The Chicago Bears open the 2018 offseason program with a fairly decent idea of which athletes their opening day roster will include. Their starters, with a couple exceptions, are firmly in place without much of an impending preseason battle.
It’s worth taking a look at where every player on their 89-man depth chart stands right now, however. After all, this is a team that has had borderline catastrophic injury issues throughout the past three years, so any name on the roster could be called upon to contribute at some point or another.
Here is a sneak peak with extensive analysis at the Bears’ depth chart entering minicamp, with the draft complete and the player acquisition period all but over. This should give fans a look at what the team will look like come September when the Bears face off against Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Sunday Night Football in week one.
|Starters||TE – Adam Shaheen|
|QB – Mitch Trubisky||LT – Charles Leno|
|HB – Jordan Howard||LG – James Daniels|
|WR – Allen Robinson||C – Cody Whitehair|
|WR – Taylor Gabriel||RG – Kyle Long|
|WR – Anthony Miller||RT – Bobby Massie|
Limiting the “starter” group of skill position players to merely Howard, Robinson, Gabriel, Miller, and Shaheen doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to Matt Nagy’s offense. Tarik Cohen and Trey Burton will get ample playing time when Nagy mixes and matches his looks in the primary offense, with Cohen at the H-back or slot receiver positions and Burton as a slot receiver, occasionally a Y, on the outside, and even at the fullback slot. Benny Cunningham should contribute on third downs as a pass blocker/catcher as well.
On the offensive line, Whitehair and Daniels are opening camp at center and guard, respectively, but that could change as the preseason moves along. Anything happens to Whitehair and you can bet Daniels will slide right in at center rather. This has been a problem injury spot so depth, as I’ll cover later, will be vital.
Obviously, in training camp and preseason, and everywhere else, all eyes will be on number 10. Trubisky is, as most starting quarterbacks are, the key to the offense and the entire team. The Bears brought in Daniel as not only a backup quarterback but as a mentor and second quarterback coach for Trubisky. He’s a career reserve whose teams have had incredible luck with starting QB health, as he’s only started two games throughout his 8-year career.
Bray is a former UDFA free agent signing from Kansas City who knows Nagy’s offense, which was likely the reason for his signing. He could sneak his way onto the roster as a third signal caller, but if he takes a snap this season then something would have gone horribly wrong.
Howard’s name was floated in some trade rumors, and while the Bears not being so sure about his fit in the offense and their lack of aspirations to sign him to a second contract may be legitimate, the Howard for Jarvis Landry rumblings were not. He’ll be their workhorse again, and he’ll look to build on back to back outstanding 1,000 yard seasons despite seeing mostly eight man boxes to open his career.
Cohen, AKA Chicken Salad (among many others, but that one’s my favorite) is back and ready to be deployed in numerous ways to terrorize defenses. I imagine Nagy sees him as a shorter version of Tyreek Hill and will utilize him as such. Cunningham is an exceptional role player, playing the third down and special teams cover man role quite well.
Among Mizzell and 2 UDFA’s, Nall out of Oregon State is a name to watch. Many were quite surprised to see him go undrafted and expect him to have a fighter’s chance to break camp on the 53-man roster.
This will be an interesting position to watch in training camp. Robinson, Gabriel, and Miller are exciting new weapons for Trubisky who will open the season in the starting lineup, but beyond them there are three or four roster spots that are entirely up for grabs.
It would have been nonsensical to give White his walking papers before training camp, as they would save no money by doing so, but by no means is he guaranteed a position on the opening day depth chart. Nagy and his staff will give him every opportunity to succeed, but if they deem him not to be one of the six or seven best receivers on the roster, they hold no ties to him.
Fowler is a depth option and special teamer who I would guess is a strong candidate to make the team. Bellamy will have to rely on his work in the third phase, but the Bears seem to like him a lot more than they probably should. He’ll have to fight it out with Wims, who if he shows enough potential in camp might become too valuable to risk losing via waiver claim in the hopes of stashing him on the practice squad.
As I’ve written before, I’m psyched to see what Shaheen has to offer this season, after showing promise amid a heavy underutilization in his rookie year out of Ashland. He’ll start at the Y spot (in-line TE), while free agent signee from Philadelphia Trey Burton will open at F (move TE). Calling Burton merely a tight end doesn’t do him justice, as he’s skilled in the slot and out wide, especially in the red zone. He and Shaheen should complement each other beautifully.
Sims should assume a lesser role than the one he had last year, and should be relegated to primarily a blocking tight end niche after the controversial decision to keep him as the lone survivor of the 2017 free agent class. (Marcus Cooper also remains on the team but after being cut and then resigned).
I considered penciling Brown in as a roster lock, but I can’t quite do that just yet. However, he’s got a great chance to make the team as a depth piece. Harvard product Braunecker wishes to supplant Brown but in this writer’s opinion, he’ll have an uphill battle.
Offensive Line: Charles Leno, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Erik Kush, Bradley Sowell, Jordan Morgan, Hroniss Grasu, Cameron Lee, Earl Watford, Rashaad Coward, Brandon Greene, Will Periak, Travis Averill, Dejon Allen
The starters are likely set in stone, and from left tackle to right guard they look extremely solid. Leno is one of the more underrated players on the team and people around the league are excited at what their interior line can do. Massie is more of a question mark, however. Some disagree, but I thought he put together a well below average 2017 season and he’ll have to rebound in order to keep his job long term.
Kush spent last season on IR but when healthy he’s a versatile, reliable backup. Sowell was resigned to a two year deal, indicating that they like him enough to hand him a spot as a reserve guard/tackle.
