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Bears roster: A look at who’s in, who’s on bubble, who’s in trouble

Kahlil Bell will likely earn spot Bears' roster running back. | Getty Images

Kahlil Bell will likely earn a spot on the Bears' roster at running back. | Getty Images

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:21AM



Decisions, decisions. The Bears have a lot of them to make in a short time.

Because of the lockout, evaluations might be kind of dicey this year. The Bears didn’t get an offseason to see their rookies and free agents. In fact, veteran free agents such as Roy Williams, Sam Hurd, Amobi Okoye and Vernon Gholston didn’t start practicing with the team until Aug. 4.

After the preseason finale Thursday against the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field, the Bears’ personnel department and coaching staff will have two days to cut the roster from 80 to 53. Even if 40 to 42 players are locks, they still could have 40 players fighting for the final 13 spots.

Those rarely are make-or-break roster spots, but they can make a difference. Wide receiver Earl Bennett and defensive tackles Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina are among the starters who were ‘‘on the bubble’’ in the last three seasons.

But coach Lovie Smith said he doesn’t think the lockout will have an impact on the final cutdown.

‘‘Even though we missed a lot of time in the offseason, we’ve gotten a good look,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve had plenty of time to evaluate the players in order to make sound decisions.

‘‘To me, it’s becoming clearer and clearer every game we play, every practice, every meeting. We have a real good handle on what direction we need to go. But we need just one more look game-wise and a couple of more practice-wise before we make decisions.’’

The Bears must pare their roster to 53 by Saturday. They can establish an eight-man practice squad Sunday. Here’s how the 53-man roster shapes up with five days to go:

Quarterbacks (3)

Locks: Jay Cutler is Jay Cutler. Caleb Hanie is a solid No. 2, though the Bears don’t always sound convinced that’s the case. Promising rookie Nathan Enderle wasn’t
drafted in the fifth round to be a
No. 3.

Running backs (4)

Locks: Matt Forte has breakout potential. Marion Barber’s running style is a good fit for this offense, but can he take a pounding?

Good bet: Kahlil Bell has earned the opportunity the old-fashioned way: by producing every time he gets a chance.

On the bubble: Chester Taylor seemed to cut himself this week; Barber’s injury keeps him in play for now. Will Ta’ufo’ou and Eddie Williams are battling for a spot at fullback, unless the Bears go with an H-back as a lead blocker.

Long shot: Rookie Robert Hughes has potential as a cross-over back, but his best shot is on the practice squad. Harvey Unga has missed a lot of camp because of personal issues.

Wide receivers (5-6)

Locks: All Earl Bennett does is get open. Roy Williams has two catches and two drops, but even Bears fans have to give him more than 16 practices. Devin Hester needs to look as improved in the games as he does in practice. Johnny Knox is better than he was last year.

Good bets: Sam Hurd is a must-have on special teams. Intriguing Dane Sanzenbacher would be diffi-
cult to sneak on to the practice squad.

On the bubble: Undrafted 6-3 rookie Kris Adams warrants a
longer look on the practice squad.

Long shots: Onrea Jones has produced during the preseason (five catches, 78 yards) but is buried in this group. Rookie Jimmy Young and Andy Fantuz have been lost in the shuffle.

Tight ends (3-4)

Locks: Kellen Davis has the best combination of skills for this offense. Matt Spaeth is a dedicated blocker.

Good bet: Desmond Clark has new life in this offense.

On the bubble: Rookie Kyle
Adams plays special teams and might make the team as an H-back.

Long shot: Rookie Andre Smith hasn’t gotten much of a shot.

Offensive linemen (9)

Locks: Roberto Garza has made a smooth transition to center. J’Marcus Webb made enough progress at right tackle last season to think he can do the same at left tackle. Chris Williams shows signs of being good at left guard. Lance Louis is talented but needs more time. Rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi already looks like he knows what he’s doing. Chris Spencer provides depth the Bears haven’t had. Edwin Williams started three games at right guard last season and also can play center.

Good bets: Frank Omiyale has the experience and versatility the Bears need. Levi Horn (6-6, 320) looks improved after a year on the practice squad.

On the bubble: Rookie tackle Josh Davis (6-6, 300) has been playing behind Carimi.

Long shots: Guard Johan Asiata has been on the practice squad the last two seasons. Rookie center Alex Linnenkohl might be battling for a practice-squad spot. Rookie Ricky Henry is buried behind Louis, Asiata and Horn at right guard.

Defensive linemen (8)

Locks: Julius Peppers is Julius Peppers. Israel Idonije tied Peppers with eight sacks last season. Anthony Adams has been hurt most of training camp but isn’t going anywhere. Henry Melton is poised for a breakout season at tackle and also can play end. Matt Toeaina is steady and productive. Corey Wootton was playing well before he suffered a knee injury. Rookie Stephen Paea hasn’t shown much yet, but he is a second-round draft pick. Amobi Okoye has all three of the Bears’ sacks in the presesason.

On the bubble: Nick Reed is a high-motor, undersized end who played a season with the Seahawks in 2009. Rookie Mario Addison was moved up to second team after Wootton was injured. Marcus Harrison has rebounded from a slow start, but he still needs to show more. Rookie Jake Laptad deserved a partial sack in the opener and also is working as a long snapper.

Long shot: Rookie Jordan Miller’s best chance is on the practice squad.

Linebackers (6)

Locks: Brian Urlacher is Brian Urlacher. Lance Briggs is a six-time Pro Bowler playing with a chip on his shoulder. Nick Roach’s versatility fits in well with this group. Brian Iwuh can get the job done in a pinch and also stars on special teams. Rookie J.T. Thomas is a sixth-round draft pick with potential.

On the bubble: Rookie Dom DeCicco has been impressive as a backup to Urlacher, but the Bears still are looking for veteran help. Patrick Trahan is a playmaker who could thrive in an aggressive
defense.

Long shots: Rookies Tressor Baptiste and Deron Minor and
second-year manChris Johnson haven’t made a big impact with limited opportunities.

Cornerbacks (6)

Locks: Charles Tillman still is playing at a high level in his ninth season. Tim Jennings has solidified his starting position. D.J. Moore fits in well as a nickel back. Corey Graham is a stalwart on special teams.

Good bet: Zack Bowman is
rebounding from an injury.

On the bubble: Joshua Moore is talented but inconsistent.

Long shots: Undrafted rookies Antareis Bryan and Ryan Jones are practice-squad candidates.

Safeties (5)

Chris Harris is getting better with age. Major Wright only misses one tackle a game. Rookie Chris Conte is a keeper. Craig Steltz has experience, gumption and plays well on special teams.

Long shots: Undrafted rookie Winston Venable has been impressive on special teams. Undrafted rookie Anthony Walters has practice-squad potential.

Specialists (3)

Locks: Kicker Robbie Gould has missed two short field goals in the preseason but is one of the best in the NFL. Punter Adam Podlesh is just warming up. Long snapper Pat Mannelly is the best in the business.

Long shot: Rookie punter Spencer Lanning has impressive leg strength but lacks consistency.



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