Three Bears roster battles to watch in preseason finale originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bears enter their preseason finale Saturday in Cleveland with the roster picture clear, for the most part.
Head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles will have some tough decisions based on the health, or lack thereof, of certain position groups.
The offensive line has been an ever-shifting picture during training camp, but I think that group is relatively solid entering Week 3 of the preseason.
Assuming Teven Jenkins cements his spot as the starting right guard Saturday, the Bears' offensive line should be relatively set heading toward Week 1.
But there are three position groups with roster spots still up for grabs. The preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns should help us put the rest of the puzzle pieces together as the Bears march toward cut-down day.
Here are three positions battles to keep your eye on Saturday night in Cleveland:
Locks: Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle, N'Keal Harry
On the bubble: Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis
In need of help: Isaiah Coulter, Nsimba Webster, Chris Finke, Kevin Shaa
The Bears' wide receiving corps has banged up for most of training camp.
Pringle has been out for two weeks with a quad injury, while Harry likely will be placed on short-term IR once rosters are finalized. Jones made his preseason debut in Seattle against the Seahawks but was a non-participant all week. Sharpe had a promising preseason debut in the opener but hasn't practiced in a week and didn't play in Seattle.
Of the receivers who practiced this week, only three (Mooney, St. Brown, and Pettis) caught a pass in an NFL game last season. That's an issue.
The big question with the Bears is: how many receivers will they keep?
The Bears will keep the five locks listed above on the 53-man roster and likely place Harry on IR once rosters are finalized.
That leaves likely one spot, maybe two, for the remaining guys to fight over. If healthy, Sharpe should be close to a lock for the roster. The veteran has developed quick chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields, and he showed off his hands with a dazzling grab against the Chiefs. However, his health is a big question mark.
Sharpe missed the start of camp while on the Non-Football Injury list and hasn't participated since the preseason opener. If he doesn't have a clean bill of health, the Bears could try to cut him, sneak him through waivers, and re-add him once Harry goes on IR.
Pettis has been on the bubble for all of camp, but the Bears' decision to release Dazz Newsome opens up a spot for Pettis as a backup punt returner and depth receiver. Like Sharpe, the Bears could try and sneak Pettis through waivers if they choose not to keep seven receivers.
Coulter is the only one who could potentially make moves with an excellent game against the Browns. But it's a long shot.
Locks: Justin Jones, Robert Quinn, Trevis Gipson, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Dominique Robinson, Khyiris Tonga, Angelo Blackson
On the bubble: Mario Edwards Jr., Trevon Coley, Micah Dew-Treadway
In need of help: Mike Pennel Jr., Charles Snowden, Sam Kamara
Here's another position clouded by availability.
Blackson and Edwards have missed a significant chunk of camp with minor ailments. I think the Bears would like Blackson to be their starting nose tackle if he's deemed healthy. Tonga has undoubtedly made a push for that spot during camp, though.
As for Edwards, he finds himself in an odd spot. During OTAs and minicamp, the Bears claimed they planned to play Edwards on the inside. However, he moved outside during camp and now finds himself squarely on the bubble.
When healthy, Edwards is a more talented player than Coley. But Coley has had a great preseason and is healthy. Edwards' health issues, whatever they are, have put his roster spot in doubt.
That brings us to Dew-Treadway.
The Bears are bullish on the undrafted rookie out of Minnesota. Defensive line coach Travis Smith raved about Dew-Treadway's intelligence and versatility on the defensive line. Dew-Treadway has worked on his technique during camp, and the Bears' staff has been pleased with his progress.
It wouldn't surprise me if the Bears chose to keep Dew-Treadway based on his upside and flexibility.
If Edwards is healthy, he should make the roster. Coley has put himself in the conversation with good performances on gameday. Dew-Treadway has taken to the HITS (hustle, intensity, takeaways, smarts) principle and shown he is valuable at multiple positions.
I'd say two of the three will make the roster. But the Bears could keep all three and go light on receivers or defensive backs.
Speaking of …
Locks: Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson, Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker, Kindle Vildor, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Elijah Hicks
On the bubble: Lamar Jackson, Thomas Graham Jr., Tavon Young, Duke Shelley, Davontae Harris
In need of help: Jaylon Jones, Jon Alexander, Dane Cruikshank, A.J. Thomas, Greg Stroman Jr.
Health is a theme with these roster battles, and it's a significant factor in handicapping how many defensive backs the Bears keep.
There are seven locks. Hicks could be considered a bubble guy, but he is valuable on special teams, and the Bears are high on his potential. He's in.
Jackson likely is in as well due to his ability to play special teams and slot in on the outside if needed.
The nickel is where the problems arise.
Graham has missed all of camp with a hamstring injury, while Young has been absent with a lower-leg issue. Depending on each player's prognosis, I'd expect the Bears to keep one of them, with Graham having the slight edge.
However, if both can be healthy by Week 1, it won't be a surprise to see the Bears keep both and enter the season with 10 defensive backs.
But Gordon's ability to play the nickel could make it easier to cut Young or Graham if they aren't on track to be good for Week 1.
As for the rest of the group, the only one I see potentially entering the conversation is Harris because of his value on special teams.
I think it will be tough for any others to crack the 53.
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