Grading the Chicago Bears' Final 53-Man Roster
Following their 33-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns Thursday night, the Chicago Bears had to decide which 22 players they needed to cut in order to reduce their roster to 53 players by the NFL deadline on Saturday.
The first wave of cuts came on Friday, with the team waiving running back Jordan Lynch and releasing kick returner Armanti Edwards, tight end Jeron Mastrud, tackle Dennis Roland and guard Robert Turner, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
#Bears announce first cuts today: Waive Jordan Lynch; Release Armanti Edwards, Jeron Mastrud, Dennis Roland, Robert Turner.— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) August 29, 2014
According to ChicagoBears.com, the team made their final 17 cuts on Saturday, waiving wide receivers Chris Williams, Dale Moss and Josh Bellamy; defensive tackles Brandon Dunn, Tracy Robertson and Lee Pegues; center Taylor Boggs; linebackers Jerry Franklin and DeDe Lattimore; guard Ryan Groy; and cornerbacks C.J. Wilson and Al Louis-Jean.
In addition to waiving those 12 players, the team also released cornerback Kelvin Hayden, tackle Eben Britton, defensive end Austen Lane and waived safety M.D. Jennings with an injury settlement.
Even with the roster set at 53 players, expect general manager Phil Emery to continue to add and subtract players before the team's Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
Now that the majority of the roster is set in place, we can put a grade on each position heading into the regular season.
Grades were based on whether the position has been upgraded from last season, injuries at the position and how well the group performed during training camp and the preseason.
Let's take a look.
Projected Starter: Jay Cutler
Backups: Jimmy Clausen and David Fales
There were no major surprises at the quarterback position during the roster cut-down over the weekend.
Jay Cutler heads into the 2014 season with a new contract and some momentum following a solid training camp and preseason.
In three preseason games, Cutler went 28-of-42 for 317 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 95.0.
While preseason numbers mean very little, Cutler did look poised, confident and aware in the pocket, all things he has struggled with in the past.
If Cutler is to go down with injury, the team feels confident Jimmy Clausen can step in and perform.
The Bears caught lightning in a bottle last season with Josh McCown filling in for Cutler in eight games, passing for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 109.0.
McCown parlayed his stellar 2013 season into a two-year, $10 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the wake of McCown moving on, the Bears re-signed Jordan Palmer earlier in the offseason and signed Clausen at the end of minicamp this past June.
Palmer and Clausen battled in training camp and the preseason to be Cutler's backup, with Clausen ultimately earning the job, via the Chicago Bears' official Twitter account:
LM: #Bears coach Marc Trestman says Jimmy Clausen beat out Jordan Palmer because he has played a lot more football and is younger.— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 25, 2014
With Cutler and Clausen already in place, the team gave rookie David Fales all of the reps against the Cleveland Browns in the team's final preseason game last Thursday.
Fales finished the game 13-of-24 for 146 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and head coach Marc Trestman liked what he saw. According to Kevin Fishbain of ChicagoFootball.com, Trestman told the media after the game:
David showed a lot of composure. He got knocked around tonight, no doubt about it. He made some throws on the run, he made some plays out of the pocket, he threw a pick – I’m not sure why, we’ll look at the tape. Overall, he handled himself well for the 60 minutes that he played.
The Bears were likely afraid Fales would not clear waivers, and they kept him on the roster instead of trying to waive him and place him on their practice squad.
While Cutler has a history of missing games and making head-scratching plays, he appears to have a much better understanding of Trestman's offense this offseason and should put up good numbers in this system.
With Cutler's potential, combined with the strong showings by Clausen and Fales during training camp and the preseason, the quarterback position appears to be stronger heading into this season than it was last season.
Projected Starters: Matt Forte and Tony Fiammetta (fullback)
Backups: Ka'Deem Carey, Shaun Draughn and Senorise Perry
Starter Matt Forte had one of his most productive seasons in 2013, finishing second in the league in rushing yards with 1,339. He finished with nine rushing touchdowns and hauled in 74 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time.
Despite creeping closer to the age of 30, Forte should continue to be one of the league's most productive running backs again this season.
After heading into training camp with Shaun Draughn, Michael Ford, Ka'Deem Carey, Senorise Perry and Jordan Lynch competing to be Forte's backup, Carey appears to have won the job after not dressing against the Cleveland Browns last Thursday, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Carey was a workhorse for the Arizona Wildcats in his final two seasons, rushing for 3,814 yards on 652 carries with 42 touchdowns between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
He showed good patience and explosiveness in the preseason and should be a nice complementary back to Forte this season.
Rounding out the final two spots are veteran Shaun Draughn and rookie Senorise Perry.
