As the Chicago Bears enter training camp, most fans have a general idea of who will make the team. However, it will be interesting to see who they keep on the practice squad.
Most players on the practice squad are kept because the coaching staff sees potential, but they're not quite developed enough to make an impact on game day. Keeping them on the practice squad gives the coaching staff a chance to watch their development closely and bring them up when they feel they're ready.
Sometimes, however, players are kept for depth. Injuries are a common occurrence in the NFL. It's much easier for teams to bring a player who has already been in their system than someone off the street to play.
When looking at candidates for the Bears' practice squad, I tried to pick players who fit their coaching staff and are qualified to develop.
Head coach Marc Trestman is considered a quarterback guru, although he was also the running backs coach with the Minnesota Vikings in 1985-86. He has experience working with Hall of Fame receivers Chris Carter, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown.
Offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer's resume is extensive, turning a number of afterthoughts into Pro Bowl offensive linemen.
Defensively, their depth chart is almost set. Still, there are a few players who may not be ready now but could be in the future or could play special teams in a pinch.
For the Bears, there are some familiar faces and some newcomers who are battling for spots on the roster but could end up on the practice squad. How it all shakes out will be interesting to see, but here are some candidates for the eight spots.
Cory Brandon is big and talented but short on experience. However, with as many question marks as the Bears have along the offensive line, he could stick on the practice squad.
Brandon was with the Bears during preseason last year and was among the final cuts. They brought him back on to the practice squad, and he eventually elevated to the active roster at the end of last season.
At 6'7" and 324 pounds, he has elite size. With J'Marcus Webb in the last year of his contract and fifth-round pick Jordan Mills still a relative unknown, the Bears could keep Brandon in hopes that he'll develop with the new coaching staff.
Teams can never have enough talent on the offensive line. Brandon has the ability to play in the NFL, and the Bears have to be hoping they can get the most out of him.
Jerry Franklin has a very good combination of size and speed but has yet to play in the NFL.
Franklin was a productive player at Arkansas. He was named second-team All-SEC his senior year and led the Razorbacks in tackles all four years he was there.
It's unknown if the Bears view him as an inside linebacker or playing on the outside, but his pro day in 2012 is enough to raise some eyebrows.
According to NFL Draft Scout, the 25-year-old Arkansas alum ran the 40 in 4.64 seconds while registering a vertical jump of 37'5" inches and a broad jump of 10'3".
Despite his collegiate production and his workout numbers, Franklin went undrafted in 2012. He caught on with the Bears at the end of last year and appeared in three games, picking up two tackles on special teams.
He has the best physical tools of any of the linebackers on the Bears' roster bubble and could find himself sticking on the practice squad.
Teams can never have too many pass rushers and Cheta Ozougwu showed the ability to get to the quarterback in the preseason last year.
He spent most of last year on the Bears' practice squad and seems like an extreme long shot to make the team this year. With Julius Peppers, former first-round pick Shea McClellin, 2012 starter Corey Wootton and 2013 sixth-round draft pick Cornelius Washington all playing the same position, it's hard to see where Ozougwu would fit in.
The former "Mr. Irrelevant" was described as having a "big football IQ and high motor" by Houston coach Gary Kubiak after they drafted him.
Due to injuries, he made the Bears' active roster at the end of last year and recorded three tackles in a Week 15 loss to the Packers. The Bears would almost certainly like to keep him in the same capacity this year.
C.J. Wilson started three years at NC State, but academic reasons limited him last season.
He's shown a nose for the end zone—returning three interceptions for touchdowns in his collegiate career—that fits right in with what the Bears like to do.
He had a very good showing at NC State's pro day, running the 40 in 4.34 seconds, with a 37-inch vertical and 17 bench-press reps.
The combination of physical skills and experience suggest he should've been drafted, but he flew under the radar. He only played four games last season, but he should contend for a roster spot with the Bears.
If Wilson falls short, the Bears are likely going to keep him on the practice squad because he has the skill to become a starting-caliber cornerback.
Josh Lenz doesn't quite have all the measurables that some of the other players competing for a roster spot on the Bears do, but he seems more ready to fill in if they need a special teams player.
The undrafted rookie stood out to most fans because of the sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash he ran at Iowa State's pro day. What went mostly unnoticed is the fact that he also did 21 bench-press repetitions. That speed and strength could make him an ideal gunner on special teams.
He faces an uphill battle to make the active roster. While he has physical gifts, so do just about all of his competitors at the wide receiver position. Most of them also have a few inches on him and showed more collegiate production.
