Contrary to how it might appear, Bears coach Matt Nagy hasn’t checked out of the preseason.
Nagy will keep his starters out again Saturday against the Colts, but he’ll be scrutinizing position battles for a few undetermined roster spots over the next week. The Bears will hold off on Green Bay prep, at least on the practice field, until they finish the preseason Thursday against the Titans at Soldier Field.
“I think now is the time when you really start focusing on those positions,” Nagy said. “I didn’t really know what they would be. They all kinda happen on their own.”
The three positions foremost on his mind are tight end, middle linebacker and cornerback. There will certainly be high stakes for the players at those spots and others in Indianapolis. Here are five things to watch Saturday:
Kicker battle rages on
So it’s Eddy Pineiro’s job now? Hardly. While the Bears were confident in declaring him the victor over Elliott Fry this week, Nagy stopped way short of saying Pineiro is his guy. This remains a contest between him and Mr. Outside Hire.
Pineiro has had a choppy few months with the Bears but made a 41-yarder against the Giants last week and now has the opportunities all to himself. He’ll have ideal conditions kicking indoors against the Colts. Shakiness will not be tolerated. These last two games are enormous as he tries to make his case to hold the spot for the long term.
“I feel like I haven’t won the competition,” Pineiro said. “Everything’s still open. Who knows if they bring somebody else in?
“But it does give me a confidence boost, like, OK, I have a shot to be the guy and prove to the coaches that I can be the guy that they want me to be.”
Plan B for Burton
Like most teams, the Bears are top heavy at tight end. Trey Burton had a strong first season, one that would’ve been called a breakout year had he not already made himself famous with the Philly Special. As he works back from a sports hernia, the Bears have no one who has proven they can produce at his level.
That’ll be moot if Burton comes back full-go as Nagy believes, but the Bears need to develop a contingency because there’s no guarantee he’s going to sail through this season after an offseason disrupted by surgery.
Adam Shaheen, who has 17 career receptions, has been dealing with a sore back as well.
Keep an eye on Ian Bunting. He’s fighting for a roster spot, but could also earn a chance to stick around on the practice squad. That would keep him in the mix this season.
“He’s been pretty consistent, which is what you look for in these guys,” Nagy said. “He’s gonna have two more games here, two opportunities to show what he can do.”
Cornerback depth wanted
Some coaches say they can never have enough quality cornerbacks. The Bears have a strong starting trio of Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Buster Skrine, and they’re looking to fill out the rest of the depth chart.
Duke Shelley and Kevin Toliver are on track for roster spots, and the Bears could stick with five corners unless one of their camp invites impresses over the final week. John Franklin III, Clifton Duck, Michael Joseph and Stephen Denmark are all competing, and Franklin and Duck look like they’re in the lead.
Strengthening middle linebacker
If they stay healthy, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan could play around 90 percent of the snaps this season. The Bears wouldn’t have to depend on their backups much.
Nick Kwiatkoski will be back for his fourth season, and they’re going to give Joel Iyiegbuniwe more time after picking him in the fourth round last year. The question is whether Josh Woods, Jameer Thurman or Kevin Pierre-Louis can lock down a spot. Woods led that group with 66 percent of the defensive snaps last week against the Giants.
Time to move on from Bray?
Nagy loves third-string quarterback Tyler Bray, who has been with him since 2013 in Kansas City. But Bray has attempted one pass in a game during his six NFL seasons and hasn’t done much with his opportunities this month.
In 57 snaps against the Panthers and Giants, he has completed 14 of 30 passes for 133 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He could use a big game in Indy.
It certainly helps that Bray knows the system, but would the Bears be better served bringing in a project when teams make cuts at the end of the month? It’s questionable to keep a 27-year-old on the practice squad unless he’s a legitimate option in case of an emergency.