Making Call on the Chicago Bears' Hardest Remaining Cuts
The Chicago Bears will head to Indianapolis later this week to practice with the Colts just ahead of their preseason matchup on August 22. The Bears are set to hit the road for the first time this preseason, and Saturday's game is scheduled to kickoff at 6:30 p.m. CT.
The Bears currently have 90 players on their roster, but they will have to reduce the roster to 75 players by September 1. The cut down to 75 players will come after Chicago's third preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on August 29, and the Bears will have to reduce their roster down from 75 players to 53 players before September 6.
In the coming weeks, the battles at positions like running back, outside linebacker and defensive end will ramp up as the team gets closer to the cut deadline.
Who is currently on the bubble and could be among Chicago's final roster cuts?
OLB Willie Young
The Bears signed defensive end Willie Young last offseason to a three-year, $9 million contract, and the young lineman had a productive first season in Chicago.
He registered 39 tackles, a career-high 10 sacks, two pass deflections and one forced fumble, but he tore his Achilles in Week 16 against the Detroit Lions. Young spent minicamp and OTAs on the sidelines as he rehabbed his injury this offseason, but he began practicing with the team at the start of training camp.
In addition to coming off a season-ending injury, Young is also learning to play a new position. After spending the first five years of his career as a 4-3 defensive end, he is making the move to outside linebacker in Chicago's 3-4 defense this offseason.
Even though Young has wanted to get out there and practice at a high level, he knows he cannot push himself too hard.
“I’m not trying to jump back in the fire too soon,” he said, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. “Definitely got to be careful and gauge it based on my comfort level and how I’m feeling on a day-to-day basis."
When the Bears released their first unofficial depth chart of the offseason, Young was listed as a third-string outside linebacker behind Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho, and he did not play in the team's first preseason game last Thursday.
Young was one of Chicago's lone bright spots last season on defense, but he is going to have a hard time making this team out of training camp because of the depth and experience ahead of him. Both McPhee and Acho have played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense before, and the Bears have a lot of money committed to fellow outside linebackers Jared Allen ($12.5 million cap hit) and Lamarr Houston ($6.99 million cap hit) this season.
The Bears could look to trade the former North Carolina State standout to a 4-3 team in the coming weeks, but unless he can get on the field during the preseason and flash as an outside linebacker, he could be cut before the start of the regular season.
DE Brandon Dunn
Signed by the Bears last offseason as an undrafted free agent, defensive end Brandon Dunn spent the majority of the 2014 season on Chicago's practice squad before getting called up for the final three games of the year.
He recorded one tackle in three games, and according to Pro Football Focus, he played a total of 62 snaps at defensive tackle and finished the year with a plus-2.2 overall grade. He made the move to defensive end this offseason in Chicago's 3-4 defense, and he is currently listed as one of the team's second-string defensive ends behind starter Ego Ferguson.
Per Pro Football Focus, Dunn played 21 of Chicago's 79 snaps against the Miami Dolphins in the team's preseason opener, and he graded out with a plus-0.7 overall grade. Dunn has good size (6'2", 300 lbs) for the position, and WGN Radio's Adam Hoge thinks the former Louisville lineman is a good fit in Chicago.
Dunn is not much of a pass-rusher, but he is strong and powerful at the point of attack. He was used primarily as a nose tackle a Louisville, but he is explosive enough to make an impact on the outside at the 5-technique defensive end spot.
Both Ferguson and fellow defensive end Will Sutton flashed on Thursday night against Miami, but the Bears still have a lot of question marks at the position. Ferguson and Sutton are near locks to make the roster this season, leaving Dunn to compete with third-year man Cornelius Washington for the final spot.
Washington played well against Miami in the preseason opener, and his explosiveness and ability to get after the quarterback makes him the front-runner for the final spot on the roster.
Dunn could earn a spot on the roster with a strong showing in the coming weeks, particularly if he plays well against the run, but Washington's upside makes him a more intriguing option at the 5-technique.
TE Zach Miller
Tight end Zach Miller was the talk of the preseason in 2014 after hauling in six catches for 68 yards with two touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first preseason game of the year, but he suffered a Lisfranc injury the following week and missed the entire season.
“I knew when it happened that it popped,” Miller said about his injury, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash. “We were running a draw play and I was up on the safety and blocked him and put my foot down and it just snapped on me. I was just disappointed, because I was ready to play.”
Miller has struggled with injuries throughout his career, and he has not appeared in a regular season game since 2011. Despite his injury, the Bears offered the veteran tight end a one-year contract this offseason.
There is no doubt that Martellus Bennett is Chicago's No. 1 tight end, but Miller has been competing with Dante Rosario and Bear Pascoe to be the team's No. 2 tight end.
He has been viewed primarily as a pass-catching tight end since joining the league in 2009, but tight ends coach Frank Smith has been impressed with Miller's blocking this offseason.
