2014 Chicago Bears Roster Preview
Da Bears take the field for the first time this year three days from today at Soldier against Philly. Here’s a look at the Bears’ projected depth chart.
While roster battles are abound among the current 87 Chicago Bears in training camp, the vast majority of the final 53-man roster the Bears will bring into the regular season has already been decided.
The Marc Trestman era opened with a year of stunning potent offense yet incompetent defense, an unusual combination of sights for Bears fans. Despite finishing 8-8 the Bears could have won either of their last two games to clinch the NFC North.
The division won’t be that easy to win this year. The Bears have their work cut out for themselves, and the vast majority of it is on the defensive side. Big name signings and impact rookies will make sure 2014 isn’t a repeat performance.
Italics indicates a new starter at that position.
Quarterback — #6 Jay Cutler. Cutler, 31, enters his sixth season as the Bears’ franchise quarterback. He’ll always have his share of critics, but the seven-year, $126 million extension the Bears handed him this January means he’ll be staying a while longer. QB guru and head coach Marc Trestman lived up to the offensive hype in his first season as Cutler threw threw over 35 more yards per game, more touchdowns per game, and was sacked far less often. Cutler needs to stay healthy however, as he missed 5 games last year and hasn’t played the full 16 games since 2009. The Bears would be foolish to expect their next backup QB to replicate now-departed Josh McCown’s heroics last season. But under Trestman, the strong-armed Cutler is the man.
Running Back #1 — #22 Matt Forte. Forte, 28, has always been one of the more underrated backs in the league. But in 2013, he had by far the best season of his career, yet was again overshadowed–this time, by his own offense due to its robust productivity and high-flying touchdowns. Forte set career highs in rushing yards (1,339) and rushing TDs (9) while getting back into the receiving game with career highs in receptions (74) and yards (594). He trailed only LeSean McCoy in rushing yards. The explosive Forte deserves all the recognition he can get and then some.
Wide Receiver #1 – #15 Brandon Marshall. In two years as the Bears’ top wideout, Marshall has totaled a combined 218 receptions, 2,808 yards, and 23 touchdowns, the best two-year stretch of his career and of any Bears wide receiver, ever. Those numbers exceed Devin Hester’s career receiving numbers. Hester played WR for most of six years. Acquiring Marshall from Miami for two third-round picks has been GM Phil Emery’s biggest steal. Yes, Marshall is the most accomplished receiver to grace Halas Hall in quite a while. But his 3-year, $30 million extension he signed on a national TV talk show this spring means he could become overshadowed by his 6’4″ counterpart, the next guy on this list.
Wide Receiver #2 — #17 Alshon Jeffery. The 24 year old Jeffery was once projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft out of South Carolina. Using great hands, strong physical play and a high jump, Jeffery could convert jump balls against anyone. But before the draft, disappointing speed and questions about his work ethic–he appeared out of shape for a period of time–and character–an on-field fight in 2011–meant he fell all the way to the Bears in the mid-second round. After an injury-shortened 2012 campaign, 2013 saw the best of Jeffery came back out. With 89 rec, 1,421 rec yards, and 7 TDs, Jeffery not put up big numbers, but he also developed a knack for bringing down impossible corner endzone grabs. Jeffery’s gone from possible draft bust to top three receiver in the NFC.
Tight End – #83 Martellus Bennett. His first year as a Chicago Bear was a career year for Bennett, as the 26 year old set highs in receptions (65) and yards (729). Like most of the offensive playmakers, his individual production was overshadowed by the group’s achievements as a whole; it seems like everyone set career highs in everything. Bennett may be very talented, but his status is unknown after a team-imposed suspension for detrimental conduct, likely related to an altercation with teammate Kyle Fuller. If he can get on the field, the Bears will be in good hands with this self-proclaimed “black unicorn” at tight end.
Running Back #2 – #25 Ka’Deem Carey. Alright, so there was one offensive player who didn’t exceed expectations last year. Michael Bush’s bad year led to his release. Enter fourth-round pick Carey, a star back out of Arizona. Carey rushed for ludicrous numbers the last two years, combining for 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns. But a lack of breakaway speed and doubt cast over NFL success from a player in Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez’s offense allowed him to slip to the fourth round. Still, the physical-style Carey has huge potential. He’s actually very similar to Forte and could learn a thing or two from him.
