1. Lovie Smith always has said that it's hard to make final roster cuts, with plenty of hard decisions in the process.
Sure, it’s never easy to ask a large group of men to turn in their playbooks -- now on iPads -- and hit the road. But when coaches talk about competition that has been going on since the first day of training camp (and before that in the offseason program), they’re also talking about evaluations that have been going on just as long. The front office and coaches reported to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais with an idea of what the 53-man roster was going to look like. After the third preseason game, it’s coming more into focus.
First cuts to a 75-man limit are due by 3 p.m. Monday and it would not be a surprise if the Bears announce some in advance of the deadline. They have in the past and the club needs to trim only 13 players to reach that figure. Final cuts to 53 are due by 8 p.m. Friday -- about 22 hours after the conclusion of the preseason finale at Cleveland. So, you better believe the team will have an idea what direction it is heading before that game against the Browns because no one is going to pull an all-nighter deciding on the 52nd and 53rd roster spots.
With a new general manager and front office in place, perhaps trends shift in roster shaping. Here is one man’s projection on a 53-man roster:
Quarterbacks (3 projected, 3 on 2011 Opening Weekend roster)
Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown
Analysis: No one will be able to say the club didn’t do all it could in the event an injury comes again for Cutler. The Bears sunk $3.5 million in Campbell for one season and McCown did enough in the two starts at the end of last season to earn a job as an emergency option. Some have suggested undrafted rookie free agent Matt Blanchard could be considered for a roster spot but he’s still got a long ways to go to make the leap from Division III to the NFL. It’s more realistic he will be considered for a practice squad spot but we’ll get a better snapshot of him after the Browns game, when he should get considerable playing time.
Running backs (3 projected, 4 on 2011 Opening Weekend roster)
Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Armando Allen
Analysis: The battle for the third roster spot became clearer after Kahlil Bell was informed Thursday he would be waived after declining to accept a pay cut of more than $500,000. That left Allen and Lorenzo Booker in competition for the final spot and based on reaction from the coaches and a fumbling problem that has plagued Booker previously in his career, this seems like how it will go. Fullback Tyler Clutts is in a difficult position and in this projection he winds up on the outside looking in. It’s not that he cannot perform but offensive coordinator Mike Tice has a well-defined history of preferring more versatile tight ends than fullbacks. Consequently, Clutts’ reps were limited in training camp even though he was on the field for 309 snaps (30.7 percent) last season. He barely played Friday night. He also will be missed on special teams where he contributed on 40.3 percent of snaps. But Clutts easily could land work elsewhere.
Wide receivers (6 projected, 6 on 2011 Opening Weekend roster)
Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems, Dane Sanzenbacher
Analysis: The first five are locks and the question is does a sixth make the cut? Sanzenbacher projects to have an edge over Rashied Davis for a final spot that might or might not be there. Sanzenbacher’s greatest competition for a job could come from another position or wild-card factors that are explained a little later on. Smith has praised Sanzenbacher when the subject has come up and Cutler certainly backs the guy he went to dinner with weekly last season. Special teams obviously will play a key role in decisions and Sanzenbacher isn’t new to it. He did get 38 snaps last season. Sanzenbacher is signed for $465,000 this season while the 33-year-old Davis would earn $825,000 if he makes the roster.
Tight ends (4 projected, 3 on 2011 Opening Weekend roster)
Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams, Evan Rodriguez
Analysis: Clutts’ loss is a gain here as the hunch is Adams, an undrafted free agent from last year, and the fourth-round pick Rodriguez, who got considerable playing time with the ones against the Giants, both stick. Adams can help on special teams and Rodriguez opened eyes with his effort against the Redskins. Davis has high expectations to meet.
Offensive linemen (8 projected, 8 on 2011 Opening Weekend roster)