The Bears released their first unofficial depth chart of the season on Wednesday, and there weren’t many surprises to leave you scratching your head.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the depth chart.
Jay Cutler takes the reigns of the offense for his seventh year as Bears quarterback. He has quite a lot to prove as his abnormally large contract might be the only reason why he still remains on the roster. He could be a transitional quarterback only this season so he could be playing for a roster spot elsewhere. Backup Jimmy Clausen played one season for John Fox in Carolina and will get a second chance to show what he has. Don’t expect him to get much playing time this season unless Cutler really tanks or get hurts. David Fales opened up training camp on the PUP list but is listed as the third-string quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do in the preseason and if he has a future with the Bears, let alone the NFL.
Matt Forte, perhaps the team’s best and most consistent player, will be heavily relied on as he enters his eighth season in the league. The Bears need to press the run more this season and take the ball out of Cutler’s hands. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers, a versatile backup who is a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, will get first crack at backing up Forte. But don’t count out rookie Jeremy Langford, who figures to factor into the game plan once he gets his feet wet. Second-year back Ka’Deem Carey, Senorise Perry, and former Dolphin Daniel Thomas are all vying for a roster spot.
The Bears have sort of a hybrid position on their depth chart with a cross between tight end and fullback. Dante Rosario, a tight end by trade who played for Fox in Carolina, is listed first on the depth chart and will split time in the backfield and on the line of scrimmage. Zach Miller, who had a promising preseason a year ago before spending the season on injured reserve, will back up Rosario. Blake Annen, who spent last year on the practice squad, is listed third on the depth chart.
Fresh off his hissy fit this offseason because he wanted more money, Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett resumes his role as the offense’s top tight end and one of the featured targets in the passing game. The Bears signed former Giants and Falcons tight end Bear Pascoe this offseason and he’ll spend time on the second string behind Bennett. Pascoe could see time as an extra blocker in certain run sets. Former Jet Chris Pantale and former 49er Kevin Greene are in the mix as well, but will be hard-pressed to make the roster.
After the Bears traded mercurial wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the offseason, that elevated Alshon Jeffery to the team’s top receiver position. He’ll have a lot to prove to show that he can be the focal point of the passing offense. The Bears signed Eddie Royal in the offseason to be a slot threat and reunite with Cutler, whom he spent a season with in Denver. Top draft pick Kevin White hasn’t been able to take part in training camp practices and will start the season behind Royal on the depth chart. He’ll probably work his way slowly into the lineup, but assuming he can rebound from a health standpoint, he’ll certainly factor into the game plan from the beginning of the season. Third-year pro Marquess Wilson will try to rebound after missing a lot of time last season due to a fractured clavicle. He drew rave reviews a year ago from fellow receivers Marshall and Jeffery as well as from Cutler due to his progress in offseason workouts. Josh Bellamy, Cameron Meredith, Marc Mariani, Ify Umodu, AJ Cruz, Rashad Lawrence, John Chiles, and Levi Norwood all are jostling for positions at the bottom of the depth chart.
The Bears offensive line will feature veterans Jermon Bushrod at left tackle and Matt Slauson at left guard, new center Will Montgomery, who joins the team after spending time with Coach Fox in both Denver and Carolina, Pro Bowler Kyle Long anchoring the right guard position for his third season, and Jordan Mills beginning at right tackle. Montgomery is replacing veteran Roberto Garza and will be trying to hold off third-round rookie Hroniss Grasu, a former college teammate of Long’s at Oregon. Charles Leno, Jr. is attempting to make a push for a roster spot and is listed behind Bushrod with the second string. Vladimir Ducasse will be backing up Slauson at left guard and Jason Weaver is listed behind Long at right guard. Michael Ola will attempt to unseat Mills at right tackle.
The Bears have quite a few moving pieces in their new-look, 3-4 base defense. Last year’ second-round pick, Ego Ferguson, will move from 4-3 defensive tackle to starting end. Free agent acquisition Jarvis Jenkins, who spent his first three seasons with the Washington Redskins, will line up opposite Ferguson. Long-time veteran Jeremiah Ratliff, who played many seasons in a 3-4 defense with the Dallas Cowboys, will begin the season at nose tackle. Rookie Eddie Goldman was drafted specifically for this new scheme and will push Ratliff for playing time. Second-year tackle Will Sutton will attempt to make the transition to the outside as a 3-4 end, but he could be a man without a position. Cornelius Washington could make the team as a core special teamer and he’s listed behind Sutton at end.
One of the focal points of training camp and the preseason will be the Bears’ prized free agent acquisition, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. For a man to speak of his “violence” in his introductory press conference, I’m sure all of Chicago is eager to see what he can do bringing pressure off the edge. Veteran defensive end Jared Allen will attempt to make the transition from lineman to linebacker and he starts the season lined up opposite McPhee. Former first-round pick Shea McClellin will get at least one more chance to prove himself as a capable NFL player as he mans one of the starting inside linebacker positions. Last year’s surprise rookie free agent, Christian Jones, will line up next to McClellin on the inside. Two other players to watch will be free agent acquisition Sam Acho, who has been having a good camp so far, and Lamarr Houston, who is transitioning from lineman to linebacker in his second season with the team. Third-year pro Jon Bostic will line up behind Jones, and Mason Foster, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will back up McClellin. David Bass and Willie Young are among those vying for roster spots but will have uphill climbs. Young looked like such a promising prospect last year as a 4-3 defensive end but now could be a man without a position.
After the departure of veteran Charles Tillman, second-year pro Kyle Fuller steps up and assumes the role of top cornerback. Fuller jumped out to an impressive start in his rookie season — even garnering some attention as a potential defensive rookie of the year — before tapering off. Veteran Tim Jennings will line up opposite Fuller for his sixth season with the team. Tracy Porter, who spent time with general manager Ryan Pace in New Orleans, and Alan Ball are the second-stringers. Sherrick McManis will attempt to make the roster as a core special teamer and fifth cornerback. Terrance Mitchell, Al Louis-Jean, Bryce Callahan, Qumain Black, and Jacoby Glenn are all battling for spots.
The Bears were in dire need of some leadership on the third level of their defense and signed veteran Antrel Rolle to start at one safety. Second-year pro Brock Vereen gets the nod at the other safety position but has veteran Ryan Mundy breathing down his neck. That ought to be an interesting battle moving forward. Rookie Adrian Amos, Demontre Hurst, and Sherrod Martin are battling for some playing time.
Robbie Gould returns for his 11th season as Bears kicker. Pat O’Donnell will begin his second season as Bears punter and hopes to build off a promising rookie season. Thomas Gafford, who spent seven seasons with the Chiefs, is the lead long-snapper. Rick Lovato is competing with him. Marc Mariani begins the year as the kickoff and punt returner. Mariani was an explosive punt returner for the Titans in 2011 before he suffered a gruesome broken leg that kept him out of football until the Bears gave him a chance last season. Royal will handle backup punt return duties and Perry is listed as backup kickoff returner.