Handicapping the Bears roster as cuts loom

In the four years since leaving he went undrafted out of Ole Miss, linebacker DeMarquis Gates has been a member of the Browns (for three weeks), Commanders (for two months) and Vikings (for five months). He’s played for the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Alliance of American Football’s Memphis Express, the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks, The Spring League’s TSL Blues and, this spring, the USFL champion Birmingham Stallions. His all-USFL performance landed him a tryout on the Bears, who signed him earlier this month.

Gates knows how tenuous a pro football job can be– and what’s at stake in the next week. The Bears have to trim their roster from 85 players to 80 on Tuesday, and then, dramatically, from 80 to 53 exactly one week later, on Aug. 30.

“Unless you’re one of those top-notch players with a big contract, you always have that in the back of your mind … ” said Gates, who has eight tackles, and three for loss, in two preseason games. “You’re competing with yourself, to put your best out on the field. Of course you think about it.”

With major moves looming, here’s a look at the Bears’ roster — and predictions for who will make the team:

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks (2 keepers/3 on roster)

They’re keeping: Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian

They’re cutting: Nathan Peterman

So far in camp: Fields played about a quarter in the preseason opener and then only one drive five days later. Siemian has looked sharp leading the second unit, posting a passer rating of 102.8 and throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. Peterman seems destined for a practice-squad spot.

The big question: It’s the franchise’s existential question: can Fields show the Bears that he’s worth building around while playing alongside one of the league’s worst rosters?

Running backs (6/7)

They’re keeping: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Trestan Ebner, Darrynton Evans, FB Khari Blasingame, Demontre Tuggle

They’re cutting: FB Jake Bargas

So far in camp: Montgomery has yet to play in a game, and Herbert has looked sharp in his place. The speedy Ebner has been an impressive change-of-pace option in camp, rushing 15 times for 60 yards –including a 27-yarder — and catching a 12-yard touchdown pass in preseason play before hurting his ankle against the Seahawks.

The big question: Can the Bears use special teams snaps to justify keeping Evans, Tuggle and Ebner?

Wide receivers (6/12)

They’re keeping: Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones, N’Keal Harry, Tajae Sharpe

They’re cutting: Dazz Newsome, Nsimba Webster, Isaiah Coulter, Chris Finke, Kevin Shaa, Dante Pettis

So far in camp: It’s been ugly. Pringle (quad) hasn’t played in two-and-a-half weeks. Harry had ankle surgery and won’t return until at least October. Jones missed the first preseason game with an injury, and Sharpe missed the second. Newsome has had catching issues.

The big question: How many new receivers will the Bears add–via trade, waiver claims or free agency– after cut day? The over-under is 1 1/2 — their current unit just isn’t acceptable, and they’ll need to replace Harry’s roster spot after they move him to injured reserve..

Tight ends (4/5)

They’re keeping: Cole Kmet, James O’Shaughnessy, Ryan Griffin, Chase Allen

They’re cutting: TE/FB Jake Tonges

So far in camp: Kmet was impressive in his first preseason action Thursday. O’Shaughnessy will be his backup, while Griffin has yet to play in a preseason game. Allen’s stock climbed against the Seahawks when, one week after playing one special teams snap, he logged 24.

The big question: Are the Bears comfortable with their depth? Griffin is in Year 10 and O’Shaughnessy in Year 8; between the two of them, they’ve posted more than 320 receiving yards in a season only once.

Offensive line (9/16)

They’re keeping: LT Braxton Jones, LG Cody Whitehair, C Lucas Patrick, RG Teven Jenkins, RT Riley Reiff, T Larry Borom, C/G Sam Mustipher, G Michael Schofield, G Ja’Tyre Carter

They’re cutting: Zach Thomas, Lachavious Simmons, Dieter Eiselen, Jean Delance, Julien Davenport, Shon Coleman, Corey Dublin

So far in camp: The Bears signed Reiff and Schofield on the eve of camp. Patrick hurt his thumb on the second day of practice but could return by the opener. Jenkins went a week without practicing but has since been moved from tackle to guard. Borom is playing first-team right tackle, a bizarre development given that the Bears are paying Reiff up to $7 million in playing time bonuses.

The big question: Do the Bears believe in Jenkins, or are they showcasing him for a trade? If it’s the former, that’s a huge win for the Bears coaching staff — he’s 24 with a pedigree, and just a few weeks ago seemed like a lost cause.

DEFENSE

Defensive line (8/14)

They’re keeping: Robert Quinn, Justin Jones, Angelo Blackson, Trevis Gipson, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Mario Edwards, Khyiris Tonga, Dominique Robinson,

They’re cutting: Mike Pennel, Charles Snowden, LaCale London, Micah Dew-Treadway, Sam Kamara, Trevon Coley

So far in camp: Once Quinn reported on time and said he wanted to play for the Bears despite their rebuilding efforts, there was little else to be settled on the line. Coley leads the team with three sacks, but he’ll likely be on the outside looking in.

The big question: Will the Bears consider trading Quinn in the middle of the season? If so, they’ve got two months to develop a pass-rusher behind him. Robinson, a receiver-turned-edge-rusher, is an intriguing developmental project, but might not be ready for steady playing time.

Linebackers (5/7)

They’re keeping: Roquan Smith, Nicholas Morrow, Matthew Adams, Joe Thomas, Jack Sanborn

They’re cutting: Caleb Johnson, DeMarquis Gates

So far in camp: Smith “held in” for a contract extension, issued a trade demand, insulted his bosses, had business associates calling other teams in a violation of NFL rules, and eventually decided to return to practice to play out his deal. Beside that? Sanborn, a Lake Zurich native and all-conference player at Wisconsin, has played his way onto the roster as a special teamer.

The big question: Will the contract snub motivate Smith — or poison the Bears’ long-term relationship with their best player? The Bears can give him the franchise tag in 2023 and 2024.

Cornerbacks (5/11)

They’re keeping: Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Kindle Vildor, Thomas Graham, Duke Shelley

They’re cutting: Tavon Young, Lamar Jackson, BoPete Keyes, Jaylon Jones, Greg Stroman, Devontae Harris

So far in camp: Gordon has proven himself as the Bears’ starting slot cornerback, one of the most critical parts of Matt Eberflus’ defense. That leaves a starting outside spot open opposite Johnson –likely for Vildor. Time is running out for Graham, who has missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury.

The big question: Can Gordon survive the rigors of the season? He missed time in the offseason program and six training camp practices with injuries. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” he said.

Safeties (5/7)

They’re keeping: Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Dane Cruikshank, Elijah Hicks

They’re cutting: A.J. Thomas, Jon Alexander

So far in camp: Brisker was a preseason standout before hurting his right thumb in the exhibition opener and requiring surgery. He hopes to return by Sept. 11. Houston-Carson is filling in for him and has also played slot cornerback.

The big question: Can Jackson, who hasn’t intercepted a pass since 2019, return to the playmaking style that defined his first three seasons? With Brisker at strong safety, he should get plenty of chances to play centerfield.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3/3)

They’ll likely keep: 3

They’re keeping: K Cairo Santos, P Trenton Gill, LS Patrick Scales

So far in camp: Santos has made all four field goals and all four PATs and Gill looks worthy of the Bears’ draft selection.

The big question: Who’s kicks off? Gill has kicked off five times for 66.4 yards, and Santos six for 66.3.

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