Offensive Line –
- Left tackle – #74 Jermon Bushrod. Bushrod, 29, wasn’t the Bears’ top choice when they signed him to a big five-year deal last offseason. But he proved his worth in durably playing all 16 games and solidifying a position where the Bears had struggled for years.
- Left guard — #68 Matt Slauson. The unassuming Slauson, 28, arrived in free agency last year with less fanfare than Bushrod or even Kyle Long, but he quietly put together a tremendous season. His height makes him more effective in pass protection than run blocking, but he can do that at least adequately too.
- Center — #63 Roberto Garza. Garza, 35, is one of the longest-tenured Bears on the roster. He’s an out-of-position right guard who took over when longtime center Olin Kruetz departed. Throughout periods of struggle for his unit Garza was a rare bright spot and is consistent as ever.
- Right guard – #75 Kyle Long. The controversial drafting of Long paid off big time for the Bears. The upbeat 25 year old used his height to his advantage much like Slauson and even made his first Pro Bowl. Long is looking like a building block for the suddenly strong offensive line.
- Right tackle – #67 Jordan Mills. Long’s rookie year was impressive, but considering that Mills, 23, was a fifth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, Mills’ season has to be more impressive. This cousin of Tramon Williams and Brandon Jacobs had a tremendous season and solidified his starting role for the future. He’s set aside concerns over his footwork with excellent work opening running lanes.
Defensive Line –
- Left Defensive End – #99 Lamarr Houston. Four-year veteran Houston, 26, signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Bears this spring. He recorded six sacks and 16 quarterback hits last season. Houston has received his share of criticism as the 2010 second-round pick has never been able to force as much pressure on the QB as he did as a Texas Longhorn. But the versatile Houston is among the best at stopping the run, filling a huge need for the Bears.
- Defensive Tackle — #90 Jeremiah Ratliff. The artist formerly known as Jay Ratliff joined the Bears last year after eight strong seasons with the Cowboys. He’s a nasty, veteran 32 year old who is still effective but will also now be tasked with mentoring the two rookie DTs, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Both are sure to get snaps as well.
- Nose Tackle — #92 Stephen Paea. Judgment day nears for Paea, 26. With his four-year rookie contract expiring after this season, Paea needs to cement his role with the team. He has shown strength and quickness but still hasn’t made a consistent impact on the field (6 sacks in 3 seasons). Now with rookies Sutton and Ferguson in the mix, Paea is under immense pressure to produce.
- Right Defensive End — #69 Jared Allen. From one veteran RDE to another, the Bears probably got the best in the NFC North DE swap–Corey Wootton to Minnesota, Julius Peppers to Green Bay, and Allen to Chicago. He devoured Bears QBs in six years with the Vikings and brings in a career total of 128.5 sacks. Allen talked a big game during his introductory press conference. Sure, he’s 32 years old, but he’s still a tenacious athlete whose relentless determination is much of the reason he’s so intimidating. Allen isn’t slowing down.
- Left Outside Linebacker (LOLB) — #55 Lance Briggs. Briggs, 33, is not known as the shutdown linebacker he once was, but he’s a leader for the team as the longest-tenured Bear. Briggs occasionally gets in for sacks but is more effective in exceptional quarterback reading and quick-reflex tackling. While he missed seven games last season he had never missed more than two in any season before that, so durability shouldn’t be a concern.
- Middle Linebacker (MLB) — #58 DJ Williams. Williams, 32, is supposed to stabilize the middle linebacker position around a rebuilding defense. He wasn’t able to do it in his first seasons as a Bear, missing all of the preseason and the last 10 regular season games to injuries. Considering his past off-field issues as well, Williams needs to put forth a better effort in the last year of his two-year contract. Young Jon Bostic behind DJ didn’t look good last year, meaning Williams is tasked with training his future replacement.
