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Projecting the 2023 Bears’ initial 53-man roster

11 months agoChris Emma

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — When the Bears emerged onto the back fields of Halas Hall on Thursday morning, it marked exactly one month until kickoff on the regular season. 

Between that point and the present – just two weeks into work for training camp – there is plenty the Bears must accomplish to become the team they hope this season. For general manager Ryan Poles and his front office brass, there are key decisions to make in forming the initial 53-man roster. 

The Bears must identify winners of key competitions on the depth chart and make difficult decisions at the bottom of the roster. Poles believes there is a stronger, deeper, more competitive roster now in his second year leading the front office at Halas Hall.  

Let’s see how the Bears could shape up for the start of their new season. 

Note: Roster projection does not include 16-man practice squad or likely waiver acquisitions prior to the regular season.

Quarterback (2) — Justin Fields, PJ Walker 

There is structure and no drama in place for the Bears at the position of quarterback, where Fields is the set starter entering his third NFL season and Walker is the veteran backup. The significance and hopes for this season in Chicago rest on the shoulders of Fields, who could be on the brink of a breakthrough. The Bears must decide between veteran Nathan Peterman and rookie Tyson Bagent for a spot on the practice squad. 

Running back (4) — Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer 

The Bears are expected to boast a backfield committee this season, though expect the 25-year-old Herbert to open the season as the feature back. Herbert averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season and an even 5 yards per attempt over 232 rushes his first two seasons. Foreman should play a complementary role out of the backfield and has even been more of a role player catching passes out of the backfield. The rookie Johnson, a fourth-round pick out of Texas, could eventually step in as the lead back. Homer is expected to play a role on special teams. 

Fullback (1) — Khari Blasingame 

The Bears value a fullback for their run-oriented offensive attack. A four-year NFL veteran, Blasingame is entering his second year with the Bears. 

Wide receiver (6) — DJ Moore, Chase Claypool, Darnell Mooney, Tyler Scott, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis 

Competition at wide receiver comes down to the last spot, which will be fought over by the veteran Pettis and second-year target Velus Jones Jr. Pettis replaced Jones as the Bears’ punt returner last season. He returned to practice on Thursday after opening training camp on the non-football injury list. Jones became expendable when the Bears selected the rookie Scott in the fourth round. The Bears now feature a true No. 1 wide receiver in Moore, who has looked the part. 

Tight end (4) — Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Stephen Carlson 

The Bears are in a good place at tight end after signing Kmet on a four-year, $50-million extension this offseason and bringing in Tonyan and Lewis to the mix. Coming off a career-best season, Kmet will be the lead tight end at the ‘Y’ position while Tonyan should be a key target at the ‘X’ position. The 39-year-old Lewis, entering his 19th season, will serve as a key blocking threat. 

Offensive line (8) — Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Nate Davis, Darnell Wright, Lucas Patrick, Ja’Tyre Carter, Larry Borom 

After shuffling the offensive line over the last several seasons, the Bears valued continuity over competition this offseason. They established a starting offensive line back in May – this after selecting Wright with the No. 10 overall pick in the draft – and have worked with this same group of five. The last spot on the depth chart could come down to Patrick, Alex Leatherwood and Doug Kramer. I’m giving Patrick the edge. 

Defensive line (9) — Yannick Ngakoue, DeMarcus Walker, Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson, Terrell Lewis, Justin Jones, Andrew Billings, Gervon Dexter Sr., Zacch Pickens 

The Bears’ defensive front has a stronger look after signing Ngakoue on a one-year deal, bolstering the pass rush. Walker should play a key part for the defensive line, both rushing off the edge and rotating inside. Despite the addition of Ngakoue, this pass rush is truly relying on Gipson or Robinson to become more reliable players this season. The rookies Dexter and Pickens should take on key roles as they continue to develop.  

Linebacker (5) — Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, Jack Sanborn, Noah Sewell, Dylan Cole 

This offseason, the Bears made significant investments to their linebacker group with the signings of Edmunds and Edwards. In doing so, they formed one of the best linebacking tandems in the league. But there’s still an apparent competition as the rookie Sewell challenges Sanborn for the strongside linebacker position. Cole was brought in as a key special-teams contributor. 

Cornerback (6) — Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Tyrique Stevenson, Terell Smith, Josh Blackwell, Jaylon Jones 

After selecting Stevenson in the late second round, the Bears believed they had their starting cornerback trio in place by starting him alongside Johnson and Gordon. But his fellow rookie Smith, a fifth-round pick, is challenging for that spot in training camp. It creates an interesting position battle to follow leading up to the regular season. As for Gordon, his increased comfort has been noticeable during his second training camp. 

Safety (5) — Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker, Elijah Hicks, A.J. Thomas, Bralen Trahan 

With Jackson and Brisker, the Bears have set a strong tandem in the back end of their defense. Now in his second season, Brisker seems poised for a significant jump – this after an impressive rookie season. Keep an eye on Trahan, an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana, as a player to earn one of these last roster spots. 

