When the Bears this spring opted to convert swing OT Bradley Sowell to tight end, it surely signaled their concerns regarding the ominous state of the TE room, where Trey Burton comes off groin surgery, Adam Shaheen has yet to come on as a reliable NFL contributor entering Year 3 and no offseason resources were allocated on proven reinforcements.
But the hope among Bears fans was that the move was made with internal optimism regarding what’s in reserve at offensive tackle behind rock-solid if unspectacular starters Charles Leno and Bobby Massie.
There are now less than two weeks before the Green Bay Packers arrive at Soldier Field to play real football, and if optimism remains regarding either backup situation, it’s difficult to tell. Saturday in Indianapolis represents the penultimate preseason opportunity to change that. With that, here are two position groups and two additional players with the most to prove against the Indianapolis Colts backups.
With all due respect to Ellis Richardson and Jesper Horsted, our focus is on fellow undrafted rookies Dax Raymond and Ian Bunting and Sowell, the veteran whose spot likely isn’t secure after putting on film one impressive block on David Montgomery’s touchdown run vs. Carolina but also a false start and holding penalty and sack surrendered so far at his new spot this preseason.
Bunting has also been flagged twice — both in the opener — but responded as the team’s second-leading receiver, adding a special-teams tackle, in the preseason.
Raymond, the headliner of the Bears’ undrafted rookie class, delivered an impressive block last week but has only been targeted twice (1-6 receiving). Good news: his receiving ability isn't in question, and he flashed at the point of attack, where the Bears say they're most concerned.
But with Chicago’s TEs combining for zero targets last week, the clock continues to tick in a battle with three legitimate challengers vying perhaps for only one spot.
Rashaad Coward could be an I.R. candidate after leaving early with an elbow injury Friday and struggling prior, and irrespective, we learned this week that the Bears at least for now view him as a right tackle-only.
The two veterans with blind-side experience, Cornelius Lucas and T.J. Clemmings? Cover your eyes. The former was flagged twice for holding last week, looking stiff and unsure against the Giants’ Lorenzo Carter. Clemmings in the opener was called for two false starts and didn’t exactly acquit himself in New Jersey.
The Bears have enviable positional flexibility within their front five, where starting OGs Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair have played outside before, in addition to markedly better depth inside than at tackle. But when we asked him this week, Nagy said Long and Whitehair aren't currently options to kick outside in a pinch and that “we know that’s a position that we got to get right in that swing tackle area.”
RB Kerrith Whyte
The seventh-round speed merchant had a 103-yard kickoff return touchdown called back last week because of an Isaiah Irving holding penalty. Yet, Whyte still managed to make his mark, authoring a few nifty red-zone carries and showing sneaky power on his first-ever NFL touchdown run.
The Bears’ leading rusher this preseason, Whyte might have a leg up on last year’s preseason stud, big back Ryan Nall, because of his superior speed, special-teams prowess and overall upside. Frankly, the less we see of him in Indianapolis after the Bears signed likely preseason workhorse Josh Caldwell, the more convinced we’ll be that Whyte has made a successful bid for the 53. This much we can promise: The rest of the league got a good look at Whyte’s juice on that mitigated return touchdown, perhaps squandering any chance Chicago had of successfully sneaking him to the practice squad.
WR Thomas Ives
The Bears might as well lock in their top six wideouts now — Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Javon Wims, Cordarrelle Patterson and rookie Riley Ridley. We’re now hard-pressed to see a seventh sticking, but if he does, it figures to be Marvin Hall.
Still, Hinsdale Central and Colgate product Thomas Ives might pique our interest the most in what’s a loaded lot of backups — also including Jordan Williams-Lambert and Tanner Gentry — likely auditioning for 31 other teams and the Bears’ practice squad. At 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, Ives is the biggest and appears to be the most skilled, flashing consistent separation skills and hands since the offseason program.