Draughn displayed good hands and an ability to consistently get positive yards, while Perry showed off speed and elusiveness in limited carries throughout the preseason.
Both will be expected to play on special teams and caught the eye of special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
RBs Senorise Perry and Shaun Draughn have made #Bears roster. Both caught Joe DeCamillis' eyes on special teams.— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) August 30, 2014
Forte took the majority of reps last season with Michael Bush and Michael Ford unable to provide the team with much of a spark when given an opportunity. With Forte getting older, there is a strong possibility the team will try to utilize both Carey and Draughn's talents to help keep Forte fresher toward the end of games.
Based on the struggles of Bush and Ford alone last season, the running back position appears to be vastly improved in 2014.
Projected Starters: Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall
Backups: Santonio Holmes, Marquess Wilson (injured), Josh Morgan and Micheal Spurlock (kick returner)
There is no denying the Chicago Bears have one of the best wide receiver tandems in all of the NFL in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
Both were named to the Pro Bowl in 2013 after Jeffery finished the season with 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns and Marshall finished with 100 catches for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns.
After breaking his clavicle earlier in training camp, the team could opt to put second-year man Marquess Wilson on the injured reserve/designated for return list on Tuesday, via Dan Durkin of 670 The Score:
Something to note re: Marquess Wilson, Tuesday at 3PM is the first time the #Bears could use their IR/designated for return exemption.— dan durkin (@djdurkin) August 30, 2014
If the team does use the exemption, that will open up another spot on the 53-man roster. Wilson will not be able to return for eight weeks, meaning he would be unavailable to play until the team's Week 10 matchup against the Green Bay Packers due to their bye in Week 9.
To help solidify the No. 3 spot behind Jeffery and Marshall, the team signed veteran Santonio Holmes near the end of the preseason.
Holmes played well in limited snaps against the Cleveland Browns. He should enter the season as a viable candidate to be the team's No. 3 receiver and could have a big role, via ProFootballTalk's Twitter account:
Bears are very pleased with WR Santonio Holmes; expect him to make the team and to have a real role.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 29, 2014
Rounding out the roster will be veterans Josh Morgan and Micheal Spurlock.
Morgan will likely start out the season as the team's No. 3 receiver because he has been in the system all offseason, and it may take some time for Holmes to get acquainted with the offense.
Spurlock will primarily serve as the team's kick returner, via the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs:
Hamstring pull cost Chris Williams more than half of preseason. Looks like Micheal Spurlock is primary returner w/ Santonio Holmes also a PR— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) August 30, 2014
On paper, the backup trio of Wilson, Holmes and Morgan look like an upgrade over 2013's backup trio of Wilson, Earl Bennett and Eric Weems.
If Wilson were healthier, their grade would likely be higher, but because of the addition of Holmes recently, the wide receiver group may be one of the strongest on this roster.
Projected Starter: Martellus Bennett
Backups: Dante Rosario and Matthew Mulligan
After having just two tight ends on the roster for the majority of the 2013 season, it appears the Bears will be keeping three heading into the regular season.
Martellus Bennett will once again be the Bears' No. 1 tight end this season after registering 65 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Bennett gives the team a versatile tight end who excels at both blocking and receiving and should post similar, if not better, numbers this season.
Backing up Bennett will be veterans Dante Rosario and Matthew Mulligan.
Rosario will likely be used primarily as a blocker and on special teams and is one of just two special teams members returning in 2014 that finished in the top 10 in special teams tackles last season, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times:
It looks like the #Bears will have just 2 of their top 10 special-teams tacklers from 2013: Sherrick McMannis (15) and Dante Rosario (5).— Mark Potash (@MarkPotash) August 30, 2014
Mulligan is primarily a blocker and could see some time as an extra offensive lineman/tight end in the team's jumbo set this season.
While Bennett gives the team an above-average tight end, both Rosario and Mulligan are average at best. The position lacked a complementary backup to Bennett last season, and it appears not much has changed in 2014. Because of little improvement at the backup positions, the tight end corps is one of the worst-graded groups on offense.
Projected Starters: Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills
Backups: Brian de la Puente, Michael Ola and Charles Leno Jr.
After struggling to find the perfect combination along the offensive line to protect Jay Cutler since he arrived in Chicago, the offensive line in 2013 started all 16 games and allowed just 30 sacks, fourth-best in the NFL.
Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza and Kyle Long are all expected to start in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, but Jordan Mills' return to the starting lineup is up in the air after missing all four preseason games due to injury, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
RT Jordan Mills without his pads and helmet during warmups. Looks like he'll go the whole preseason without a snap for the #Bears.— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) August 28, 2014
In Mills' absence this preseason, former CFL lineman Michael Ola has emerged, via Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune:
Michael Ola really emerged during training camp as versatile O-line reserve. Saw plenty of time w Jordan Mills and Britton hurt.— Dan Wiederer (@danwiederer) August 30, 2014
If Mills is unable to go in Week 1, Ola appears to be the logical choice to replace him.
Rounding out the final two backup spots are veteran Brian de la Puente and rookie Charles Leno Jr.
Despite missing a portion of training camp and the preseason due to injury, de la Puente will likely be the primary backup at all three interior lineman positions. A 44-game starter for the New Orleans Saints over the past three seasons, he may end up overtaking Garza at center if he struggles this season.
Drafted in the seventh round of this year's draft, Leno has quietly had a strong camp. Josh Norris of Rotoworld was impressed with what he saw from Leno this preseason:
Was impressed again with #Bears T Charles Leno Jr. Think he'll be a quality swing T, at least.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 18, 2014
While the starters and de la Puente have all proven they can play well in the NFL, Ola and Leno have yet to play a down in a regular-season game. The team could still be in the market for another veteran to help bolster the unit, but because of the lack of experience behind the starters, the offensive line's grade is down from last season.
Projected Starters: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff
Backups: Willie Young, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Trevor Scott, David Bass and Cornelius Washington
General manager Phil Emery was busy this offseason trying to improve the league's worst-run defense from 2013.
The team released defensive end Julius Peppers, opted not to re-sign Henry Melton and Corey Wootton and replaced all three with Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen and Willie Young in free agency.
Houston and Allen are expected to be the starters at defensive end, with Young rotating in and out of the lineup.
In order to bolster the interior of the defensive line, the team re-signed veteran Jeremiah Ratliff to play alongside Stephen Paea while also drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in this past May's draft.
With those seven players virtually locked into a roster spot, veterans Trevor Scott, David Bass and Cornelius Washington all had to earn their spot this preseason.
Trevor Scott having a great night. At this point, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t make the team..— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) August 15, 2014
He gives the team an athletic defensive end who can rush the passer and has a proven track record on special teams.
Rounding out the final two spots along the defensive line are second-year men Bass and Washington.
Claimed off of waivers by the Bears last September, Bass played in 12 games and recorded 23 tackles, one sack and one interception. He played well against the run last season and showed off his versatility in the preseason by moving inside to defensive tackle against the Cleveland Browns, via Dan Durkin of 670 The Score:
Interesting that the #Bears had David Bass lined up as a three-technique on second down.— dan durkin (@djdurkin) August 29, 2014
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, Washington played in just two games for the Bears last season.
He played particularly well against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the team's second preseason game. Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus thought Washington dominated in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars:
Cornelius Washington absolutely dominated the fourth quarter for the Bears— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) August 15, 2014
After struggling through injuries and a lack of depth last season, the Bears defensive line appears to be much improved from a year ago. There are no guarantees every player stays healthy, but if they do, this unit has the potential to be one of the most productive defensive lines in the NFC.
Projected Starters: Shea McClellin, Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams
Backups: Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and Christian Jones
Once one of the strongest position groups on the roster, the Bears linebacker corps has had its fair share of challenges since Brian Urlacher retired after the 2012 season.
Starters Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams struggled with injuries last season, while rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene struggled as their replacements.
Briggs and Williams are set to reclaim their roles on the weak side and in the middle, with Shea McClellin expected to start on the strong side.
McClellin, a former first-round pick in 2012, is making the change from defensive end to linebacker this season.
While he had his struggles in the preseason, he did show some flashes, via Adam Hoge of TheGameChicago.com:
That was a nice play by Shea McClellin. Kept his balance, bounced off a low block and shot the gap for a run stop.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) August 23, 2014
McClellin is going to have his share of ups and downs, but the hope is he continues to show improvement each week.
Serving as the backup to McClellin and Williams, Bostic will likely see some time at linebacker when the team is in their nickel package.
Bostic struggled to read and react to plays in front of him last season but showed some signs of improvement in the preseason.
Second-year man Khaseem Greene and rookie Christian Jones will serve as backups at weak-side linebacker and middle linebacker, respectively, but they will mostly be viewed as major special teams contributors.
On paper, the linebacker corps in 2014 does not look much different than it did a year ago. If Briggs and Williams can remain healthy and return to their old form this season, then the unit should be an above-average group. But, with so many concerns surrounding their age and lack of depth, the linebacker unit has too many questions heading into the 2014 season.
