Roster cuts are one of the darkest times in the NFL. A total of 1,184 players are cut across the league as teams contract down to their final 53 players. Teams face tough decisions on who to keep and who to let loose, and every year there are a handful of surprising choices. Some players make the decision easy with either poor or impressive play, but others are on the bubble until the last minute.
The Chicago Bears have already made their first round of cuts in advance of the Tuesday, August 27th deadline, but they still face many difficult decisions. With an entirely new coaching staff, it is difficult to determine roster tendencies because there is no previous data to base it on. Still, it is always fun to try and predict who will make the team and who will miss the cut. Here is a look at who makes the final 53-man roster on offense.
2012 Position Overview:
Jay Cutler has not played a full season since 2009, so naturally, general manager Phil Emery put a premium on the backup quarterback position by signing Jason Campbell to a 3.5 million dollar contract in the 2012 offseason. When Cutler would inevitably go down, Campbell struggled, facing the Houston Texans and San Fransisco 49ers. The team also brought in Josh McCown as insurance after Cutler was injured. He has stuck around and is now the primary backup heading into the 2013 season.
Cutler has never put up spectacular numbers as a member of the Bears, but he has never had an offense capable of spectacular things. 2013 looks to be a different story as Cutler now has an improved offensive line, developing wide receivers, a real tight end, and a coach who was hand-picked for him to thrive with. If Cutler cannot succeed in the position the Bears are putting him in, the two may part ways this offseason when he becomes a free agent.
Many do not consider McCown very capable of being a quality backup quarterback, especially in a situation where he has a high likelihood of seeing the field. He is 34-years old, but the Bears appear to be confident in his abilities. For more on why the McCown is a competent backup, see Josh McCown: Why the Chicago Bears Backup Quarterback is Not as Bad as You Think
Cutler could be in store for a big 2013 season. All of the pieces are in place. He has thrown for over 4,500 yards in a season before, and he could reach similar numbers this year. It is all a matter of fully buying in to head coach Marc Trestman’s system and overcoming growing pains. It is not all going to click right away, but once the offense gets going, they will be tough to stop. The new offensive line should help keep Cutler on the field, and the team hopes they will not have to use McCown at all.
2012 Position Overview:
The Bears bolstered their backfield for the foreseeable future in the 2012 offseason, signing Matt Forte and Michael Bush to four-year deals. Forte had another 1,000-yard rushing season, but he had a career low 44 receptions for 340 yards. Bush too had a career-worst season, with only 411 yards on 114 carries. He did reach the endzone five times, so his value was still felt. Third-stringer Armando Allen saw the field sparingly, but he performed well when given the opportunity.
Forte is the absolute perfect fit for Trestman’s offense. The coach loves to throw it to his runningbacks and Forte is an excellent receiver. Trestman has had runningbacks put up 1,800 all-purpose yards, and Forte looks to do the same. A healthy season could mean another Pro Bowl for him as the offense runs through him, both figuratively and literally.
Bush’s first year in Chicago was rough, but a new coaching staff should help him see the field more. He is a quality goalline back, and at the very least he should see the endzone a handful of times. Bush has shown he has the talent to be a starter, so the Bears should feel lucky that they have him as a backup.
Much of Allen’s impact comes on special teams, but he has still shown the ability to be a quality runner with the ball in his hands. A hamstring injury has kept him out of most of the preseason, but as a four-phase special teamer, he is too valuable to release.
An undrafted free agent out of LSU, Ford has had an explosive preseason. He has taken full advantage of his extended playing-time, rushing for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries in the Bears’ three games. He also impressed as a kick returner with 287 yards on 8 returns, good for nearly 36 yards per return. He has been too good for the Bears to let him go, so the Bears are forced to keep four traditional runningbacks.
Back in February, Bears’ coach Aaron Kromer stated his desire for the team to carry a traditional fullback, and Fiammetta fits the bill. He did not receive a carry or make a catch all preseason, but he has impressive as a lead blocker. Trestman was seen congratulating him after a nice block on a Forte touchdown, and his only competition was an injured Harvey Unga. He has also been producing on special teams, furthering his value to the team.
If Forte maintains good health, there is no reason to believe he will not put up another 1,000 yard season, rushing. He should also have a big impact in the passing game, as some of Trestman’s offenses have thrown to the runningback more than some of the receivers. Bush too should see an increased role from 2012, and the two may see the field at the same time more often than last year.
