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Last year, the Chicago Bears essentially held up a “Help Wanted” sign outside of Halas Hall when trying to fill out the roster. Many of the players, at nearly every position group, were playing a step higher on the depth chart than what their individual skill set warranted.
That’s not the case now. One offseason after winning just three games, the Bears have a far more talented roster from top to bottom.
The additions of DJ Moore, a handful of free agents and the rookie draft class have created increased internal competition at key position groups.
Here’s who I have making the initial 53-man roster after the conclusion of OTAs and minicamp.
(2): Justin Fields, PJ Walker
The quarterback position becomes slightly interesting with the new rule that was put in place for this upcoming season. The rule “allows teams to designate an emergency quarterback on game day.”
Nathan Peterman and Tyson Bagent are the candidates to potentially see this new rule being used if they are on practice squad. It would be nice to see the Bears develop a young player like Bagent, who broke essentially every record Division II school Shepard had to offer. Still, Peterman will likely be the one who makes the practice squad.
(5): Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Trestan Ebner, Khari Blasingame
The biggest competition in the running back room is who the Bears will decide to keep between Trestan Ebner and Travis Homer. Ebner didn’t show much during his rookie season, and Homer signed with the Bears not long after David Montgomery departed for Detroit.
Based off OTAs and minicamp, the nod goes to Ebner. The now second-year player showed up with some receptions in a two-minute drill in the Bears’ second minicamp practice. Homer, on the other hand, fumbled in the first minicamp practice and had a drop in a situational portion of that practice.
What could factor into the decision is the special teams experience and overall pass blocking. Ebner and Homer both have kick return experience. Homer has 18 career kick return attempts compared to Ebner’s 10. But since 2021, Homer only has one kick return, which did go for a touchdown against the Jaguars on an onside kick attempt.
(3): Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, Jake Tonges
The duo of Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan has looked good so far in OTAs and minicamp. Both have shown to be red zone targets for Justin Fields, especially on the final day of minicamp. Fields found both tight ends for touchdowns in the left corner of the end zone.
Jake Tonges wins the final tight end spot. Tonges also scored on the final day of minicamp. PJ Walker found him on the left side of the field for a touchdown. Tonges only played 11 snaps on special teams last season, but that number will go up if he makes the roster.
Chase Allen is a guy to also monitor. He has been sidelined due to an injury, but he did make some plays last year in training camp.
(7): DJ Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tyler Scott, Velus Jones Jr., Dante Pettis
Do the Bears carry six or seven wide receivers? That question will ultimately determine if Dante Pettis makes the roster. The veteran receiver has made a lot of plays throughout minicamp, and Fields has clearly established a nice chemistry with him that began last season.
If the Bears only elect to keep six receivers, then the Bears have to make a decision between Pettis and Jones. Ryan Poles drafted Jones in the third round in 2022 and probably wants to see if his physical talent and speed can be the difference maker he envisioned when he selected Jones.
Pettis is the more reliable punt returner, though. The Bears have been giving Jones some opportunities to return some punts. If Velus can prove to the coaching staff he can handle that position, it could push Pettis off the 53. With the new rules in place for the practice squad, Pettis could land there as well.
(9): Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Nate Davis, Darnell Wright, Lucas Patrick, Larry Borom, Dieter Eiselen, Ja’Tyre Carter
This group is in a completely different situation from last season at this time. In 2022, there were a lot of questions and players moving around the starting offensive line, which is obviously not an ideal situation for any team.
The 2023 Bears have their starting five on the offensive line, and some depth at each position. The main competition for this group will be at swing tackle. Right now, Larry Borom and Kellen Diesch appear to be competing for the swing tackle spot.
On the interior, Eiselen’s versatility to play at the center position and at guard are the reasons he made the roster. Alex Leatherwood is also a player to consider, especially now that he has transitioned to playing inside.
(8): Justin Jones, Andrew Billings, Zacch Pickens, Gervon Dexter Sr., Trevis Gipson, DeMarcus Walker, Dominique Robinson, Rasheem Green
For the defensive linemen, Terrell Lewis nearly made my 53-man roster. The former Alabama Crison Tide pass rusher made his presence felt on Day 1 of minicamp by winning his one-on-one reps against Darnell Wright and applying pressure on Justin Fields.
Still, there were other players at different position groups that were more of a priority for this 53-man roster projection. The defensive line group easily could have nine players, especially if the team brings in a veteran — which seems likely.
(5): Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, Jack Sanborn, Noah Sewell, Dylan Cole
Not much here on the linebacker group. Jack Sanborn hasn’t practiced due to injury, which has allowed Noah Sewell to get some reps with the first team. But once Sanborn is healthy, he should regain his role as the starting SAM backer.
Dylan Cole played on 65.9 percent of the Titans’ special teams snaps a season ago and he will be in a position to do the same in the third phase for the Bears.
Sterling Weatherford was the odd man out in this initial 53-man roster. He hasn’t been able to practice, but Weatherford is a likely candidate to land on the practice squad.
(8): Jaylon Johnson, Tyrique Stevenson, Kyler Gordon, Michael Ojemudia, Kindle Vildor, Jaylon Jones, Josh Blackwell, Terell Smith
My initial 53-man roster probably has one more cornerback than some of the others you will see. But I think Kindle Vildor still has a place on this team, especially now since he will be in a backup role.
Also, Michael Ojemudia has been subbing in for Tyrique Stevenson with the first-team unit. Clearly the Bears’ coaching staff likes what they have seen from Ojemudia.
(3): Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker, Elijah Hicks
This is a position group I think will end with four players by the time I do this exercise again. Elijah Hicks has filled in for Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker.
The last spot will be a battle between rookie Kendall Williamson, veteran Adrian Colbert, A.J. Thomas and, potentially, undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette Bralen Trahan.
(3): Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill, Patrick Scales
Not overthinking this one. Even though Vernon Hills native Andre Szymt has a powerful leg, Cairo Santos shouldn’t have any worry at all about his job security.
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