Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy have some difficult decisions to make, and various performances in Preseason Week One against the Panthers did not make them easier. Multiple players who are competing for back of the roster spots had stand-out performances, and special teams – both kicking and covering – decidedly did not. More than a few slots on the Bears’ 53-man roster remain in doubt.
Something tells me this will look quite different by the time preseason play has wrapped up, but here’s my projection for what that roster will look like in September.
Kicker: I have no idea and anyone who says otherwise is lying
Punter: Pat O’Donnell
Long Snapper: Patrick Scales
The Bears are entertaining multiple battles for the last few spots on the 53-man roster, so naturally Twitter didn’t agree with every one of my predictions when I tweeted out the projected roster. Here are more detailed thoughts on a few of the more common questions, comments, and concerns that I received.
Kerrith Whyte Jr.
Whyte’s inclusion – he was absent from my pre-preseason list – satisfied a few commenters and even garnered a question on whether or not he could have a role in the offense in year one. The answer is a hard no, because the Bears are loaded with skill players who can do what Whyte is good at, which is run fast and return kicks. If Montgomery and/or Davis were to go down, Nagy would probably play Patterson at running back before Whyte.
Truthfully, Whyte vs. Bunting was a competition that I hashed out internally for quite some time. The former’s absence on my 53-man projection raised a few eyebrows, especially because I expressed admiration for Bunting’s performance against Carolina. However, the Bears seem to value Sowell as a blocker, a skill at which Bunting certainly has not excelled, so these prospective Bears had a choice to make – four backs, or five tight ends? I chose backs, because I see Whyte as someone who is far more likely to be plucked off of waivers. Bunting should be safe, and will head to the practice squad.
Nall had a very good camp, and he has his fair share of fans from his league-leading preseason rushing performance last year. He’s also gotten work at fullback the last few days, in addition to some success lining up as a wideout – versatility is huge – all of which adds up to support for an active roster spot. Still, he faces an uphill battle. Montgomery (obviously) and Whyte showed much more elusiveness and explosiveness against the Panthers, neither of which will ever be a strength of Nall’s. There also isn’t much of a use for a fullback in Nagy’s scheme, and if he needs one he can easily use Braunecker or Sowell. I’d be stunned to see Nall suiting up on September 5.
He may be battling an injury, but a seventh-rounder missing a preseason game for any reason is a very bad sign. Denmark didn’t really do anything in training camp either, much like undrafted receiver Emanuel Hall, and his fate was finalized earlier today. I don’t expect Denmark to be cut tomorrow, but unless he starts suiting up, he could lose a spot on the practice squad to Joseph. As it turns out, that happens in this particular mock. I could also see the Bears stashing Denmark on IR for the year, giving him another shot in 2020.
After a rough outing on Thursday, particularly in coverage, many Bears fans began to call for Kwiatkoski’s head. At this point, he is who he is – a physical player who will be helpful in run support and blitzing but useless when dropping back – and that archetype doesn’t tend to fare well in today’s NFL. Kwiatkoski will never be startable, but he and Pierre-Louis produce enough on special teams to force Pace and Nagy to keep five inside backers.
Pace has repeatedly stressed his desire to keep the 53 best players, regardless of position. Special teams will play a massive role in deciding who the best 53 players are.