- Right Outside Linebacker (ROLB) – #50 Shea McClellin. The clock is also ticking for the 25 year old McClellin, but for a completely different reason. McClellin has been starting out of position in his first two NFL years, struggling to adjust to an NFL line after playing some linebacker in college. He has looked out of place and uncomfortable on the field but the position switch will hopefully get him back to where he was. But he’s running out of chances; pundits have already started to label GM Phil Emery’s first draft pick a bust.
- Left Cornerback – #26 Tim Jennings. Jennings, 30, came back to Earth following a surprising 2012 where he led the NFL in interceptions with nine. Last year he snatched four picks but forced three fumbles, taking a hint from counterpart Charles Tillman. The former Georgia Bulldog will also teach first round pick Kyle Fuller a thing or two on ballhawking.
- Strong Safety – #21 Ryan Mundy. The Wright-Conte regime at safety came to an embarrassing end with a laughable effort in 2013, so veteran Mundy has arrived to stabilize a position that the Bears can’t afford to gamble with anymore. Mundy is best known as a Steeler, where he played all 16 games from 2009-12. After one year as a Giant, the 29 year old looks to maintain a full-time starting job with the Bears.
- Free Safety – #45 Brock Vereen. The rookie Vereen wasn’t drafted out of Minnesota until the fourth round, yet he’s thoroughly impressed the coaching staff thus far this summer. With Conte and Craig Steltz injured, the fundamentally-sound Vereen could be given the green light on the position. M.D. Jennings is sure to get snaps here too.
- Right Cornerback — #33 Charles Tillman. One of the most consistent cornerbacks in the NFL, Tillman is good for a few interceptions every year. While top receivers are able to catch balls around him, he makes them earn every yard. No secondary back in the league forces fumbles as well as Tillman. A surprise decision to resign with the Bears means this longtime cornerstone of the defense will have another year to smooth over another year of roster turnover in the secondary.
Kick/Punt Returner – #14 Eric Weems. With the fan favorite Devin Hester gone, the return department is handed over to Weems, a 28 year old wide receiver entering his second year with the Bears. He hasn’t made much of an impact in the NFL outside of special teams but he is effective at that with a career average of 24.3 yards per return in 131 kick returns and 10.4 yards per return in 78 punt returns.
Kicker — #9 Robbie Gould. The Bears were in good hands, or rather, feet, in the kicking department. Then, on September 22, tragedy struck in the Bears’ 40-23 win in Pittsburgh. Gould missed an extra point. It was his first miss in over eight years and 250 attempts. All kidding aside, the fan favorite Gould is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history at 86%, a fan favorite and long-distance in the last few years. He is not a fan of the proposal to move extra point kicks to the 15-yard line to make them less automatic, but even if they do he’ll be money from that distance.
Punter – #16 Pat O’Donnell. Sixth-round pick O’Donnell, 23, was the only punter taken in this year’s NFL Draft. He played four seasons at Cincinnati before transferring to Miami as a grad student, earning first-team all-ACC honors and averaging an impressive 47.1 yards per punt. It’s extremely rare that punters capture much positive recognition to speak of. But O’Donnell thrilled training camp fans with booming punts that sailed over the head of the return man repeatedly. The fans began chanting “Me-ga-punt! Me-ga-punt!” Looks like the Bears will enjoy a yardage advantage this year and beyond in the punting game.
Other Key Contributors
#2 QB Jordan Palmer
#8 QB Jimmy Clausen
#36 RB Jordan Lynch
#86 TE Zach Miller
#88 TE Dante Rosario
#10 WR Marquess Wilson
#93 DT Will Sutton
#95 DT Ego Ferguson
#99 DT Nate Collins
#76 DE Trevor Scott
#97 DE Willie Young
#57 MLB Jon Bostic
#52 ROLB Khaseem Greene
#23 CB Kyle Fuller
#24 CB Kelvin Hayden
#27 CB Sherrick McManis
#31 CB Isaiah Frey
#29 S Danny McCray
#37 S M.D. Jennings
#44 S Adrian Wilson
Head Coach — Marc Trestman
Offensive Coordinator — Aaron Kromer
Defensive Coordinator — Mel Tucker
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Photo Source: Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune