As the Chicago Bears get ready to take the field for their first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field Thursday, the drama surrounding the team and who its starters will be has been relatively minimal. Other than the current battle over starting kicker, just about every position on the team has been established since last season or prior.
If he’s operating under the same logic he used last preseason, Bears coach Matt Nagy will rest his starters a good bit and air on the side of caution. After a look at the Bears first unofficial depth chart, however, it’s clear there is some Hard Knocks-style intrigue surrounding some players vying for a position on the roster. Five players in particular should be intriguing to watch, including a tight end, the team’s longest tenured player, and a kicker (or two).
Running Back Ryan Nall
Considering the Bears’ newfound depth at running back, Ryan Nall may not make the roster. A star running back at Oregon State, he spent his rookie year last season on the Bears’ practice squad after the team signed him as an undrafted free agent. We know David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and Mike Davis will be the top three backs, but after that, nothing is certain.
Nall had a solid preseason in 2018, and he seems committed to constant improvement. If he can have a few standout games this preseason, he could stay prominent on Matt Nagy’s mind and perhaps make the team.
Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski
A few seasons ago, Kwiatkoski was a key role player for the Bears at inside linebacker. He performed so well in his sophomore season in 2017, that he was touted by pro football focus as being one of the NFL’s most efficient linebackers that year, despite not being a starter. But with the arrival of number one draft pick Roquan Smith last season, Kwiatkoski saw his playing time decrease significantly.
The amount of playing time Kwiatkoski has this preseason seems like a key thing to watch. As mentioned, Nagy likes to rest the players he plans to rely on most, so if he rests Kwiatkoski a good amount, it’s a good sign the linebacker will have a significant backup role this season.
Safety Sherrick McManis
The longest tenured Bear, McManis is considered by some to be on the bubble to make the team’s 53-man roster. McManis has been a standout special teamer for years, and filled in very capably for an injured Bryce Callahan last season, so if the team cut him, it would be somewhat of a surprise.
McManis has moved to safety this season, and is currently listed as the fifth safety on the depth chart, which is a precarious position for a veteran to be in. If he can make a case for himself this preseason, McManis should make the team. If he gets outshined and out-hustled by his fellow teammates vying for a spot, his outlook isn’t good.
Tight End Ian Bunting
Bunting, an undrafted free agent, is both huge and athletic, and has been ranked higher than Dax Raymond in early unofficial depth charts. He has also impressed offensive coordinator Harry Hiestand so far this preseason, so his stock seems to be rising.
The Bears’ depth at tight end is considered to be a weak spot for the team, and chances are, it’s going to come down to Bunting or Raymond to fill the fifth tight end slot. If Bunting plays consistently and well in the preseason, he could end up on the roster.
Kickers Eddie Piñeiro and Elliott Fry
Technically, this addition makes it six, but the Bears have refused to give any clue which direction they may be going at kicker, which is frustrating for some Bears fans who crave resolution to this seemingly endless saga. Nagy has said both Fry and Piñeiro will play through the preseason, and their battle should help remove the last question marks surrounding the team.
Whether or not either kicker is on the roster when the Bears kick off the NFL’s 100th season against the Packers on September 5 remains to be seen, but it could very well come down so who puts the best foot forward during each preseason game.