Morgan is last year’s fifth round pick, and after redshirting his first season it will be intriguing to see how he fares in exhibition action. Grasu is the main reason the run game struggled down the stretch last year and he should not make the roster. Coward is interesting, as he was signed as a UDFA defensive tackle but flipped sides heading into 2018, so the coaching staff must have seen something in him.
|Starters||Buck: Leonard Floyd|
|NT: Eddie Goldman||CB: Kyle Fuller|
|3-Tech: Akiem Hicks||CB: Prince Amukamara|
|Sam: Aaron Lynch||Nickel: Bryce Callahan|
|Mike: Danny Trevathan||Free Safety: Eddie Jackson|
|Jack: Roquan Smith||Strong Safety: Adrian Amos|
There are a lot of variables here, but if things go right this could be a terrifying unit; it was top ten in yards and scoring, then it added Roquan Smith. The big “ifs” are the health of Floyd, Trevathan, and Lynch and the absence of regression from Fuller and Amos. The constant juggernauts are Goldman, Hicks, Trevathan, and if my pre-draft evaluation (along with everyone else’s) is correct, Smith. He was known as one of the safest, most mature football-wise prospects in the draft and he should step in and have an immediate impact.
The player whose progression I’m most excited to see is Jackson. The 2017 fourth rounder could very well intercept five plus passes and break up a few more roaming the middle of the field in coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense.
We know all about Hicks and Goldman. In preseason 2018, I’m much more interested to track the progress Bullard and Robertson-Harris made from a season ago. Neither of them will start, as Nagy noted that about 60% of football in the 21st century is played in the nickel, but one or both should receive plenty of meaningful snaps. Both have athletic potential, especially Bullard with that superb burst off the line, but neither have quite gained Fangio’s trust as reliable contributors.
Nichols, this year’s fifth rounder out of Delaware, could have a shot to make an immediate impact but was drafted as a high upside project of sorts. His work ethic and motor have impressed scouts and that often leads to early playing time.
Jenkins, a veteran nose tackle, will fight for a roster spot while the group of UDFAs at the position looks to impress in camp and potentially supplant him on the 53-man.
This is the position that is most in question coming into minicamp. 2018 will be a make or break year of sorts for Floyd, who tantalizes with immense potential but hasn’t been able to put it together for long periods of time without getting injured, which he has done twice so far, both of the serious variety.
Lynch is another injury prone player, albeit one who thrived early in his career in Vic Fangio’s scheme in San Francisco. He’ll open the season penciled in at outside linebacker but no one should look at him as a long-term solution at the all-too-important edge rusher position. Acho is a solid locker room presence and Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee who has a definite place on the roster but offers little in terms of pass rush value.
Fitts was seen as a value pick, provided (this is becoming a theme) that he can stay healthy. He has starter-caliber size and impressed in Senior Bowl practices in January. Irving and Norris are two players who do a lot of things well but don’t have enough size to compete at the NFL level for now.
The inside linebacker position has arguably the most depth out of any on the roster. Trevathan when healthy is a stalwart and a leader on the defense, as (hopefully) Smith will be. Roquan Smith brings an excellent combination of instincts, speed, and physicality to the table as the eighth overall pick.
Some have floated the idea of putting Kwiatkoski, who Pace is very high on as a talent, at outside linebacker for the time being with the lack of capable players there and the surplus of ones on the inside. Iyegbuniwe was considered a reach in the fourth round by many but should make a satisfactory special teams contribution right away.
Timu and Anderson have filled in for injured starters in the past and both have done an adequate job at times, especially the latter. They’ll fight to make the roster but both could have an impact if they do.
To my mild surprise, the Bears will be returning each of their three cornerback starters from last season: Fuller, Amukamara, and Callahan. The latter two had issues with penalties but other than that it was a perfectly above average year for this group. Fuller was given the transition tag and signed an offer sheet with Green Bay that Chicago quickly matched. He got paid, now he needs to continue his excellent play from 2017.
McManis returns as a likely special teams captain. His resigning was one of the better moves the Bears made this offseason, which is saying something. He proved invaluable to the Bears’ third unit last year and even contributed a blocked kick, which brings me to… Marcus Cooper. His confidence appeared to be shot (as it probably should have been) after his boneheaded mistake against Pittsburgh. He was cut, then given another try with a much less expensive deal.
LeBlanc has shown some promise but has had too many lapses in coverage to be thought of as anything more than a backup. Mincy is a signee from the CFL who the Bears have some hopes for and he could very will fight his way onto the opening day roster.
Jackson showed flashes of greatness as a rookie and Amos was extremely active in the box, giving the Bears incentive not to mess with the duo on the back end. Amos enters a contract year looking to prove he can stick as a long term starter, though it isn’t out of the question that he receives an extension before the season.
You might be surprised to see Houston-Carson, a former sixth rounder, as a roster lock, but he played well enough on special teams to earn that honor. He was drafted to contribute in that area and did an excellent job of it last season.
Hall and Bush will likely fight it out for the last safety spot. The former has displayed hints of playmaking ability; the former has not. Neither is likely to make much of an impact on the defensive end, barring injury to Amos or Jackson.
|K: Cody Parkey||P: Pat O’Donnell|
|LS: Patrick Scales||P: Ryan Winslow|
By signing Parkey to a two-year deal, the Bears made it clear that he is not a stop gap solution at kicker. They believe the former Eagle, Brown, and Dolphin will be their long term answer. Whether they’re right remains to be seen, but I liked the move to bring him in.
By attempting to sign Bengals punter Kevin Huber before he eventually resigned in Cincinnati, Chicago showed that they’re not satisfied with O’Donnell’s play. He’ll have to win the job from UDFA Ryan Winslow, after being brought back on a one year deal with minimal guarantees. Scales is penciled in as the long snapper after falling to injury last season.
Follow Jack Soble on Twitter — Feature Photo Credit: Da Bears Brothers