"The interesting thing I’ve seen in this camp is his blocking and pass protection has gotten a lot better," Smith said, per Potash. "I can see the route running. Being able to do everything is equally important. We’re really excited with what he’s going to do.”
When the Bears released their depth chart last week, Bennett was listed as the No. 1 tight end and Rosario was listed as the No. 1 tight end/fullback with Miller listed as the No. 2 tight end/fullback.
Per Pro Football Focus, Miller played 22 snaps on offense Thursday night, but he did not record a catch. He is an intriguing option because of his pass-catching ability, but since the Bears are looking to run the football more this season, according to Campbell, they may opt to go with another blocking tight end.
Chicago signed Pascoe to a one-year deal this offseason, and the former New York Giant and Atlanta Falcon is a better fit as a blocking tight end. He has struggled in the past in pass protection, but he is an above average run blocker.
If the Bears were not planning on putting a big emphasis on the run this season, Miller would almost be a lock to make the roster, but since the running game will be a priority, he may lose out on a roster spot to Pascoe.
QB David Fales
When the Bears reported for training camp late last month, second-year quarterback David Fales was placed on the non-football illness list, according to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson.
After spending more than two weeks watching practices from the sidelines, Fales returned to the practice field on Sunday morning.
"Quarterback David Fales now on the active roster for Bears," tweeted the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer on Sunday. "His first practice of camp comes today."
Fales did not specify what his illness was, but he did say he feels comfortable in new offensive coordinator Adam Gase's system.
“I know it—I picked this up a lot easier than I did last year,” he said, per the Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley. “It’s just night and day, just how I see everything. But seeing and knowing is a lot different than going out there and getting behind center and doing it.”
The Bears drafted Fales in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and after playing sparingly in the first three preseason games last season, he started the final preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. He completed 13 of his 24 pass attempts against Cleveland for 146 yards and threw one touchdown and one interception.
He spent the majority of the season on Chicago's practice squad before joining the 53-man roster for the final three games of the season. He was the team's No. 2 quarterback for the final game of the year behind Jay Cutler.
The young quarterback excelled at San Jose State in the short-to-intermediate passing game, and he also displayed good mechanics under center. He appeared to be a better fit in former head coach Marc Trestman's West Coast offense, but his accuracy and intelligence makes him a good fit in Gase's system.
Since Fales missed all of training camp down in Bourbonnais, Illinois, there is no guarantee he will get his fair share of reps during the preseason. Cutler and backup Jimmy Clausen are locks to make the roster, and Fales is competing with 2015 undrafted free agent Shane Carden for the No. 3 spot.
Carden did not attempt a pass against the Dolphins, and the undrafted free agent is going to have a hard time making Chicago's roster. From a mechanics standpoint, Fales is a much better quarterback than Carden. If the Bears decide to keep three quarterbacks, Fales stands the best chance of making the team, but the Bears will more than likely only keep two quarterbacks. If only Cutler and Clausen make the final 53-man roster, the Bears will likely try to stash Fales on the practice squad.
RB Ka'Deem Carey
Ka'Deem Carey spent all of last season as Chicago's No. 2 running back behind starter Matt Forte, but the former two-time All-American is currently sitting on the roster bubble.
Between 2012 and 2013 at the University of Arizona, Carey rushed for 3,814 yards on 652 carries with 42 touchdowns. The Bears selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, but according to Pro Football Focus, he played just 100 snaps last season. The young running back finished his rookie season with 158 rushing yards on 36 carries.
After general manager Ryan Pace took over in January, he decided to revamp the running back position behind Forte. He signed veterans Jacquizz Rodgers and Daniel Thomas in free agency and drafted Michigan State's Jeremy Langford in the fourth round of this year's draft.
Since the Bears opted not to play Forte against Miami, Rodgers started Chicago's first preseason game, and he was relieved by Langford in the second quarter.
Carey got his first opportunity in the third quarter, and he finished the contest with 34 rushing yards on seven carries with one touchdown. He did a nice job of hitting holes and allowing his blockers to do the dirty work in front of him, and his teammates acknowledged his effort.
“Ka’Deem, he’s a spark plug,” said right tackle Jordan Mills after the game, per ChicagoFootball.com's Arthur Arkush. “Everyone feeds off each other. He and [backup running back] Senorise [Perry] … those running backs are tough. They don’t want back away from anything. They’ll stare fear in the eye and run it over. So to see them play like they did tonight was great.”
Carey's performance on Thursday night was encouraging, but the young running back is going to have a difficult time making the roster unless he can prove his worth on special teams. Rodgers is a lock to make the team because of his ability on third downs and in pass protection, while Langford will make the roster because of his speed and ability to catch the football.
Carey is a solid running back who runs well between the tackles, but he does not offer much in the passing game and can be a liability at times in pass protection. His performance on Thursday proved he has the ability to be an effective running back in the NFL, but because of the talent the Bears have ahead of him on the roster, he may be looking for a new team in the next few weeks.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.