The oddest training camp and preseason in recent NFL history concluded this weekend as all 32 NFL teams trimmed their rosters down to the final 53. The Chicago Bears were one of the final teams to officially announce their final roster, as is tradition over the last few seasons.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) September 5, 2020
While there were truly no shocking cuts or transactions, the movement we saw so far paints a pretty clear picture as to what the Bears saw over the last month. Here are my takeaways from the team’s final cuts.
1. No undrafted rookie free agents made the team
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As I said, this was the preseason in a very long considering no fans were allowed in attendance for any Bears practices and there were no preseason games either. That meant none of the undrafted rookie free agents (UDFAs) the Bears signed after the draft could showcase their skills against opposing NFL players. It was clearly a problem because after final cuts, no rookie UDFA made the team.
A sign of the COVID-19 times with no preseason: Zero undrafted rookie free agents are on the #Bears initial 53-man roster.
— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) September 5, 2020
Guys like running back Artavis Pierce, and outside linebacker Ledarius Mack, two of the most-hyped players coming into camp, are now left with very little NFL tape and a ton of uncertainty following the Labor Day Weekend. This likely isn’t an issue just for the Bears, as other teams likely had difficulty keeping those players on the roster with little to judge them on. Here’s hoping all seven UDFAs find work elsewhere.
2. The Bears are playing a dangerous game at RB
Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool
Speaking of Pierce, the Bears made it clear they feel more than comfortable at the running back position when they cut the former Oregon State rusher, leaving just David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson and Ryan Nall on the active roster. Montgomery is still dealing with a groin injury suffered less than two weeks ago, leaving Cohen, Patterson and Nall as the healthy backs.
Even if Montgomery is 100% healthy, the Bears running back room is still thinner than a cut of roast beef at the deli. Montgomery showed flashes of brilliance last season, will now need to battle through an injury to start 2020. Cohen doesn’t run between the tackles often as he’s used in passing scenarios, Patterson is still learning to become a full-time running back and his blocking skills are suspect and Nall has carried the ball in an NFL regular season game two times more than I have.
To sum it up, they could use another body. Someone may still be signed or claimed prior to the regular season opener, but this should be concerning, especially since groin injuries can nag for weeks.
3. CB Kevin Toliver was never a serious option to start
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The most surprising cut of the day came from the defensive side, as veteran cornerback Kevin Toliver was one of the casualties on Saturday. Signed out of LSU after going undrafted in 2018, Toliver was high on many evaluator lists and climbed his way up the depth chart to see significant playing time in 2019. When it was announced starting cornerback Prince Amukamara would be released in February, all eyes darted to Toliver to get a crack at the position. The Bears had other plans though.
General manager Ryan Pace signed free agents Tre Roberson and Artie Burns in the spring. But after injuries ruined both their camps, it came down to Toliver, second-round rookie Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine to start opposite Fuller.
Even with Johnson’s arrival, many fans believed Toliver would still get the first shot at starting to ease the rookie in. Unfortunately, the former Tiger felt a bit overhyped after his performance last season. Using data from Pro Football Reference, Toliver saw 11 completions on 16 targets with one score, allowing 14.7 yards-per-play and giving quarterbacks a 122.4 rating when targeted, worst among Bears defensive backs who had 10 targets or more in 2019.
Either the Bears feel they have enough to compete at the cornerback position, or they found someone they like on waivers and feel they can upgrade by cutting Toliver loose. Either way, Toliver wasn’t the answer to the team’s cornerback question.
4. The Bears could still use another inside linebacker
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
If either inside linebacker Roquan Smith or Danny Trevathan misses significant time, the Bears could be in trouble. Behind the two stars are two unproven players in Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe and Josh Woods. Neither player has seen much playing time since they entered the league. Iggy, a 2018 fourth-round draft pick, has played a total of 26 snaps on defense. Woods, meanwhile, hasn’t played one.
In fairness, I had similar concerns in 2019 but was proven wrong when inside linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis were very dependable when stepping into duty. Perhaps the same can happen with these two, but we haven’t seen much at all from either. Pace could be monitoring the waiver wire, as well as current free agents, as the Bears did bring in a few linebackers for a visit, including veteran Alec Ogletree. For now, however, Iggy and Woods will need to prove they can handle the load should they find themselves in the starting lineup.
5. Cutdown day hits differently this year
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Yes, I can go over kicker Cairo Santos being cut or the wide receivers all finding their way onto the roster. But we’re all human and we’ve all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way, shape or form. Cutdown day is always tough for many players in any other year, but this year hits different. Normally, players have put together a string of preseason games, building a highlight reel to show other teams if/when they were cut or make a case to be moved to the active roster.
For example, would tight end Jesper Horsted have made his touchdown catch against the Detroit Lions last season had he not popped off in the team’s last preseason game? This year, none of the Bears UDFAs were able to play in a game and now will need to find new jobs with little to show on their resume.
It isn’t just about the spot on a team, though. For so many men, even to play in a preseason game fulfills life-long dreams. No matter what happens after the fact, they can always say they made a tackle, caught a pass or ran for a touchdown in an NFL game. That very well may not happen for many players around the league.
We like to make a big deal out of the final cuts and who made the last few roster spots on the team. Truthfully, much of it won’t matter because of the guys who were already locks. They’re the ones who will be lining up every single snap during crunch time over the next few months. For those players who rely on preseason to scratch and claw their way onto a team, however, many weren’t able to show who they were when it mattered most.