Cleveland Browns v Chicago Bears
YOUTH GONE WILD
A look at the 10 rookies on the Bears’ 53-man roster (with Adam L. Jahns’ comments):
Pos. Player Acquired School
OG Kyle Long 1st round, 20th pick Oregon
• Starter at right guard. He looks like everything GM Phil Emery said he could be.
LB Jon Bostic 2nd, 50th Florida
• Starter at middle linebacker. He showed big-play ability throughout preseason.
LB Khaseem Greene 4th, 117th Rutgers
• Backup behind Lance Briggs and James Anderson. He has to make an impact on special teams.
OT Jordan Mills 5th, 163rd Louisiana Tech
• Starter at right tackle. His quick development and rise meant the end for veteran J’Marcus Webb with the Bears.
DE Cornelius Washington 6th, 188th Georgia
• Reserve defensive end. Coaches say he’s just learning how to use all of his physical gifts.
WR Marquess Wilson 7th, 236th Washington State
• Third or fourth receiver. He came on late in training camp to impress coach Marc Trestman.
DT Zach Minter UFA Montana State
• Reserve defensive tackle. His quick first step and motor caught the attention of defensive line coach Mike Phair.
CB C.J. Wilson UFA North Carolina State
• Reserve cornerback. He was a consistent performer throughout training camp and made plays in preseason games.
RB Michael Ford UFA Louisiana State
• No. 3 running back. He’s a strong, compact runner and solid receiver but also a talented kick returner.
DE David Bass Claimed off waivers Missouri Western State
• Reserve defensive end. Bass, a 2013 seventh-round pick who was cut by the Raiders, is valued for his pass-rushing ability.
(UFA — undrafted free agent)
Updated: October 3, 2013 6:22AM
Rookie linebacker Jon Bostic wanted to play. But the Bears wouldn’t let him. In just a few months and thanks to one key injury, Bostic had become too valuable to risk injury.
So he watched.
And Bostic wasn’t alone. Fellow rookies Kyle Long, Jordan Mills and Marquess Wilson also strode the sideline with their arms folded and eyes on the field.
“[To] tell you the truth, it wasn’t very fun,” Bostic said of sitting out the Bears’ last preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. “I like to be out there with my teammates. A lot of guys are out there, guys that I came with. We kind of grew together, learned together.”
Those “guys” would be the Bears’ other rookies. And the team kept nine of them — the entire 2013 draft class and three undrafted players — then added one more Sunday to make up coach Marc Trestman’s 53-man roster. The Bears claimed defensive end David Bass, a seventh-round pick who was cut by the Oakland Raiders, and waived defensive end Cheta Ozougwu to make room for him.
This isn’t a case of the collective-bargaining agreement forcing a team to keep younger players over more experienced and expensive ones, either.
The Bears might not be rebuilding, but general manager Phil Emery is deftly trying to reload while winning with his talented cast of veterans.
“We see signs of the team we can become,” Trestman said. “We’ve seen that in training camp, and we saw that [against the Raiders]. The preseason is tough. It’s tough to be conclusive about what you’re going to be. But we have an idea of what we can be. It will all start next Sunday [against the Cincinnati Bengals].”
So many rookies making the team isn’t a unique occurrence. The Bears had nine make the team in 2011 and 2008 under ex-GM Jerry Angelo.
But the circumstances make this year noteworthy. This is Emery’s second season in control, there’s a new coach and there are many players with expiring contracts, including some stars.
So getting younger always has been an underlying goal. Multiple age analyses show Emery was able to do that, but the Bears remain one of the oldest teams in the league.
There’s nothing wrong with that, especially with linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive end Julius Peppers still at All-Pro levels. Their strong play has given Emery the luxury of getting younger with the right players.
The Bears’ decision to keep their entire 2013 draft class, which also includes linebacker Khaseem Greene and defensive end Cornelius Washington, isn’t a case of a GM having a strong preference for his picks. The cases of safety Brandon Hardin and tight end/fullback Evan Rodriguez show that Emery isn’t overly stubborn when it comes to his selections.
It looks like Emery has hit a home run with his 2013 class, especially with Long, Bostic and Mills. There will be tough moments ahead, but getting three starters right away is impressive.
The undrafted rookies — defensive tackle Zach Minter, cornerback C.J. Wilson and running back Michael Ford — were aided by injuries to others, but they routinely outperformed older players.
It also helps that defensive end Shea McClellin, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and nickel back Isaiah Frey — Emery’s three keepers from his 2012 class — have important roles for this season.
The Bears seem to have a nice blend of young and old.
“All of our players are going to have to earn their place on our team,” Emery said during camp. “To improve and to contribute more, obviously you want your younger players to ascend and continue to be a bigger part of your team.”