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Bears Fri Aug 15 2014
The main focus for tuned-in fans in last night's preseason tilt against Jacksonville was most likely the performances of the backup quarterbacks on the offensive side, and the linebackers from the defense. But focusing on just those two positions feels like beating a dead horse, and leaves out other battles that are just as compelling, though admittedly not as sexy.
Here's how each positional group fared in week two of the preseason:
Jay Cutler's numbers against the Eagles last week were fantastic, but his footwork was brutal in the re-watch. He cleaned all that up this week, and had a dynamite performance aside from a miscommunication with Eric Weems and missing a wide open receiver on third down in the first possession. His touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall was downright dirty, drawing defenders the wrong way with his feet and eyes, and drilling an off balance strike to the back of the endzone.
Jimmy Clausen didn't get into the game as early as you'd like because of turnovers and long drives allowed by the defense, but when he finally did, he shined again. Sure, he stared down his receiver in zone coverage a little too long on his tipped interception, but apparently that came during a time when his headsets weren't working. He showed good arm strength, improved accuracy from last week, and sound knowledge of his progressions.
I was worried we weren't going to get a great look at Jordan Palmer because it seemed like the coaching staff was trying to get Ka'Deem Carey plenty of run, but Palmer did well in his nine throwing attempts. His best completion came on an all-go's play, where he used his eyes to pull the linebackers into his dump-off target out of the backfield before hitting Matthew Mulligan with a strike down the middle. Palmer was lightning quick getting through his progressions, but did limit a few plays with poorly placed balls. He did absolutely nothing to hurt his chances at the backup job, but he needs to either be outstanding to move up the depth chart, or hope for an awful performance from Clausen. We've seen neither so far.
David Fales didn't get a single snap last night. It might've had something to do with the lack of possession in the first quarter forcing Cutler to go longer and pushing back the QB timeline, but it can't be a good sign for his chances at making the roster. He's unlikely to get any run in the third game because the starters play the most in that one, which leaves only one more game to make an impression. He feels practice squad-bound to me.
Shaun Draughn is the backup running back on this football team. He's run the ball as well as he could with the poor blocking in front, has chipped pass rushers well, and has been fantastic making catches and gaining extra yards on checkdowns. How much he'll actually play during the season remains to be seen if Matt Forte is healthy, but the the goal is probably to get the number two back more than 90 carries in an effort to keep Forte fresh.
Senorise Perry has easily played the next best amongst the running backs, but as an undrafted free agent, he's unlikely to overtake Carey, who was the Bears' fourth round pick this year. The burst he shows when getting the football has been impressive, but probably not good enough to make the 53. I assume the Bears will try and sign him to the practice squad, but his tape has been good enough to possibly jump on another team's roster.
Carey has been somewhat of a disappointment through the first two games. Though he hasn't had much to work with, and did put the ball in the endzone this week, he's running too high and has been impatient waiting for his blocking to develop. He doesn't have home run speed in the first place, so he needs to be above bar in the other facets of playing running back. Sadly, he hasn't been.
Michael Ford and Jordan Lynch are pretty clearly going to be roster cuts. Neither guy got a carry last night, and Ford muffed a kickoff return in his only chance. Outstanding special teams performances were key for each guy to make the team, and neither has seen enough playing time to do that.
Zach Miller left early with a foot injury, and you just hope it isn't serious because of the way he's performed in camp, and his history being hurt. Martellus Bennett looked fantastic in his return from suspension, but didn't see much playing time. With Dante Rosario not suiting up because of an injury, it gave Mulligan and Jeron Mastrud an opportunity to do damage.
Mulligan looks to have pretty sure hands, and has the ability to do a little something after the catch. Combine that with solid blocking, and he's got a shot at making the squad if Miller is out for awhile. That seems like his only way onto the roster though. Mastrud didn't do anything well enough to garner attention away from the others, and he'll likely be a cut before the last preseason game.
This was supposed to be a solidified position with Marquess Wilson being blessed by the staff, Cutler and Marshall, along with the addition of Domenik Hixon during the offseason. With injuries to both, it's turned into an open competition with nobody stepping up and claiming a spot.