Specialists (3) — Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill, Patrick Scales 

The Bears do not presently have any competition in place for their special-teams battery, this after releasing kicker Andre Szmyt this week.  

Go, DJ 

Each day that DJ Moore has lined up alongside Justin Fields, there seems to have been a notable connection between the two. That’s not a coincidence. 

Moore, acquired by the Bears in their blockbuster trade with the No. 1 overall pick, has found great comfort playing alongside Fields in this offense. The two have worked carefully to develop a chemistry and that has been clear throughout the course of training camp. 

“The biggest thing is you love to see the trust between the quarterback and receiver,” Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “They’ve done a really nice job developing that pretty quickly. That’s not an easy thing to do.  

“Hopefully as the season goes along, he’ll find that nice groove and we’ll even see a better version than we see already.” 

The 26-year-old Moore had 364 receptions for 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns over 80 games with the Panthers, who had a revolving door at quarterback during his five seasons.  

Moore is the type of proven No. 1 wide receiver that the Bears have been missing – the dependable target who can help Fields find his best form this season. 

“I didn’t realize how good he was until I actually got in front of him,” Bears rookie Tyler Scott said. “Always heard about him around the league, DJ Moore being the guy. But now, finally being able to see it live in person, he just does stuff and I just laugh. Like, ‘Gosh, did he just catch that?’ It ticks me off. But it’s really cool to see something like that.” 

Sewell stepping up 

In a draft class filled with intrigue, rookie linebacker Noah Sewell certainly stands out. 

Sewell was a five-star prospect arriving at Oregon who was a top 10 player in the entire country, according to Rivals. He has always been viewed as a supremely talented player, especially with two brothers playing in the NFL. But Sewell never quite put it all together with the Ducks and emerged as that prized player for the next level. 

The Bears selected Sewell with the No. 148 overall pick in the fifth round this year, hopeful that they could reveal his best football through development. Early on in training camp, Sewell has made a strong impression. 

With key injuries at linebacker, Sewell has worked in with the starting defense at times during training camp. The Bears see him competing with Jack Sanborn for the strongside linebacker position. 

“He’s a physical dude,” Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards said of Sewell. “He’s a big dude. He’s very athletic as well. Just kind of working with him, he understands the game, he understands what his responsibilities are in the plays and a guy who is just a football player. He finds the ball, he’s powerful. Really, really excited about him and what he’s doing, for sure.” 

Need for speed 

Bears running back Khalil Herbert still laments a 63-yard run he had against the Commanders last October, one on which he was caught from behind by a defender at the 7-yard line. The offense stalled out and failed to score in goal-to-go. 

Herbert was stunned that he was tracked down from behind – that his afterburners didn’t hit full gear and he couldn’t out-race a defender. He wants to change that this season. 

“Working on that long speed, make sure I’m breaking runs like Justin (Fields),” Herbert said. 

Herbert has certainly been efficient with his opportunities out of the backfield. But he’s also working to improve as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield, key points of emphasis for him this offseason. Herbert took up boxing to improve his blocking skills. 

After the departure of David Montgomery to the Lions this offseason, Herbert is now the Bears’ lead running back and hopeful for a breakthrough this season. 

“Just taking that next step as an all-around back, all-around player, staying healthy, being able to help my team any way I can,” Herbert said. “As a player, as a leader, as a man, taking that next step and the rest will take care of itself.” 

Take the field 

The Bears plan to play select key starters for Saturday’s preseason opener at Soldier Field. That includes Fields, who will work limited reps with the starting offense. 

Coach Matt Eberflus indicated the Bears will designate specific snap counts for each individual player. Last year, Fields worked 18 snaps in the team’s preseason opener, followed by nine snaps in the second game and 24 in the exhibition finale. 

The preseason brings a heightened intensity for players fighting to make the roster. Bears backup quarterback PJ Walker still recalls what he felt prior to his first ever preseason game in 2017 as an undrafted free agent with the Colts. 

“It was just the nerves,” Walker said. “It didn’t feel like my first time going out there and playing football as a kid and enjoying it. It was just a bunch of stuff just going on. 

“I’m looking forward to Saturday, going out there and executing, going out there and moving the ball and having a good offense.” 

Injury updates 

Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool appeared to injure his right hamstring on Wednesday morning while making a cut in a one-on-one drill. 

Claypool immediately grabbed at his right hamstring before walking off the field. He did not practice on Thursday, though he was present with teammates on the sidelines. The Bears have maintained a policy of not reporting injuries during training camp and the preseason. 

The 24-year-old Claypool was enjoying a strong training camp to this point. 

“Just him learning the offense, knowing where he’s going, playing fast, executing and trusting with Justin Fields,” Eberflus said. “That’s real positive. He’s a really good blocker in the run game. He’s unselfish that way, ready to dig things out in the run game, blocking on the back side. Just all over improvement, and I think it’s getting better.” 

Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, safety Jaquan Brisker, right guard Nate Davis and reserve offensive lineman Lucas Patrick remain sidelined from practice. 

The Bears do not view any of their current injuries as long-term matters, Eberflus said. The team is not required to issue an injury report until the regular season. 

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