Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for Chicago Bears' Final 53-Man Roster
From the beginning of OTAs through minicamps and now heading into training camp, each player on the Chicago Bears roster has been continually evaluated to determine where he fits with the club.
The evaluation process will undoubtedly heat up in training camp and the preseason, as the coaching staff will have to determine which players best fit the roster heading into the regular season.
Many players are already virtual locks to make the roster while many others are teetering on the line of making this team.
Five key positional battles were looked at, and each position came down to two players who will be vying to be one of the final inclusions to the 2014 roster.
Here is our prediction for the last five in and the last five out for the Chicago Bears' final 53-man roster.
In: Jimmy Clausen
In 2013, the Chicago Bears found out just how important it is to have a backup quarterback who can step in and win football games.
After injuries forced starter Jay Cutler to miss some time, veteran Josh McCown came in and threw for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in five starts and eight appearances.
McCown signed this offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving the team with Jordan Palmer as the only quarterback on the roster who had thrown a pass in the NFL.
In order to improve the position, the team drafted David Fales in the sixth round of this past May's NFL draft and recently signed veteran Jimmy Clausen to compete in training camp.
The Bears likely will not go into the 2013 season with Fales as the team's only backup, leaving Clausen and Palmer to battle in training camp for the No. 2 job.
In just a short time with the team, Clausen has already received praise from the coaching staff and his teammates.
"I think that Jimmy has competed and done a good job for the time that he's been here," head coach Marc Trestman told the media after the team's final minicamp in June, via ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright.
"He's working hard, and I think he likes the opportunity he has here," Cutler said of Clausen to the media back in June, via CBSChicago.com's Chris Emma. "He was a little humbled going through the process of being on the streets and then getting picked up again. He's got a great attitude."
While he has been praised for his competitiveness and attitude early on, he will have to prove that he fully grasps the playbook, but quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh believes he shouldn't have a problem, telling Chris Boden of CSNChicago.com:
It's always tough when you get in a new system late and you try to learn the verbage. Because he's got some years in the league I don't think there's any schemes were running that he's not familiar with, but it's able to communicate it. Hear it, call it quickly, get in the huddle and say it. He's a smart guy and he's caught up real fast.
Clausen's biggest advantage is that at just 26 years old, he still has plenty of upside if Trestman can develop him as he did McCown last season.
Jimmy Clausen in only 6 practices convinced the Bears he could possibly beat Jordan Palmer for the backup QB spot. All eyes on JC6's health.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) June 20, 2014
Palmer has done and said all of the right things, but Trestman appears to be very high on Clausen's abilities, and barring any setbacks, he appears to have a slight upper hand heading into training camp.
Out: Jordan Palmer
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, Jordan Palmer spent time with the Arena Football League's Arizona Rattlers before making his way back into the NFL, spending three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and one with the Jacksonville Jaguars before landing in Chicago last season.
Palmer was signed as a backup last season following an injury to Jay Cutler, and he appeared to be the favorite to land the No. 2 job this offseason before the team signed Jimmy Clausen in June.
An injury to Palmer's right pectoral muscle forced him to miss some time during OTAs, opening the door for Clausen to impress. Despite newfound competition, Palmer does not seem to be phased by Clausen being on the roster.
"In my position, I've had to compete every single year since I was in high school," Palmer told Jeff Arnold of ChicagoFootball.com. "I've had to compete to beat somebody out, I've had to compete to keep my job. So whatever the situation is or how everybody looks at it, I'm just focused on each day."
While Palmer says all of the right things and seemingly gets along well with Jay Cutler, he simply lacks the type of experience that a team would want from its backup quarterback.
In Palmer's five seasons, he has attempted just 15 passes, completing 10 for 59 yards and two interceptions.
Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh does not seem fazed by Palmer's lack of experience, believing that few teams in the league actually have solid, proven veteran backups, telling the media after minicamp, via Chris Boden of CSNChicago.com:
Off the top of my head, I don't know how many teams around the league have quality veteran depth at the backup position. So I don't think we’re behind the eight-ball there. I just know we have some young guys we think have a lot of talent, and they're all competing to try and be that guy that, if something happens to Jay, he can come in and we don't miss a beat. I don't know that everybody was convinced Josh McCown was that guy last year until it happened. I don't have any doubt that whoever it is is gonna be ready to play if they have to play.
Cavanaugh has all but assured that there are currently no favorites at the position, but considering that Clausen has more experience and a better upside, it appears that Palmer may find himself without a job come the end of training camp.
In: Trevor Scott
Lost amid the signings of Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston along the defensive line, veteran Trevor Scott is one of only two defensive linemen (Allen is the other) on the Bears roster to record seven or more sacks in a season.
Scott has bounced around the league since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 draft by the Oakland Raiders. He recorded 12 sacks during his first two seasons playing both linebacker and defensive end before an ACL injury ended his 2010 season.
He spent the 2012 season with the New England Patriots, recording three sacks, and played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.
Despite being overshadowed by guys like Allen, Young and Houston, he's appreciative of the opportunity he's been given in Chicago.
"I was very fortunate the Bears called in the offseason," he told Arthur Arkush of ChicagoFootball.com. "Everything has gone pretty smooth. It was nice to get into an offseason program this year, just learning about what 'The Bear Way' is."
Scott likely will not be competing for any starting time along the Bears' crowded defensive line, but he does offer plenty of flexibility, having played defensive end and outside linebacker as well as being a special teams contributor during his previous six NFL seasons.
[Scott] played a couple different positions out at Oakland during his time there, some defensive end, some outside linebacker, some sub rush responsibilities. A lot of times he was on the line, sometimes in a three-point stance, sometimes in a two-point stance but he also did play off the line in linebacker roles. We saw him do a lot of different things, in addition to the kicking game. He has some versatility, he's young and he's worked hard.
Given the Bears' desire to be more multiple up front and offer different looks defensively, Scott's versatility and experience as both a hand-in-the-ground defensive end and stand-up linebacker, as well as special teams contributor, should give him an opportunity to be one of the last defensive linemen to stick on the roster for the 2014 season.
Out: Cornelius Washington
When Georgia outside linebacker/defensive end Cornelius Washington fell to the Bears in the sixth round of last year's draft, it came as a surprise to some.
Agreed. Could be scary as a pass-rusher. RT @seniorbowl: Thought CHI getting Cornelius Washington/UGa DE in 6th was "highway robbery".— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) April 30, 2013
Washington ended up appearing in just two games in 2013 for the Bears even though the team struggled at getting after the quarterback throughout the season.
The Bears never gave much explanation as to why Washington never saw action in 2013, but he will be fighting for playing time in 2014 against a much larger group of talented defensive ends than he did in 2013.
Washington already appeared to be a player on the bubble considering the team's additions at defensive end through free agency, but he did not make his situation any better earlier this offseason with an arrest for driving with a suspended license.
Confirmed w/ Glascock County Sheriff's Office that Cornelius Washington was arrested Friday for speeding & driving with a suspended license.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) June 23, 2014
He has put the situation behind him, but he will face an uphill battle against veterans Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Trevor Scott, among others, to make the final 53-man roster.
He showed off his speed and quickness while at Georgia, but he simply could not get himself on the field last season. If he can produce when given the opportunity during training camp and preseason, he could push for one of the final spots, but it appears that he is on thin ice and likely will be shown the door before the 2014 season begins.
In: Michael Ola
Ola started five games for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 2012 with current Bears head coach Marc Trestman at the helm.
The Bears tried to sign him last December, but Ola opted to sign with the Dolphins because they were offering a signing bonus, and the Bears were not.
After changes in the front office in Miami earlier this offseason, the team decided to release Ola before he ever saw time on the field for the Dolphins.
While he initially chose to play for the Dolphins, Ola is happy he gets the opportunity to play under Trestman again in Chicago.