Lenz's strength, however, makes him a better fit for special teams, something that could be his calling card.
With special teams ace Eric Weems seemingly fit for one special teams spot and Devin Hester possibly another, the Bears aren't going to keep three receivers who produce little or nothing to the offense.
Lenz—who also has experience returning—could be an ideal fit to step in on special teams should someone suffer an injury. Being on the practice squad as a special teams reserve will also give him a chance to learn the receiver position.
It will be very interesting to see how the Bears handle the defensive tackle position, but Zach Minter is a talent worth holding on to.
Minter was a relative unknown, coming from Montana State, but he put up incredible workout numbers. Still, Montana State is a long way away from the NFL, and his production wasn't amazing enough to get him drafted despite his physical gifts.
The Bears figure to start Henry Melton and Stephen Paea again this year. They recently signed former top-10 pick Sedrick Ellis and brought back Nate Collins, who showed flashes of being very good in limited action last season.
It's hard to see them keeping more than four players at that position, considering what they have at defensive end.
Minter's physical skills are worth holding on to. If he develops NFL-caliber technique, he could be a productive player for the team in the future.
P.J. Lonergan comes to the Bears as an undrafted rookie with three years of starting experience in the SEC, the closest it gets to the NFL. However, fans expecting him to step in and anchor the Chicago line from here on should pump the breaks.
While Kromer has a lot of experience developing interior linemen, it takes time, especially at the center position.
Kromer's biggest success story may be Brian de la Puente, the Pro Bowl-caliber center for the New Orleans Saints. Like Lonergan, de la Puente was undrafted, but he was far from an overnight success story.
The Saints' center came into the league in 2008. He bounced around the league before coming to the Saints in 2010. He spent an entire season on their practice squad and didn't take over the starting role until it was clear former Bear Olin Kreutz no longer had it in him.
Lonergan might be more qualified than de la Puente was coming into the league, but it will still likely take him time. With veteran Roberto Garza likely starting and Edwin Williams backing him up, the Bears can afford to give him a redshirt year.
While some are already anointing Michael Ford as the third-string running back, it might take him a little bit longer to develop.
While he and Armando Allen could be about equal on special teams, Allen could be far ahead as far as playing the position.
The Bears are going to ask their running backs to catch passes out of the backfield, something Ford may not be ready for. He caught just eight passes total in college. Ford also did most of his damage outside the tackles at LSU, something that will be much more difficult to do in the faster NFL.
Although he has good size, Ford is going to have to learn how to read blocks better and recognize holes. Even the best collegiate running backs struggle with the learning curve, and someone who split carries could have a really hard time adjusting.
Still, Ford has talent and the physical skills to play on special teams. He certainly has a solid chance at beating Allen out. If he doesn't, the Bears will likely try to develop him on the practice squad.
Matt Blanchard is among the biggest question marks entering Bears camp.
He has a chance to emerge as the second-string quarterback. Trestman has already made note of his mental and physical skill set.
He has physical tools and was a winner in college, but the learning curve from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to the NFL is steep.
It wouldn't be a complete shock to see him beat out Jay Cutler's backup Josh McCown, but the veteran has to be the favorite until we see more of Blanchard.
It seems unlikely the Bears would let a young passer go unless they didn't think he could make it in the NFL. However, given the competition at so many other positions, it will be hard for them to dedicate three roster spots to the position.
Blanchard could get a chance to join another team, but with a quarterback guru as a head coach and a veteran in the last year of his contract, he'd be wise to play for the Bears' scout team this year.
Marquess Wilson might be a surprise on this list considering he was a seventh-round draft pick, but it may take him a while to develop.
Wilson was productive and worked out very well at the NFL Scouting Combine in all but one event: the bench press. His seven reps were tied for the third-lowest total among all the players in Indianapolis.
However, Wilson has yet to even reach legal drinking age. At 20 years old, he's further behind physically than most players entering the league.
While he might be able to line up and catch passes in seven-on-seven drills, it seems likely that Wilson will struggle when NFL cornerbacks press him. He also isn't a good candidate for special teams.
Unless he really shines as a receiver—a possibility I won't completely leave out, given his production in college—it could be difficult to justify a roster spot for Wilson.
Putting him on the practice squad could be a risk, but considering every NFL team passed on drafting him, he should be safe. That said, the Bears should do everything they can to keep him. He has big-time potential and college production that shouldn't be ignored.
If another team tries to sign him to its active roster, the Bears should bite the bullet and give him a spot on theirs.