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Projecting Bears’ 53-man roster

With the Bears preparing to hold their first padded practice Monday at Halas Hall, the Sun-Times handicaps who will make the team.

Mitch Trubisky’s passing numbers are down across the board this season.
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky is competing with Nick Foles for the starting job.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Bears’ training camp math is different this year.

Rather than starting with a 90-man roster, they began training camp with 80. After they cut the roster down to 53 on Sept. 5, they’ll be able to invite more people back. Practice squads will have 16 players this year, up from 10.

The reasons: to save money, and then retain flexibility, in the face of the coronavirus.

That won’t make the decisions easy, though. With the Bears preparing to hold their first padded practice Monday at Halas Hall, the Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley handicaps who will make the 53-man roster:

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks (3 players)

They’ll likely keep: 2.

In: Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles

On the bubble: Tyler Bray.

Battle to watch: There’s no greater Bears bellwether than the team’s starting competition between Trubisky and Foles. The former Super Bowl MVP entered camp at a disadvantage because he was unable to throw with his new teammates during the offseason. But he can erase that gap in mere days.

The big number: 0 — Career completions by Bray, who will be important nonetheless. General manager Ryan Pace said the team will be creative in separating him from the other quarterbacks as insurance in case of a coronavirus outbreak.

He said it: “The evaluation process that we’re all trying to watch and look for and search for really isn’t gonna start until you put some people on the other side.” — coach Matt Nagy

Running backs (4)

They’ll likely keep: 3

In: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen

On the bubble: Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce

Battle to watch: Cohen vs. the “walk” year. Cohen, who calls his expiring contract a “motivating factor,” needs to improve over last year, when he became the highest-volume receiver to ever average as few as 5.77 yards per catch.

The big number: 4 — No NFL team is carrying fewer running backs. One reason: Cordarrelle Patterson, whom the Bears label a receiver, can slide into the position.

He said it: “We evaluated our run game and said it needed to be better.” — running backs coach Charles London

Wide receivers (11)

They’ll likely keep: 7

In: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Ted Ginn, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley Ridley

On the bubble: Javon Wims, Darnell Mooney, Trevor Davis, Reggie Davis

Out: Ahmad Wagner, Thomas Ives

Battle to watch: Robinson vs. an extension. Pace likes to hand out contract extensions days before the opener, and no one is more deserving than his best offensive player.

The big number: 154 — Robinson had 154 targets last year; Miller, Patterson, Ginn and Ridley had 165 combined. The Bears need help from those receivers to diversify their passing attack.

He said it: “You could sense the possibility of having a huge jump.” — receivers coach Mike Furrey on Ridley

Tight ends (7)

They’ll likely keep: 5

In: Jimmy Graham, Demetrius Harris, Cole Kmet

On the bubble: Jesper Horsted, Eric Saubert, J.P. Holtz

Out: Darion Clark

Battle to watch: Graham vs. Father Time. Throw out his rookie season, and Graham set career lows for catches, targets, receiving yards and first downs last year.

The big number: 1 —Horsted is the only tight end who began last training camp with the Bears.

He said it: “That’s everything — my ability to still separate from people and run down seams. I know I still have that.” — Graham

Offensive line (14)

They’ll likely keep: 8

In: Charles Leno, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Germain Ifedi, Bobby Massie, Jason Spriggs

On the bubble: Rashaad Coward, Alex Bars

Out: Corey Levin, Arlington Hambright, Dieter Eiselen, Sam Mustipher, Lachavious Simmons, Badara Traore

Battle to watch: Ifedi vs. penalties. He led the Seahawks in each of the past three seasons.

The big number: 6 — Games missed by Massie last year after sitting only four times over five seasons.

He said it: “When y’all get to see this guy coach, you’re gonna see something that’s on a different level. I don’t need to say much more. You’ll see it. You’ll feel it.” — Nagy on new offensive line coach Juan Castillo

DEFENSE

Defensive line (8)

They’ll likely keep: 5

In: Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins

On the bubble: Abdullah Anderson, Brent Urban

Out: Lee Autry, Trevon McSwain

Battle to watch: Bears vs. the open market. They’ll have to decide whether they’re willing to spend to replace nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out.

The big number: 11 — Games Hicks missed last year, one because of a knee injury and 10 because of a grisly dislocated elbow.

He said it: “I think here are some guys on our team that do some things that Eddie does, just as well, — they just haven’t done it in that position for as long.” — defensive line coach Jay Rodgers

Outside linebackers (8)

They’ll likely keep: 5

In: Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Barkevious Mingo

On the bubble: Isaiah Irving, Trevis Gipson, James Vaughters

Out: Ledarius Mack, LaCale London

Battle to watch: Quinn vs. the 3-4 defense. After spending his career as a 4-3 defensive end, Quinn is learning outside linebacker. In nickel packages, though, he’ll be comfortable with his hand in the dirt.

The big number: 8 ½ — Sacks by Mack last season, his fewest since his rookie year in 2014. From 2015 to 2018, he averaged 12.25.

He said it: “I think that it would be safe to say that every year Khalil Mack has something to prove. And I would say that the volume has been cranked to about a 9 or 10 in terms of that this year.” — outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino

Inside linebackers (6)

They’ll likely keep: 4

In: Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods

Out: Keandre Jones, Rashad Smith

Battle to watch: Roquan Smith vs expectations. After a bizarre sophomore year, the Bears believe he can be a Pro Bowl player.

The big number: 725 — Defensive snaps played by Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis last season before signing with the Raiders and Washington, respectively. Iyiegbuniwe and Woods played three.

He said it: “This is such a great tradition of linebackers the Bears have. I want to be up there.” — Trevathan

Cornerbacks (10)

They’ll likely keep: 6

In: Kyle Fuller, Jaylon Johnson, Buster Skrine, Kevin Toliver

On the bubble: Artie Burns, Duke Shelley, Kindle Vildor

Out: Stephen Denmark, Xavier Crawford, Michael Joseph

Battle to watch: Johnson, a second-round pick, has the edge to start over Toliver as long as he’s recovered from shoulder surgery.

The big number: 42 – Games started the last three years by Prince Amukamara, whom the Bears cut in February.

He said it: “He’s gotta come in here and earn his way every single day, and if he does that, he’ll have a chance to be really good.” — defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano on Johnson

Safeties (6)

They’ll likely keep: 5

In: Eddie Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Sherrick McManis

On the bubble: Marqui Christian

Battle to watch: Gipson has started 101 games and intercepted 22 balls in the last seven seasons. He has the starting edge over Bush, who’s started eight times in four years with the Bears.

The big number: 2 — Christian, signed this week, has been suspended for the season’s first two games.

He said it: “Year 2 [under Pagano] is gonna be amazing for our defense. Just being here already understanding guys’ positions and where your help is, that helps you play more freely.” — Jackson

SPECIALISTS (3)

They’ll likely keep: 3

In: K Eddy Pineiro, P Pat O’Donnell, LS Patrick Scales

Battle to watch: Pineiro against himself after the Bears cut Ramiz Ahmed on Tuesday.

The big number: 11 — Pineiro, who went 23-for-28 last year, made his last 11 field goals.

He said it: “We’ll ratchet things up in practice. He knows that he has to produce.” — special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, on Pineiro.