Either Allen or Ford will likely be a gameday inactive, with Ford being more probable. Neither would see the field much on offense, and Allen is more valuable on special teams. Meanwhile, Fiammetta should see a bit of action as the sole fullback, and the blocking he provides will often go underrated.
Wide Receiver (6)
2012 Position Overview:
After three years of awful wide receivers, the Bears needed an upgrade, so Emery traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery in the 2012 offseason. Reuniting with Cutler, Marshall had 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns, all career highs. Behind him, the Bears had very little production. Jeffery missed seven games due to injury and Earl Bennett continued to struggle along with Devin Hester, who could not make an impact.
Marshall is one of the top-three receivers in the league, and his chemistry with Cutler is immaculate. He is and always has been his favorite target, and 2013 should be no different. He requires an almost constant double-team from opposing defenses or else he will find a way to get open. He is in the prime of his career, and it is still laughable that the Bears were able to acquire him for only two third-round picks.
Hand and knee injuries shortened Jeffery’s rookie season, but while on the field, he looked impressive. He had a strong NFL debut with three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts. He would finish strong too with four catches for 76 yards against the Detroit Lions. Cutler recently said that Jeffery is having the best training camp of anyone on the offense, and the Bears are hoping he can continue to improve through the season.
Bennett’s production has steadily declined since he received a contract extension in 2011. 2012 yielded a career low in yardage with only 375. He has struggled to stay healthy, missing 10 games over the last two seasons. He seems to have lost quite a bit of chemistry with Cutler, and with all of the Bears’ new targets, he may not see too many passes thrown his way in 2013.
Anderson did not survive roster cuts in 2012, but one year later, he has a roster spot locked down. Bears coaches praised him during minicamps and his improvement continued to show through training camp. The key for him was to improve on special teams, and his development there, along with offensive ability, has earned him a roster spot.
The team’s seventh-round draft pick in 2013, Wilson has loads of potential. His path from college to the NFL has been well documented, having been dismissed from the Washington football team. He has great size and speed, and as he puts it all together while developing, he could become something great. He had a great performance against the San Diego Chargers, and the Bears cannot risk losing him by trying to stash him on the practice squad. He has a spot on the 53.
Usually, teams do not expect much offensive production from their sixth receiver and instead look for special teams players. Weems is the Bears’ best special teamer. He is a four-phase player who is an excellent gunner. He has always struggled on offense, but his special teams value is too great to let him go. Given the other receivers’ special teams deficiencies, his importance is even greater yet.
Brandon Marshall will still be Brandon Marshall and will still be Cutler’s favorite target. He should easily go for another 1,000-plus yard season. Now that Jeffery is healthy again, he can become a regular contributor to the offense, as defenses will focus their coverage on Marshall. In the slot, Bennett needs to not only stay healthy, but also produce. He is in a contract year and the Bears are hoping he can regain his 2009 form.
Anderson should have somewhat of a role with the offense, but the exact role is yet to be determined. He seems to be in good favor with the coaches and may see the field more than expected. Wilson may end up being a gameday inactive due to his lack of special teams ability. He has shown some offensive ability, but as an end-of-the-bench receiver, he will not see the field much anyway. Weems however should see the field quite a bit, on special teams. He once again will not be a big part of the offense.
Tight End (3)
2012 Position Overview:
The 2012 Chicago Bears tight end group had an exceptionally poor season. Kellen Davis had only 19 catches with six drops on 44 targets. He was also a turnstile as a blocker, providing little protection for Cutler. Backup Matt Spaeth was a much better blocker, but he was just as bad as a receiver. The Bears got very little offensive production from this group.
The Bears went out and signed Bennett on the first day of free agency to solidify a position that has been brutal in Chicago since 2009. He has not seen the ball much in the preseason, but it is hardly anything to be concerned about. He and Cutler should develop chemistry quite quickly as he becomes a reliable target over the middle.
Reuniting with Emery from the Kansas City Chiefs, Maneri has always been a very good blocker, but he struggles catching the ball. As a converted offensive tackle, it is expected. He has been the team’s second tight end all offseason, and no one has been able to unseat him.
The Bears’ third tight end in 2012, Adams is a versatile player, able to line up in the backfield and motion out wide. He is a good but not great receiver and a decent blocker, and he has shown steady improvement since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011. His special teams ability along with his versatility is what helps him keep his roster spot.
