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With roster cut to 53, bigger decisions lay ahead for Bears

Shea McClellin (50) was anointed the starter at inside linebacker in the offseason. Now he has to keep it when the regular season begins next Sunday against the Packers. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Now comes the hard part.

Though cutting the roster from 75 players to 53 might have included some “tough decisions” for first-year Bears general manager Ryan Pace, in the grand scheme of things this shouldn’t have been a laborious exercise.

With all due respect to the players who were cut and the unenviable task of delivering the bad news, the Bears roster isn’t that deep. For us amateurs cutting the roster on paper, the last three or four usually are tough calls. This year when cutting the roster to 53, I got down to 47 on the first try — generally not a good sign.

As it turned out, there were no surprises when the Bears finally announced their cutdown to the 53-man roster Saturday — a roster that can best be described as “fluid.” The biggest names were linebacker Mason Foster and offensive lineman Michael Ola.

Nobody had to stop the presses. Foster was a four-year starter with the Buccaneers who made little headway in his battle with Shea McClellin for the starting job at inside linebacker. Ola started a combined 12 games at four positions for the Bears last year. This year he couldn’t even get a look at the wide-open right-tackle spot that neither Jordan Mills nor Charles Leno, Jr. appears capable of handling and was cut Saturday. How tough can the decision be at swing tackle when the starters aren’t even up to snuff?

Therein lies the real challenge for Pace and John Fox — making decisions on the players at the top of the roster instead of the bottom. And there could be a lot of them, especially on defense, where everybody from Jared Allen at outside linebacker to rookie safety Adrian Amos will be on watch in Vic Fangio’s 3-4.

With Tim Jennings released in the first wave of cuts, McClellin is the only player left from Lovie Smith’s defense. (Sherrick McManis played for Lovie, but exclusively on special teams in 2012.)

With the possible exception of outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, not one position on defense is defined to start the season. McClellin and Christian Jones were anointed starters in the offseason. Now they have to keep them. Allen looks like he’s getting the hang of a new position. But he won’t know for sure until the regular season begins.

Facing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 1 might be the best thing to happen to the Bears. It’ll at least provide an early indication of just how well everybody is actually and practically picking things up. There will be no false-positives on Sunday.

It probably won’t be pretty at first. It will be up to Pace, Fox, Fangio and the coaching staff to figure out who is getting it and who is not. “Sometimes it requires a little bit of patience and also good communication with our coaches,” Pace said, “so that we know that, ‘OK, it’s coming for this guy and you’re going to see it progress as he gets more comfortable and can just cut loose and play with his instincts.’ ”

Don’t expect any quick hooks. Fox already is preaching patience. “We’re still going to be learning when we get to the regular season,” he said. “It’s been my experience in two other stops [that] it’s not how you start the race, it’s how you finish.”