There was a time not long ago when the Bears’ visit to Indianapolis Saturday night for their third exhibition game of the season would have been the most important day of the preseason for the entire roster.In Matt Nagy’s world it is now a day off for just about every starter on the team.
But approximately 65 players will be battling for 28 or 29 spots backing up the starters.
I asked Nagy Wednesday if this was the point where he started to lock in on certain positions.
“Absolutely, now is the time you start driving in, you really start focusing on those positions that you’re talking about.
“I didn’t really know necessarily what they would be, they all kind of happen on their own so now Ryan and I will get together, we’ll get with the position coaches and try and collaborate and make the best decisions.”
After a moment of hesitation he even identified a few spots where the competition may be the closest.
“Right now it goes back to some of the general questions in training camp where we have some depth and where we want to see . . . I’ll give you an answer.
“Tight Ends, Middle Linebackers and at Corner.”
Let’s look at the players who will be battling on the defensive side for their NFL lives.
ILBs Nick Kwiatkoski and Joel Iyiegbuniwe: Entering training camp it was hard to imagine either of these players not making the team. But with the inside ‘backers being one of the first groups Nagy mentioned – although he did later qualify his answer by saying every position is close — the extremely strong summer and camp Josh Woods has had and the veteran experience and excellent special teams credentials added by Kevin Pierre-Louis, I’m sensing warning lights flashing brightly around “Kwit” and “Iggy.”
Kwiatkoski is strong against the run and solid on special teams, but you really don’t want him on the field on third down or in passing situations. His lack of speed and change of direction is a liability in coverage and has even shown up a couple times in the first two exhibitions against the run.
Entering his fourth season, Kwiatkoski is probably at his ceiling and may need a big game against the Colts to hold off the newbies.
Iyiegbuniwe may be a smidge safer than Kwiatkoski entering just his second season after being a fourth-round pick and possessing much better athleticism, quickness and speed, but he hasn’t demonstrated any real instincts for the position and may be more athlete than football player.
Of the three, Woods could be the most complete player right now, and with his experience and grit, Pierre-Louis may be hard to cut, suggesting if “Iggy” has anything he’s been keeping in reserve, the Colts game would be the time to show it.
It’s hard to imagine the Bears keeping more than four inside linebackers.
CBs Kevin Toliver II, John Franklin III, Michael Joseph, Duke Shelley and Clifton Duck: The Bears will keep six or seven cornerbacks — most likely six — and of course, Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Buster Skrine will be three of them.
These will be the toughest cuts for Pace and Nagy to make and may be dictated in part by who they think can get through waivers to the practice squad.
As the most recent draft choice of the group, Shelley will probably have a slight edge, while Tollver, Franklin and Joseph all have excellent size for the corner, and Franklin and Toliver have flashed repeatedly in camp.
Duck is the shortest — literally — and on tangibles, but he’s made the biggest plays the past two weeks.
Sherrick McManis: The veteran special teams captain is one of the best “teamers” in the league and can line up at either corner or safety, but he will almost certainly need the Bears to keep 11 defensive backs to stick — meaning there will be only three roster spots for the five young corners above.
OLBs Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts and James Vaughters: All three appear to be battling for one roster spot at outside linebacker — with Irving the solid front-runner.