Bennett is the best tight end the Bears have had since Greg Olsen, and he should have a big year. He should really open up the field for the wide receivers by taking coverage over the middle. He is also a fine blocker, defenses will have to account for him at all times. Maneri will be used almost exclusively as a blocker, and he is very good at it. Adams will see the field at times, but may be used mostly on special teams
Offensive Tackle (3)
2012 Position Overview:
J’Marcus Webb was one of the few stable offensive linemen for the Bears in 2012. On the right side, the Bears began the season with young Gabe Carimi, but after a week 11 debacle, he was benched in favor of Jonathan Scott. Scott would then get injured week 15 and Carimi would return to the starting lineup. None of the three tackles them performed well.
Because of the offensive line issues, the Bears went and signed Bushrod early in free agency. He followed Aaron Kromer from the New Orleans Saints, where they both worked to protect Drew Brees. Bushrod’s signing moved Webb back to the right side. The Bears are hoping he can keep Cutler’s blindside clean for the next five years.
As the Bears’ fifth round pick in 2013, Mills was not expected to see significant playing time, but that all changed when Scott became injured and Webb was demoted. Now thrust into the starting role, Mills performed well against the Chargers and the Oakland Raiders. He is going to be the Bears starter week one and they hope for the entire season. The team may have gotten a steal in the draft.
Webb entered training camp as the starter at right tackle, but after a sub-par performance against the Carolina Panthers and some rough days at practice, he was demoted to the second team. Now, he was fighting for a job. Because he has the versatility to play either tackle position, he finds himself on the 53 man roster. He may not be great, but there is a reason he has started every game during the last two seasons.
The Bears finally have quality starters on both ends. Bushrod should do a pretty good job keeping the pressure off of Cutler so he can focus on the throw instead of running for his life. Mills is still learning, but he has a lot going for him, and he should get better as the season goes on. The Bears have plenty of blocking tight ends to help them when they need it.
Offensive Guard/Center (5)
2012 Position Overview:
The Bears’ interior offensive line was a mess in 2012. Fortunately, Roberto Garza was able to play every game at center, but he did struggle at times. At right guard, they had stability with Lance Louis, but he tore his ACL week 12. He would be replaced by a recently benched Carimi.
On the other side, Chris Spencer would start the season, but he would soon be benched for Chilo Rachal, who would later leave the team suddenly, causing Spencer to be re-inserted into the lineup. Soon after replacing Rachal, Spencer would get injured, forcing the Bears to start Edwin Williams at left guard. Williams would soon be benched in favor of undrafted free agent James Brown. Six different players started at guard for the Bears in 2012.
Late in free agency, the Bears signed Slauson to a cheap one-year deal as a stop-gap guard. He spent his first three seasons as a member of the New York Jets. He was in competition with James Brown for the left guard spot and won. The Bears hope he can bring some stability to the position and help make up for some of Garza’s struggles.
Even with Slauson, the Bears needed more help at guard, so they used their 2012 first-round pick on Long. Many were critical of him after the draft, but once he was inserted into the starting lineup against the Chargers, those critics were silenced. He has phenomenal physical abilities and appears to be a budding young star. If he continues to develop the way he has been, he could be a quality offensive lineman for years to come.
After losing competitions with Slauson at left guard and Long at right guard, Brown finds himself as the Bears’ best bench guard. His experience, albeit short, gave him an early advantage at camp, but now he provides an excellent backup. The Bears should feel comfortable inserting him into the lineup when needed.
At 34 years of age, Garza may be entering his last season as a starter. His contract will be up at the end of the year, and his decline in play makes it appear that his days are numbered. He is still a valuable member of the line due to his veteran leadership, and he is not a total liability when blocking.
Boggs has been running with the second team offense in training camp, surpassing Williams, who has struggled mightily. Boggs was at one point teammates with Slauson on the Jets, but spent 2012 without a season. The Bears need someone on the bench who can play center, and he is the best they have. It would be difficult to justify keeping Williams over him for his versatility when Boggs has been the better player.
The Bears now have stability on the interior, and the guards mirror the tackles. On the left side you have the veteran, Slauson, who shores up the position, and on the right side you have the rookie, Long, who is still developing but learning quickly. At center, Garza is declining and he may be the Bears’ worst offensive lineman in 2013. He is not completely awful, but his age is certainly showing. All in all, the offensive line is a much improved unit from 2012, and together they are expected to do a much better job keeping Cutler upright.
Coming Soon: Predicting the Final 53: The Chicago Bears’ Defense and Special Teams