The Chicago Bears officially kicked off their first practice of the 2023 offseason on May 22, marking the first day of true roster competition for the 90 players vying for 53 spots on the team’s regular-season roster.
Even still, some roles are clearer than others for the Bears heading into the second year of their extensive rebuild. Quarterback, for example, has Justin Fields penciled in as the starter with little wiggle room for anything different to happen — barring an injury. But the defensive line is less certain with returning starters, newcomer veterans and rookies all preparing to claw and scratch their way to the top spots on the 2023 depth chart.
Here is how the Bears’ 53-man roster projects to shake out at the start of OTAs:
Quarterback (2): Justin Fields, P.J. Walker
Missed the cut: Tyson Bagent (UDFA), Nathan Peterman
No surprises here. Fields is the unquestioned starter and Walker is locked in as his backup after the Bears signed him to a two-year contract earlier this offseason. While there could be some preseason interest in the battle for QB3 between Peterman and the undrafted rookie Bagent, the winner is likely bound for the practice squad.
One interesting note: The NFL approved a new rule on Monday in regard to emergency third quarterbacks. According to the NFL’s memo — which Tom Pelissero of NFL Network shared on Twitter — clubs will be allowed to “designate one emergency third quarterback from its 53-player Active/Inactive List … who will be eligible to be activated during the game, if the club’s first two quarterbacks on its game day Active List are not able to participate in the game due to injury or disqualification.”
Since this new rule applies only to the 53-man roster and not practice-squad players, there is more incentive for teams to keep three quarterbacks on their roster (i.e. for the Bears to keep three quarterbacks on their initial roster in 2023). Too early to say three will be kept for certain, but it will be a situation worth monitoring later this summer.
Running back (4): Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer
Missed the cut: Trestan Ebner
Herbert has been presumed to be the Bears’ new lead running back since it became clear that David Montgomery (now with the Detroit Lions) would not be returning, but he could have a seasonlong fight for carries on his hands with the veteran Foreman and the fourth-round rookie Johnson giving Chicago a talented trio in the backfield.
Needless to say, all three are expected to make the roster at this point. Homer, one of the Bears’ first free agent signings of the 2023 offseason, also seems highly likely to make it considering the team targeted him for his special teams capabilities.
The odd man out, unfortunately, is Ebner. The 2022 sixth-rounder only received 24 carries as a rookie behind Herbert and Montgomery, but he generated just 54 yards on those carries and caught just 25% (two of eight) of the passes thrown his way. Before Johnson, he had a chance to stick around for a sophomore outing, but four rushers are plenty — especially with a fullback in the mix for additional goal-line and blocking help.
Fullback (1): Khari Blasingame
Missed the cut: Robert Burns (UDFA)
Too easy. The Bears re-signed Blasingame to a two-year extension the day before the start of the 2023 league year. It would take a shocking shift in philosophy for them to walk back that decision, so the 26-year-old fullback seems like a safe bet right now.
Wide Receiver (7): D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Tyler Scott, Equanimeous St. Brown, Velus Jones Jr., Dante Pettis
Missed the cut: Nsimba Webster, Daurice Fountain, Joe Reed, Thyrick Pitts (UDFA), Aron Cruickshank (UDFA)
The biggest debate here isn’t which wide receivers make the initial roster but rather how many. The Bears could easily roll into the upcoming season with just six wideouts, in which case Pettis would almost certainly be the first man out.
It is possible that Jones could be in danger if he looks to have hardly improved during the offseason, but general manager Ryan Poles would be bold to give up on a third-round pick so soon — especially with a long-term need for receiving depth.
Financially speaking, the Bears would be able to part ways with either Pettis or St. Brown if either of them performed below expectations in OTAs or camp, but both have a full year of experience in Luke Getsy’s offensive system and give them valuable depth.
Tight End (2): Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan
Missed the cut: Jake Tonges, Chase Allen, Stephen Carlson
The Bears kept just two tight ends on their initial roster after 2022 training camp, but they claimed a third off the waivers shortly after the cut deadline. This year, they won’t need to keep three with two experienced pass-catchers at the position.
The addition of Tonyan might be the Bears’ most underrated move of the offseason as he was one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets over their shared time in Green Bay and finished tied with Travis Kelce for the most tight-end touchdowns in 2020. Paired with Kmet, the Bears should have a significantly more reliable tight end position in 2023.
Offensive line (10): Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Nate Davis, Darnell Wright, Lucas Patrick, Alex Leatherwood, Ja’Tyre Carter, Larry Borom, Doug Kramer
Missed the cut: Dieter Eiselen, Kellen Diesch, Lorenz Metz (UDFA), Josh Lugg (UDFA), Gabriel Houy (UDFA), Robert Haskins (UDFA)
Ahh, one of the most scrutinized positions on the Bears’ roster. Chicago acquired two new starters for their offensive line during the 2023 offseason, signing a three-year deal with Davis and using their No. 10 overall draft pick on selecting Wright. They have also indicated they plan to have Whitehair and Patrick compete for the center job, meaning there are really just six players competing for five starting jobs.
