Hub Arkush: Bears final preseason game good gauge of roster depth
In response to a question about how his depth chart was shaping up at running back on Tuesday, Matt Nagy said, “I think this team has depth, I really do, in a lot of positions and that’s one of our strong ones, I think.”
Forgetting the running backs for a second, the question of the depth of the Bears’ roster is what makes their final exhibition at Soldier Field Thursday night against Buffalo not just worth watching but somewhat interesting.
Nagy is certain to rest even a few more than the 31 players that sat last Saturday against the Chiefs as he, Ryan Pace and their staffs tackle the questions of which players will claim the final six or seven spots on the 53-man roster.
There is no question that this is the most talented group of players the club has assembled since the arrival of Ryan Pace. Whether or not the first 35 or so are good enough to actually win more than they lose and make a run at a playoff spot is questionable, and will remain uncertain for at least a few more weeks.
Nagy is talking about even more depth beyond that, players good enough to step in and make plays should a front-liner go down, and that is what we should all be looking for in the Bills game.
Running back is a good place to start with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Bennie Cunningham looking like a very solid first three, but the rest of the depth chart is unsettled.
If they keep a fullback, it will be Mike Burton, but with the status of Adam Shaheen uncertain and the possibility of carrying four or even five tight ends, Burton could be the odd man out.
Either way the Bears seem likely to keep a fourth running back, and going into the Buffalo game it feels like Ryan Nall may have the slightest of edges over Taquan Mizzell and Knile Davis.
All four backs should be watched closely.
At least one, and possibly two of Ben Braunecker, Daniel Brown and Colin Thompson are likely to be on the opening-day roster, and that could very well be decided by their performances against Buffalo.
With Earl Watford now gone and Bradley Sowell nicked last week against the Chiefs, I will be keeping a very close eye on Rashaad Coward, Matt McCants, Jordan Morgan, Will Pericak and Hroniss Grasu Thursday night.
Two of them will most likely make the team.
I assume Grasu is gone, but should Daniels steal the starting OLG spot from Eric Kush, the Bears may feel the need to keep Grasu as insurance at center.
Watch Coward closely as he is a really interesting converted D-lineman, albeit one the Bears may feel they can get to the practice squad again.
On the D-line, veteran John Jenkins is probably the best bubble player with a roster shot if the Bears keep six, and the most worth watching in the Bills game.
At linebacker, we think Aaron Lynch and Isaiah Irving have already secured roster spots, and we know Leonard Floyd and Sam Acho are the starters, as well as who the first three inside are.
That means Joel Iyiegbuniwe, John Timu, Kylie Fitts and Kasim Edebali will get their final auditions for one, two or three spots (most likely two) and should be very closely watched at what is probably the most competitive spot on the roster.
Bubble guys to watch in the secondary are Marcus Cooper, Doran Grant, Michael Joseph, Kevin Toliver, Deiondre’ Hall and Nick Orr, with two or three likely to survive.
All but Cooper and Hall could very well land on the practice squad.
Out of the entire group, Nall, Braunecker, Coward, Jenkins, Iyiegbuniwe, Fitts, Edebali, Cooper and Hall probably deserve the closest scrutiny, as they have the best chances of actually getting on the field and making a difference at some point this year if they make the team.
They are also the ones most likely to prove Nagy right or wrong about his club’s depth.