"Just to have the opportunity twice to play for Trestman, let alone once, this is where I am supposed to be," Ola told Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune (subscription required).
Ola played right tackle in the CFL but will likely transition to guard in the NFL. The Bears appear to like his flexibility, using him at both guard and tackle during June's minicamp.
#Bears looking at a lot of combinations at a lot of positions but last two days newcomer Michael Ola has worked at RT & LG with 1st team— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) June 18, 2014
He is going to face stiff competition from James Brown, Joe Long, Charles Leno Jr. and Ryan Groy in training camp, but the Bears clearly like him. Despite it taking a couple of tries to get him in Chicago, it appears the staff is unlikely to give up on him very easily.
Out: James Brown
Undrafted out of Troy in 2012, James Brown was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent that offseason.
At the time, then-head coach Lovie Smith was impressed by what he saw from Brown early in minicamps, telling Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:
"He has stood out in the drills. You notice him. He's slim, athletic, good size, smile on his face and he was a pretty good player in college. However (he went undrafted), we're just glad he's in our camp."
He spent the majority of his rookie season on the team's practice squad before moving up to the active roster when Chilo Rachal left the team.
Brown ended up appearing in five games in 2012, including three starts at left guard to finish the season.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown finished the 2012 season with a minus-5.8 grade but showed improvement in his final two starts, grading out with plus-0.7 and a plus-2.6, respectively.
He appeared to be a guy who would have a chance to start in 2013 at either left or right guard, but the team signed veteran Matt Slauson and drafted Kyle Long in the first round of the NFL draft, leaving Brown as the odd man out.
The team has moved him from guard to tackle, and he is set to compete with Michael Ola, Joe Long and seventh-round pick Charles Leno Jr. to be the team's swing tackle.
If nothing else, Brown has shown that he has the right attitude heading into training camp, telling ChicagoFootball.com's Jeff Arnold:
I'm just trying to play. You go through practice and anything can happen. You just need to be ready. I've never been a selfish type player because I've got a great role no matter what and if you're not needed here, they'll send you home.
Despite his positive attitude and experience, there is likely a reason why the Bears opted to move him outside to tackle, and he simply has too much competition at the position. His flexibility to play both inside and outside is certainly a plus, but with Brian de la Puente and Eben Britton likely the backups at guard, there may simply no room for him if they prefer the upside of Ola or Long over his.
In: Chris Williams
One of the more under-the-radar positional competitions to watch this summer at Bears training camp will be the wide receiver position.
While Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are locks and Marquess Wilson appears to have a hold on the third wide receiver position, the fourth and fifth spots both appear to be up for grabs.
Veteran Josh Morgan likely has the best shot of claiming the fourth wide receiver spot because of his experience on special teams, leaving guys like Chris Williams, Eric Weems, Josh Bellamy and Terrence Toliver to compete for the final spot.
Out of all of those receivers in contention for the final spot, Williams may be the most intriguing.
After spending time in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, Williams moved on to the CFL and became a force as a return man. He ventured back into the NFL with the New Orleans Saints last season on their practice squad before being claimed by the Bears late last season.
Williams knows his opportunities will be limited in training camp and preseason, but he will need to make the most out of it when he gets his chance.
"We're much looking forward to the preseason and getting some live reps and getting some opportunities to showcase what I can do," Williams told ChicagoFootball.com's Nate Atkins.
Since the early part of the offseason, the Bears have been high on Williams' ability to become the team's replacement for Devin Hester as the returner, and it appears that he'll get the first opportunity to win the role.
as suspected, phil emery confirms chris williams will get the first crack at the KR/PR role. likes his speed and up-side. #bears— dan durkin (@djdurkin) May 19, 2014
At 5'8" and 175 pounds, Williams does not have the ideal size for the wide receiver position, but he does have top-end speed and could wind up finding himself involved in a handful of offensive packages in 2014.
His versatility, speed and ability to be a playmaker in the return will all likely contribute him to making the roster as the team's fifth wide receiver.