Projected Starters: Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray
Backups: Kyle Fuller, Sherrick McManis, Demontre Hurst, Chris Conte and Brock Vereen
The Chicago Bears will once again head into the regular season with veterans Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman slated to start at cornerback.
The team drafted Kyle Fuller in the first round this past May, and he should see ample playing time this season on the outside when the team is in their nickel package.
Veteran Sherrick McManis and second-year man Demontre Hurst will provide the team with depth and should be major contributors on special teams.
According to the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell, McManis was one of the standouts of training camp:
No question that CB Sherrick McManis had one of the most impressive camps of any Bears reserve. Was consistently around the ball.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) August 30, 2014
Hurst had one of the team's most under-the-radar offseasons. While ChicagoFootball.com's Arthur Arkush thought Kelvin Hayden's experience would have earned him the job, he did praise Hurst's preseason:
#Bears love Hurst's ball skills, and his willingness to be physical in preseason key. But thought theyd value Hayden's slot experience more.— Arthur Arkush (@ArthurArkush) August 30, 2014
Despite signing five-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson this offseason, the safety position still has the same amount of uncertainty it did when training camp began.
Wilson was released following the team's preseason Week 3 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, and injuries to Ryan Mundy (head laceration) and Chris Conte (concussion) leave the position wide open heading into Week 1.
Mundy will likely start at strong safety against the Bills, but there has been no timetable set for Conte's return, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times:
#Bears safety Chris Conte still hasn't been cleared to return from concussion, Trestman said— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) August 29, 2014
If Conte is unable to go, the team will likely start Danny McCray in his place. McCray is a former special teams standout for the Dallas Cowboys and took the majority of first-team reps at free safety during the preseason.
In the mix at free safety is former fourth-round pick Brock Vereen. After spending part of the offseason running with the first team, Vereen split time with the second and third teams throughout the preseason. He has a lot of upside but needs to continue to develop.
While the starting cornerbacks are getting older, Fuller, McManis and Hurst give the position some much-needed youth and upside.
At safety, there are simply too many questions to feel fully confident the position will bounce back from its awful 2013 season.
Mundy should help improve the run defense, but there is no guarantee Conte can return to the player he was before his struggles last season.
Because of so much uncertainty at the safety position, the secondary as a whole gets a grade slightly above average.
Kicker: Robbie Gould
Punter: Patrick O'Donnell
Long Snapper: Jeremy Cain
There have been a lot of changes to the Bears' special teams unit this offseason, but the kicker will remain the same.
After hitting 26 of 29 field goals last season, including three from 50 yards and beyond, Robbie Gould signed a four-year, $17.9 million extension.
Gould sits as the NFL's active leader in field-goal percentage, completing 86 percent of his kicks, and he has made 16 of 19 attempts from beyond 50 yards since 2009.
After releasing veteran punter Adam Podlesh this offseason, the team drafted Miami's Patrick O'Donnell in the sixth round of this year's draft.
In three seasons with the Cincinnati Bearcats, O'Donnell punted 181 times for 7,670 yards. He transferred to Miami for the 2013 season and punted 53 times for 2,498 yards and averaged 43.45 yards per punt for his career.
He had some shaky moments this preseason but beat out second-year man Tress Way, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:
#Bears 6th rd pick Pat O'Donnell has won punting competition. Source says team has waived P Tress Way.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) August 18, 2014
For the first time since 1997, the Chicago Bears will start the regular season without Patrick Mannelly as the long snapper.
Mannelly retired earlier this offseason and recently took a job as a midday sports radio talk show host, via the Chicago Bears' official Twitter account:
Former #Bears LS Patrick Mannelly lands full-time radio gig on WSCR-AM 670 in Chicago; will be on weekdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 27, 2014
After it appeared Brandon Hartson was set to be the team's long snapper heading into Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, the team waived him Sunday afternoon, via ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright:
Chicago Bears waived LS Brandon Hartson— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) August 31, 2014
On Monday the team signed veteran long snapper Jeremy Cain, via ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson:
#Bears sign LS Jeremy Cain.— Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) September 1, 2014
Despite the long snapper position having clarity, there are still major concerns about the team's coverage units and their return men.
According to Biggs, it appears the team will enter the regular season with Micheal Spurlock as the primary kick returner and Santonio Holmes as the punt returner:
Hamstring pull cost Chris Williams more than half of preseason. Looks like Micheal Spurlock is primary returner w/ Santonio Holmes also a PR— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) August 30, 2014
With Gould as the only returning member in 2014, and so many questions surrounding the others, the special teams unit's grade is based more on the unknown than any other position group.
Record/statistical information provided via email from the Chicago Bears or NFL.com.
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.