in the Hall of Fame Game Aug. 2. 

Figuring out the right mix of 53 players to head to Green Bay on Sept. 9 will lead to some difficult questions to be answered involving almost every position group. A look at what those will be:

Quarterback: Does Tyler Bray stick around?

The Bears kept Mark Sanchez on their roster last year in a mentorship role for Mitch Trubisky, and the veteran was inactive for all 16 games. The Trubisky-Sanchez relationship was praised by all parties involved in the offense, but the circumstances were different in 2017: The Bears weren’t Trubisky’s “team” just yet, not as long as he was a rookie and Mike Glennon — ineffective as he may have been — still being a captain. 

The dynamic is different this year. There’s no question the Bears are Trubisky’s team, with the second-year second-round pick taking command of that role from the very beginning of the Matt Nagy era. And with Chase Daniel serving as both a backup and a mentor, is Bray’s roster spot redundant?

The answer is not necessarily yes. First, we’re talking about someone who will be among the six inactive players every gameday, unless something were to happen to Trubisky or Daniel. 

Second: Bray is frequently referred to within Halas Hall as being an important part of the structure built around Trubisky, along with Daniel, Nagy, Mark Helfrich and Dave Ragone. 

“Chase has been very valuable to me. He has helped me progress a lot quicker in this offense than I think I would have if he wasn’t here,” Trubisky said during training camp. “I’m thankful that he’s here and all the coaches and Tyler and all the help that I’ve gotten. Everyone is on the same page, and we’re moving in the same direction toward the same goal.”

Still, if the Bears would rather not try to sneak a player with more upside on to the practice squad, Bray could be a candidate to be cut. 

Running back: Will this offense keep a fullback, and will that affect them keeping three or four running backs?

Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham are locks for the 53-man roster, so whether or not the Bears take a fourth running back is one question, but bigger is if a fullback is on this roster. 

The Chiefs carried a fullback in all 80 games since Andy Reid took over in 2013 with Nagy in tow. But Doug Pederson — Reid’s offensive coordinator before Nagy — didn’t have a single player line up at fullback with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. Offenses change and evolve as coaches get to put their own twist on them. 

The Bears have worked with a fullback this preseason, though Michael Burton has missed some time due to an injury. Ryan Nall could have some flexibility to play that position, though he never did in college and did have a nine-carry, 95-yard showing Aug. 9 against Cincinnati that showed some interesting upside as a running back. He could be an option if the Bears want to keep four running backs and, potentially, kill two birds with one stone — though, again, Nall has never played fullback before and rightly deserves a chance as a running back. Getting Nall onto the practice squad and keeping Mizell or Davis could be an option, too. But if the Bears need to keep an extra player or two at a position of greater need (which we'll get to on defense), keeping four running backs and a fullback could be seen as a luxury, not a necessity. 

Wide receiver: Does a sixth guy earn a spot?

Seventh-round pick Javon Wims put some good things on tape in the Hall of Fame Game, which may make it more difficult for the Bears to try to sneak him through waivers and onto their practice squad come Sept. 1. While Wims certainly has things on which to work, his big frame and good hands could entice another team to snag him.

But the Bears aren’t just going to give Wims a roster spot. Not only does he have to prove he’s at the top of a heap that includes Marlon Brown (who got some first-team work against the Broncos on Saturday), Bennie Fowler (a key special teams contributor for the last three years with the Broncos) and Tanner Gentry (who’s third on the team this preseason with 98 receiving yards), but he has to prove that he’s valuable enough on special teams to snag that roster spot. 

Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel are roster locks, and it would be a shock if the Bears cut ties with Kevin White or Josh Bellamy. So this comes down to if the Bears have a sixth receiver worth keeping, then if Wims is that guy. 

Tight ends: Brown, Braunecker or both?

The current uncertainty surrounding Adam Shaheen’s ankle/foot injury leaves the door open for the Bears to keep both Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker, who both are special teams contributors and have each had decent-to-good preseasons. Brown seems likely to make the roster no matter Shaheen’s status as a reserve “U” tight end and special teamer; Braunecker could earn a spot on the roster, too, as an important part of Chris Tabor’s punt/kick units. 

Offensive line: How does the interior shake out?

There are plenty of moving parts here. If the Bears take eight offensive linemen — as they did last year, albeit under a different regime and different position coach — Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie and James Daniels are locks to make it. Eric Kush is probably on the roster, though Earl Watford has game experience as a tackle, while Kush does not. 

Swing tackle Bradley Sowell has been better since a poor Hall of Fame Game, but still was credited with a sack allowed against Denver, per Pro Football Focus. Rashaad Coward — the converted defensive linemen — has played a ton (178 snaps) this preseason and hasn’t allowed a sack. 

There’s a lot to be sorted out here, but the best guess is eight offensive linemen is the number, and that will be pretty solid on Sept. 1.  

Defensive line: An easy six?

There are far fewer questions on the defensive side of the ball, and the Bears look set up front with Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols and John Jenkins. None of those guys seem to be on the chopping block — of them, Jenkins would be the guy to go, but he’s had a good preseason to date and has the flexibility to play any technique, making him a natural fit to be a reserve for this group for the second year in a row. 

Outside linebacker: A narrow or wide search for production?

How many players from this unit the Bears deem worth keeping will, perhaps, have the biggest trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster. The Bears only kept four outside linebackers on last year’s Week 1 roster (Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Willie Young, Pernell McPhee). Acho and Floyd, if he’s able to play with that broken bone in his hand, will make the roster. After that, Isaiah Irving is the next most likely to make it. So that’s three guys. 

Has Kylie Fitts shown the Bears enough to earn a roster spot? Could Aaron Lynch get a spot if he doesn’t practice or play? What about Kasim Edebali? 

Those are just the guys that are here, though. Perhaps the Bears go with two of that group of three, but then are able to snag an edge rusher with some upside off the waiver wire. This seems like a position group Ryan Pace is likely to try to address on cut-down day, and maybe it leads to as many as six outside linebackers being on the 53-man roster. We’ll see. 

Inside linebacker: Will four or five make it?

Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Nick Kwiatkoski are on the team, and Joel Iyiegbuniwe is on his way to a roster spot after making his preseason debut in Denver last weekend. The question, then, may be this: Does the presence of Kwiatkoski (a guy coaches trust entering his third year in Vic Fangio’s scheme) make John Timu (a guy coaches trust entering his fourth year in Fangio’s scheme) expendable if there’s a greater need at another position? 

Cornerback: Who’s No. 6?

Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamra, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManis and Cre’von LeBlanc all have varying degrees of job security, but expect all five to make the 53-man roster. That leaves Marcus Cooper, Doran Grant and Kevin Toliver II in a battle to survive cut-down day, but even if one of them does (the edge, right now, may be to Grant), a waiver wire pickup could make their stay short-lived. The Bears could opt to keep only five cornerbacks, too, if they feel LeBlanc and/or Callahan have the flexibility to play outside as well as slot corner.  

Safeties: Set?

Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos and Deon Bush are making the team, and DeAndre Houston-Carson’s reported arm injury could open the door for Deiondre’ Hall to make the roster despite being suspended for Week 1 as part of the NFL’s program on substances of abuse. 

Specialists: No numbers questions

The Bears will take one kicker (Cody Parkey), one punter (Pat O’Donnell or Ryan Winslow) and one long snapper (Patrick Scales, Tanner Carew). 

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