With the first set of roster cuts looming less than a week away (Aug. 30) and the most important preseason game — that term is used loosely — coming up on Saturday, there are a handful of Bears who must be feeling the pressure to perform and to make a last-ditch effort at keeping, or improving, their jobs.
The third preseason game is considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season because a simple game plan is created for the opponent and the starters typically play into the third quarter. Because of this, those players deeper on the depth chart won’t get much playing time in order to try to make the final roster. However, the players who do end up seeing the field are likely to survive the first cut and become bubble players for the final cutdown on Sept. 3.
The following is a list of ten players with something to prove in Saturday’s game as well as in the next week of practice. Some are in danger of not making the final roster while others have playing time on the line. All of them, however, have either something to gain or something to lose.
Unless some unforeseen event like a ridiculously productive game on Saturday or a serious injury to one of the other backs on the roster occurs, Chester Taylor is a dead man walking. The Bears paid Taylor good money last offseason to compete with Matt Forte for the starting job, or, at worst, provide the offense with a complementary runner in a two-back attack. Taylor did neither, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. The Bears brought in Marion Barber this year because they felt his violent running style would help them improve a dreadful short-yardage and red-zone offense from a year ago. Many felt at that moment that Taylor would be cut, but the Bears have kept him around for insurance in the event that somebody got hurt. Taylor has proven nothing through two preseason games while Barber has gotten the lion’s share of the work.
The only reason Marcus Harrison is still on the roster at this point is because, like Taylor, Harrison provided another camp body and insurance in the event of poor play or injury. The fourth-year defensive tackle missed the first five days of practice after showing up to training camp overweight for the second time in three seasons. He’s also failed to live up to expectations and the Bears have lost patience with him. Unless by surprise he shows up to play on Saturday — and even then, it’s no guarantee — he’s not likely to make the final roster.
Two years ago the Bears kept six receivers on the roster at the expense of a third-string quarterback because they felt good about the depth and potential at the position. This year, they might have to do the same due to the production and potential of Dane Sanzenbacher. The undrafted rookie out of Ohio State was coveted by more than three-fourths of the league before signing with the Bears and he has impressed both coaches and teammates. Said head coach Lovie Smith: “He’s kind of the perfect guy to play in the slot. He’s not the biggest guy around, but he’s got great quickness, runs great routes and has good hands. He’s a confident player.” Jay Cutler called Sanzenbacher “impressive” and said he thinks he’ll be used a lot. A good showing in the final week and a half will make it tough for the team to get rid of him.
Vernon Gholston/Mario Addison
My, what only a week can do for one’s perception of a pair of players. Last week following the Bills game, Vernon Gholston and rookie Mario Addison drew positive reviews and many felt they’d be competing for playing time with Corey Wootton as the third defensive end on the roster. After Wootton’s injury against the Bills and the performance of Gholston and Addison against the Giants on Monday, things have suddenly shifted. GM Jerry Angelo expressed concern over the injury to Wootton and what that did to the depth at the position, and didn’t exactly give a vote of confidence to either Gholston or Addison. He also noted that the team would look outside the organization if necessary in order to ensure that the Bears have a solid rotation with starters Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. Both Gholston and Addison need to show some kind of potential in order to survive the final cuts.
At this point, it’s unclear as to whether Zack Bowman will even suit up on Saturday after suffering a mild concussion against the Bills. But his chances of winning the cornerback battle with Tim Jennings appear to be slim to none. What a precipitous fall Bowman has suffered since being anointed the No. 1 cornerback in last year’s training camp. He managed to start just three games last year before being yanked in the Packers game for poor performance, particularly in run support. Bowman has all the desired traits of a cornerback with his size and nose for the football, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. He’s had an injury-plagued past in both college and his first couple years with the Bears and unless he actually plays and succeeds in the next week and a half, his future with the Bears appears murky.
Lance Louis/Chris Spencer
Lance Louis did himself a favor by surviving a ferocious Giants pass rush on Monday night. It allowed him to keep his job for another week and remain with the starting offensive line. Unless his performance against the Titans on Saturday is catastrophic, he’s likely to remain at the position into the regular season. Meanwhile, veteran Chris Spencer remains on the second unit and is trying to work his way into the starting lineup. He can help himself out with a good performance Saturday and a bad one by Louis. Spencer can play guard, but ideally he’d replace Garza at center, where he’s played most of his career, and then Garza can slide over to replace Louis at right guard, where Garza is more comfortable. It’ll be interesting to see if the Bears rotate Spencer in with the starters for a series or two on Saturday, but they are likely to leave their line together to evaluate how it performs in excess of two quarters.
The Bears seem committed to Webb as the left tackle of the future, so he doesn’t have a whole lot to gain or lose in the short time before the regular season begins. Unless he has two disastrous games to close the preseason, I don’t expect the Bears to make the switch to Frank Omiyale — or, an even more unlikely scenario, moving Gabe Carimi to left tackle. Webb will most likely be the opening day starter at left tackle, anyway, but he can solidify that and make a lot of people — the front office, the coaches, the fans, and Cutler himself — feel better with a solid two weeks leading up to the Sept. 11 date with Atlanta.
Roy Williams/Johnny Knox
Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake had a stern message for his pupil, Roy Williams, on Wednesday. Drake told reporters that his job is to ensure that the best wide receivers are on the field on game day, and if Johnny Knox is one of those players, he’ll be on the field ahead of Williams. The story of training camp and the preseason has been Williams’ conditioning and his struggle to get on the same page with Cutler. Meanwhile, Knox has responded to his demotion to the second team behind Williams in the right way: by saying all the right things, keeping his mouth shut otherwise, and going out each and every day and working hard to earn his job back. It certainly appears that one receiver is headed one direction and the other one the opposite way. Williams is veteran who has been around for a while and if he does have anything left in the tank, he’ll probably turn it on when the real games begin. But if he does not improve at all and doesn’t show any hint of a pulse, he could get demoted and replaced by Knox. That is, assuming Knox continues to progress.
Cutler figures to play into the third quarter against the Titans on Saturday, which leaves Caleb Hanie with about a quarter and a half of action to prove that he can be the backup quarterback. He struggled against the Bills and played marginally better against the Giants, but Mike Martz has never been a member of his fan club. Unless he continues to show improvement over the last two games — the second of which he should play the majority of snaps with Cutler sitting on the bench — Martz could be seeking a veteran backup just as he did last year.
He’s the undisputed starting running back, so Matt Forte doesn’t have anything to prove from a roster perspective. But in the midst of contract negotiations, the only way Forte can gain any leverage is if the running game starts to show signs of improvement. Forte did little last season, too, until after the bye week, so it may be difficult for him to prove he deserves a big contract during the final two weeks of the preseason. But any time he gets his hands on the ball, especially in Saturday’s dress rehearsal, he has to make plays.