Out: Eric Weems
The Bears played hardball with two of their overpaid veteran wide receivers in Earl Bennett and Eric Weems this offseason when the team asked them both to take pay cuts.
Weems, a former Pro Bowl kick returner for the Atlanta Falcons, hasn't done much on the field since arriving in Chicago in 2012.
He has had just 18 kickoff returns for 288 yards for the Bears and has been average at best as a special teams contributor.
Weems' role as a return man in Chicago never really materialized with Devin Hester sitting atop the depth chart, but Weems is looking forward to getting back into the role he loves in training camp and the preseason, telling Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com:
Most definitely I've missed doing it. It's still in the blood. I love doing it. That's what I was in Atlanta doing. That's what I made the Pro Bowl doing. There's no question in my mind that I love doing it.
He understood why he had to sit behind Hester, but he is willing to take advantage of his opportunities this offseason
"I've been patient for the last two years and now I feel like it's my turn, and I'm going to take full advantage of it," Weems told Mayer.
While Weems is prepared to take over the role, he will be facing competition from Chris Williams, Micheal Spurlock, Armanti Edwards and Michael Ford for the role.
Weems proved he can be an integral part of special teams in a coverage role, but the upside of Williams and Ford will likely keep him off of the roster in 2014.
In: Craig Steltz
An All-American at LSU in 2007, it was believed that Craig Steltz was going to step in and become a solid starting strong safety for the Chicago Bears for years to come.
Steltz has had his share of ups and downs with the team, but he has been as consistent as they come on special teams and has held his own when asked to play strong safety.
The team opted to bring Steltz back on a one-year deal this offseason.
He made one start in 2013 for the injured Major Wright in Week 13 against the Vikings. He played well, particularly as a run-stopper, recording a game-high 12 tackles.
He doesn't possess the best footwork in coverage or have high-end speed to match up with quicker receivers, but he is solid against the run and has been a consistent special teams contributor for the past six seasons.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Steltz was one of the league's better special teams players, recording a plus-4.0 overall grade and a plus-5.0 grade on kickoff coverage.
The Bears appear content with Ryan Mundy being their starter at strong safety next season, meaning the backup will have to be someone willing and able to play special teams.
His biggest competition will come from the recently signed Adrian Wilson and veteran Danny McCray, but his familiarity in Chicago and with the coaching staff may help him hold down the final safety spot.
Steltz isn't the flashiest of players, but he has proven in the past that he has the ability to contribute when needed as a starter and is one of the best special teams players that the Bears have. Unless Steltz struggles with an injury, he'll likely remain on the roster as the team's No. 2 strong safety.
Out: Adrian Wilson
After years of trying to find a Pro Bowl safety to add to their roster, the Bears finally did so when they signed veteran Adrian Wilson last month.
The bad thing is, Wilson is no longer the player who went to the Pro Bowl five times and was named an All-Pro three times between 2006 and 2011.
If healthy, Wilson gives the team a savvy veteran with a penchant for making the big hit and stopping the run, but his health and abilities remain a big question mark heading into training camp.
There is no guarantee that Wilson is 100 percent, and that is evident by the one-year, $955,000 non-guaranteed deal he received from the team.
Adrian Wilson's 1-year deal with the #Bears for $955 K is not guaranteed.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) June 25, 2014
Wilson is trying to return from an Achilles injury, which is notorious for being one of the more difficult injuries to return from. He is set to turn 35 this October, and the outlook for a player of his age coming off of that type of injury is not very good.
According to Bleacher Report's Zach Kruse, since 2002, no player age 32 or older at the time of their Achilles tear has returned to pre-injury levels.
If Wilson can prove he is healthy, he would have to beat out Ryan Mundy for the starting strong safety spot or be willing to be a participant on special teams.
It seems unlikely that a former Pro Bowler would be willing to take a demotion and play special teams. If he's willing to be a team player and play on special teams, he could make the roster, but it appears more likely that he will have a tough time beating out Mundy and will have to find an opportunity elsewhere if he wants to continue his career.