About a month ago, in this very space, I attempted the impossible: predicting the Bears’ 53-man roster.
Turns out I’m as much of a prognosticator as John Fox is a doctor. Blame the circumstances of the past month, from injury to suspension to player flexibility, which have conspired to change the calculus of how the Bears will build their roster.
As the Bears prepare to cut players Tuesday and Saturday, here are five factors that could sway their decision-making process:
Could the Bears actually keep five running backs?
Behind starter Matt Forte, rookie Jeremy Langford has looked like a budding star, averaging 6.2 yards per carry in the first two preseason games. Free agent signee Jacquizz Rodgers has delivered more than the Bears expected. Ka’Deem Carey has been dynamic, too, while Senorise Perry, the team’s fifth-stringer and a special teams stalwart, actually led the team in rushing through two weeks.
So who gets cut?
“I wouldn’t want to be the guy that has to make that decision,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We got the rookie. We’ve got some other guys that came on. Quizz has had a great preseason. Langford’s had a good preseason. Ka’Deem’s come on. He’s ran the ball extremely hard.”
Preseason injuries to receivers Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson — not to mention surgery for Kevin White — mean the Bears could keep an extra receiver as insurance for Game 1. They need to be confident in whichever backups they keep, be they on the roster now or signed once league-wide cuts are made.
Jermon Bushrod’s balky back and Charles Leno’s struggles as a starter could prioritize a reserve tackle, too.
But where will they find room? Fox kept 26 offensive players, 24 defenders and three specialists last year, and tends to keep the first two numbers about even.
One offensive player whose 53-man roster chances took a tumble: David Fales, the third-string quarterback who missed the first 17 days of camp with an illness.
Share Events on The CubeDB shuffle
Demontre Hurst has shuffled between cornerback and safety, and could play a critical utility role.
He could fill gaps if the team is not satisfied with their fourth safety or their cornerback situation. Both seem to be true; Alan Ball started for Tim Jennings in Saturday’s third preseason game against the Bengals. Tracy Porter can’t seem to stay on the field because of injury, and that doesn’t bode well for his roster chances. Terrance Mitchell, the second-year cornerback, seems to have played his way onto the team; he played before Jennings on Saturday.
Jeremiah Ratliff’s three-game suspension presents an intriguing question: will the Bears keep a lineman in his place?
Brandon Dunn and Cornelius Washington could stick as a result. Eddie Goldman’s departure with a head injury Saturday muddies the situation further.
Will Sutton has used a solid preseason to state his roster claim despite not having ideal size for either position. He played more at nose tackle during OTAs and at end during camp. He said he’s felt comfortable playing straight up on the center since halfway through OTAs.
“I learned it, and now it’s time to go out there and execute,” he said.
When Fox said Tuesday that Willie Young would be ready for the start of the season, it was hard to tell whether he was endorsing the end-turned-outside linebacker or letting other NFL teams know he might be available.
Still, the recovery of Young and Lamarr Houston from surgery could make the position group one of the team’s deepest, even though preseason standout Sam Acho sat Saturday.
Houston — who felt good the week after his first game action in more than nine months — and Young could provide the Bears with an intriguing nickel defensive line, alongside, perhaps, Jared Allen and Pernell McPhee.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickFinley