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Tanner Gentry or Victor Cruz? Bears have decisions at wide receiver

Bears receiver Tanner Gentry made a 45-yard touchdown catch vs. the Titans. (AP)

If undrafted wide receiver Tanner Gentry is on the path to making the Bears’ roster, his 45-yard touchdown catch on a pass from quarterback Mitch Trubisky on Sunday undoubtedly helped.

It was by far the longest throw-and-score for the Bears this preseason.

But what happened before that play might be a better indication that Gentry is earning the confidence of his coaches.

Early in the third quarter, Gentry replaced veteran Sherrick McManis as a gunner on the first punt team.

“Punt gunner is my favorite,” Gentry said.

That’s after receiver, of course. But Gentry knows that making the Bears means making a case for himself as a reliable special-teamer.

“It’s something that I’m going to take great pride in,” Gentry said. “It’s something that helps the team.”

Losing Cam Meredith for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee complicates the Bears’ decision process at receiver.

Do they wait and see who becomes available on the waiver wire Saturday?

It’s an unpredictable process, and several teams — namely, the Jets, Redskins, Bills, Colts, Chargers and Saints — are thin at receiver.

Do they keep Victor Cruz?

His skills have diminished because of injuries, but he’s a respected, experienced voice in the receivers room.

How about Deonte Thompson?

He replaced Meredith against the Titans and is one of the options at kick returner.

But can the Bears risk waiving Gentry to put him on the practice squad?

With the Bears eyeing other rosters, it’s likely receiver-needy teams are eyeing Gentry after his touchdown catch and all the headlines emerging from training camp about his big plays.

Gentry chose to sign with the Bears over the Ravens, among others, after going undrafted.

It’s all about defining their value. Gentry and Thompson have it on special teams; Cruz clearly does not in his eighth season.

As a receiver, Gentry said he’s working on his separation and timing. But it’s apparent he has upside with his knack for bringing down go-up-and-get-it throws.

It also helps that Gentry has earned the trust of Trubisky — an important factor to consider knowing what Trubisky means to the Bears now and later. The two also have become close friends.

“You throw it to [Gentry]; he’s going to catch it,” wide receiver Kevin White said. “He runs really fast. He works really hard. He does everything right.”

Cruz, 30, is in an uncertain spot. The bulk of his playing time this preseason has come with the reserves. He had a touchdown in the first exhibition against the Broncos. But when Trubisky scrambled and needed a big catch from him against the Titans, Cruz dropped the pass.

“I still feel like the quickness is there,” Cruz said. “I still feel like the playmaking ability is there. Now it’s just to continue to show that each time I’m on the field, whether it’s in practice or on game day.”

Cruz said there is “added pressure” to making the Bears.

“It’s meant a lot, just to be given an opportunity,” Cruz said. “That’s all you can ask for, and that’s all I’ve ever asked for my entire career, a chance to perform, to prove myself. And I thank the organization for giving me that, and now it’s time to potentially build on that and see how we go moving forward.”

Of course, it’s possible that the Bears keep all three receivers. Cuts can and will come elsewhere.

Gentry, though, is focused on improving his standing. Long touchdown catches help, but a tackle or two on special teams can’t hurt.

“I think I’ve done a good job on special teams,” Gentry said. “I just got to keep working hard, and I know that’s something that can really help if I’m trying to make this team.”

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

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