Eric Weems has the inside track right now because of his familiarity with the system, good catching ability, and willingness to block in the run game. He had a miscommunication with Cutler on one incompletion last night that set off the quarterback like it was a playoff mistake. Only they and the coaching staff know who was in the wrong there.
One of these receivers has to step up on returns as well, and nobody is doing that. Chris Williams, despite not playing because of an injured hamstring, might've secured a roster spot due to the ineffectiveness of Michael Spurlock and the near fumble and dropped pass by Josh Bellamy. Weems seems like a lock right now, and the final spot will probably be between Josh Morgan and Williams.
The run blocking was poor again, but the first team was outstanding in pass protection. Cutler had plenty of room and all day to throw. Injuries have ravaged this group in camp, which has allowed for guys who wouldn't normally get a ton of run to fight for one of the last roster spots.
Michael Ola was a totally different guy against the Jaguars when playing against the starters, and is in a dead heat with Charles Leno Jr. for what seems to be one roster spot. If the team views Ola as flexible enough to play the interior line, they could both make the roster together. Undrafted free agent Ryan Groy out of Wisconsin hasn't been talked about much during practice, but he's had two fine performances, and could be a surprise to make the team if he keeps performing at this level.
Cornelius Washington finally had the monster performance we've been waiting for. He got fooled badly on one play action pass, but blew up multiple running plays at right defensive end. Washington, Austin Lane and David Bass are all battling for either one or two roster spots depending on how many defensive linemen the Bears want to carry, as eight guys are already locked in.
Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton have been disappointing in both games thus far. Ferguson was supposed to be an incredibly stout run defender, but has been bulldozed multiple times both weeks. Sutton hasn't shown the incredible pass rushing burst that many thought we'd see after he dropped weight during the draft process. Phil Emery's 2014 selections, across the board, have yet to shine.
Finally, we get improved performances from both Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin. Bostic had his best game yet as a Bear, lighting up blockers and finishing plays in the run game, and defending a pass in the red zone. He had one bad play in coverage where he attacked the wrong receiver, allowing a big gain, but that was his only hitch in an otherwise masterful performance.
McClellin finally stepped up and helped in the running game. He took on blockers, and filled gaps to make plays. He still looks a bit lost in pass coverage, but he took a step in the right direction last night. Hopefully we see continued improvement with more reps.
For all the talk about undrafted free agent Christian Jones, I don't see how he makes the team. He only got 11 snaps last night, and didn't do very well during that limited time. He was indecisive for the most part, and didn't give great effort on one particular running play that I thought he could've easily blown up. If the Bears carry six linebackers, the last will be a special teams ace. That's probably going to be Jordan Senn.
This position is totally set. Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings played great last night, and although Kyle Fuller got hurt on the opening kickoff, he's clearly on the field in nickel situations. Kelvin Hayden had one of his rougher performances, but he's the clear number four because of experience, and Sherrick McManis is a monster on special teams and has played great during his defensive snaps.
Demontre Hurst and Al Louis-Jean have both played well enough to make a lot of football teams, but the Bears typically carry just five corners on their roster. Both those guys will be hot practice squad signees, or may even get nabbed by another team for their 53-man roster. C.J. Wilson intercepted a pass and has looked good in two Bears camps now, but he's probably the odd man out altogether.
Not a single guy has stepped up to claim a starting spot, or even a spot on the roster, overwhelmingly. Ryan Mundy probably is the starting strong safety, but the other spot is still wide open. Brock Vereen has been an asset in the run game, but he plays so deep in pass coverage that he's too far away to make any plays.
I thought Adrian Wilson has played a pair of solid games, but is that going to be enough to make the team if he's not starting? The backup safeties are going to be primary special teams players, and I don't know if Wilson will be OK with that. I'd probably keep him around either way simply for depth.
Chris Conte is the x-factor here. He hasn't played in the preseason because he's still recovering from his shoulder injury, but should be back out there with the starting unit next week. Even a mediocre performance will be good enough for him to make the roster.
Tress Way needed to blow away the competition to have a shot over sixth round draft pick Pat O'Donnell, and he just hasn't done that in the games. O'Donnell had the best kick of the night, a booming 50-plus yard kick with more than five seconds of hang time. Unless he muffs all his punts against Seattle next week, he's the guy.