The more interesting competition is for the backup spots. Patrick can play both guard and center and has played at a high level in the past for the Packers, so he seems like a safe retention for the sake of interior depth. The rest, however, are a toss-up that will vary depending on how many linemen the Bears plan on keeping.
Kramer and Borom figure to be the first two men out if the cut goes below 10, and Borom might hold the edge given there is currently a lack of tackle depth behind the starters. Leatherwood is also still a bit of a wild card for the Bears, who claimed him off the waivers but played on just 32 total offensive snaps. Carter might be the safest of the bunch, having only played one game in 2022 but doing solid work over those 31 snaps.
One last thing that could shake things up is the Bears signing a veteran offensive tackle. None of their current options have more than two full years of experience on their record, so signing a proven tackle would make sense before the start of camp. If that happens, the ground gets shakier for Borom and Leatherwood.
Defensive line (9): Justin Jones, Gervon Dexter Sr., Zacch Pickens, Andrew Billings, Travis Bell, DeMarcus Walker, Trevis Gipson, Rasheem Green, Dominique Robinson
Missed the cut: Andrew Brown, Roy Mbaeteka, Jalyn Holmes, Donovan Jeter, Jalen Harris (UDFA), D’Anthony Jones (UDFA)
Jones figures to start the season as the Bears’ three-technique defensive tackle while Billings — a former Las Vegas Raider with more than 50 starts on his career ledger — should fill out the one-technique role. With three draft picks for the interior, however, the Bears could decide to drop one of them if Dexter, Pickens or Bell show out early on. Let’s assume all five of them make it for the time being, leaving Brown, Holmes and Mbaeteka the odd men out for the inside roles.
The outside is much harder to predict. The obvious answers are the two returning starters — Gipson and Robinson — alongside the two free agent signings — Walker and Green — but the Bears are expected to sign another veteran before the start of camp and could alter the picture some. For now, Robinson and Green are safe as the expected rotational contributors on the edge, but they could find themselves on the bubble once another addition is made at the position.
Linebackers (5): Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, Jack Sanborn, Noah Sewell, Dylan Cole
Missed the cut: Sterling Weatherford, Terrell Lewis, DeMarquis Gates, Kuony Deng, Micah Baskerville (UDFA)
No position received upgrades like the linebacker room during the Bears’ offseason. Edmunds essentially got the contract the Bears tried to give Roquan Smith to replace him in the middle, while Edwards and Sanborn give them real teeth across the board.
Sewell, a fifth-round rookie, could perhaps push Sanborn for his starting role, but both feel too valuable for the Bears to abandon at this point. Dylan Cole, the Bears’ third free agent signing at the position, was pursued for a reason, and until one of the other depth players makes a convincing case — Baskerville, maybe? — expect him to make the team.
Cornerbacks (6): Jaylon Johnson, Tyrique Stevenson, Kyler Gordon, Terell Smith, Kindle Vildor, Jaylon Jones
Missed the cut: Josh Blackwell, Greg Stroman Jr., Michael Ojemudia
The Bears have expressed quite a bit of optimism about their two rookie picks, Stevenson and Lewis, with the former already projected as the starting outside corner opposite Johnson. For right now, the battle to watch is Gordon and Lewis for a role in the slot. Vildor also can’t be overlooked after putting up a career-high five pass deflections and his first career interception for their secondary in 2022.
The trickier part is figuring out who else could win a job behind the primary five. Jones started five games for the Bears in 2022 as an undrafted rookie and has the versatility to play both cornerback and safety, which is what gives him the edge here. Blackwell, however, also got some quality rookie experience and could give him a legitimate push.
Safeties (4): Eddie Jackson, Jaquan Brisker, Kendall Williamson, Elijah Hicks
Missed the cut: A.J. Thomas, Adrian Colbert, Bralen Trahan (UDFA), Macon Clark (UDFA)
The Bears’ safety room feels more decided than the rest of the defensive position. Jackson had a bounce-back season for the Bears in 2022 and figures to be an integral part of their secondary for another year. Meanwhile, Brisker looked like a rising star during his rookie season and might be the most talented coverage piece they have.
The questions start after that. Williamson is getting the benefit of the doubt here as a rookie draft pick, but the experience of Colbert’s 41 games of experience could push either him or Hicks — a 2022 seventh-rounder — out of the picture. The other three have some serious impressing to do if they hope to make the 53-man cut.
Specialists (3): Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill, Patrick Scales
Missed the cut: Andre Szmyt (UDFA), Ryan Anderson
For a pre-OTAs projection, it is hard to bet against Santos even after his struggles with extra points in 2022, but keep an eye on Szmyt as practices continue this summer. He set numerous program records at Syracuse for his kicking and received the Lou Groza award in 2018 that is given to the best kicker in college football each season. The talent is there, but he needs to back it up before he can receive a vote of confidence.
Gill could also face some resistance from Anderson, but it is hard to get a solid reading on Anderson. He has never punted in a professional football game despite spending time with both an NFL team and a now-defunct AAF team. Right now, the punting job appears to be Gill’s to lose.