Where the Bears Job Fights Are Most Fierce

Coach Matt Nagy noted at the end of rookie camp the two positions where players will face the most severe competition in trying to land roster spots.
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Bears coach Matt Nagy already sounded the alert for wide receivers and running backs a full 2 1/2 months before the start of training camp.

When rookie minicamp ended, Nagy noted those two positions as the most competitive situations.

"That's what we're trying to do is create depth at every position, but specifically at wide receiver and running back versus where I think we've been in previous years. Our depth right now is really good at those two positions. Starting out with wideout.

"I mentioned Saturday that we really feel like we strengthened that room and have done a good job, a credit to (GM) Ryan (Pace) and personnel for bringing in guys that come really come in and compete from day one and make everybody else better which is really what this is supposed to be like. You talk to guys that ave been with us for the past two or three years they're going to tell you they want that and it makes them better."

Nagy pointed out how even the players signed with great speed don't immediately exhibit that great speed. So incumbents have the edge.

"They can't play as fast as, you know, Anthony Miller, Mooney, Wims, Ridley, A-Rob," Nagy said. "It takes them a little bit.

"When there's a conversion in a route, what do you do?"

The lack of knowledge about the offense is a great equalizer.

"So what's their learning curve going to be?" Nagy said. "We think it's going to be pretty good, which inevitably is going to push all these guys."

Something could change before training camp during OTAs, which now begin June 1 after the practices of May 25-27 were eliminated on Sunday. What usually changes in the time between the end of OTAs and the start of training camp is more competition gets added, and not less.

Better players who are cut for cap purposes might catch on as camp approaches with hopes of making a roster as a long shot.

So it doesn't look like it will get any easier.

The Bears currently have 13 players on the roster at wide receiver after cutting Reggie Davis on Monday, or at least they will have this many after Dazz Newsome signs his rookie contract.

Allen Robinson

Darnell Mooney

Anthony Miller

Javon Wims

Marquise Goodwin

Damiere Byrd

Dazz Newsome

Riley Ridley

Rodney Adams

Thomas Ives

Chris Lacy

Khalil McClain

Jester Weah

Some of these players are practice squad players from last year, like Adams, Davis and Ives.

Weah was a practice squad type of receiver the Bears signed immediately after the season in January, and is 6-foot-3, 210. He did a 38-inch vertical and ran 4.43 in the 40 at the combine after averaging 20.4 yards a catch for Pitt his final two years of college. Then he went undrafted and signed to practice squads with Washington and Houston before coming to the Bears.

They just signed Lacy on Sunday after he made three catches in two years with the Lions. McClain is a 6-4, 222-pounder from Troy who signed as an undrafted free agent after this draft. He had 77 catches for 945 yards his final two seasons in college.

The problem for all of these extra receivers is the numbers game. 

The Bears kept five receivers when they made final cuts in 2018 during Matt Nagy's first year. They kept six in 2019. They kept seven last year, but in both 2019 and 2020 they had Cordarrelle Patterson as an extra receiver among those totals they retained. He played running back and not receiver in 2020, even though their roster listed him at receiver.

Also working against receivers being retained is running back Tarik Cohen, if he is able to return immediately from his ACL tear. Cohen was used extensively as a slot receiver in 2019 and lined up outside at times in 2018, as well.

Part of the reason they had only five receivers on the roster in 2018 was Cohen's use in this position, and he was the team's leader in yards after the catch for both of those two seasons.

"Running back, right, like what we've done there, with adding Damien Williams, a guy that you see what he's done in his previous years going back to Miami," Nagy said. "And bringing an element of speed to the offense, different things like that. And now we've got Khalil Herbert."

At running back, the numbers are far better than in 2020 or 2019. With Cohen returning, they have seven backs.

David Montgomery

Tarik Cohen

Damien Williams

Khalil Herbert

Ryan Nall

Artavis Pierce

C.J. Marable

Marable signed as an undrafted free agent from Coastal Carolina after gaining 2,691 yards on 491 carries with 29 touchdowns, and making 84 receptions for 704 yards. His career started at Arkansas State but almost all of his yardage came at Coastal Carolina.

The Bears were greatly undermanned at running back last year. Both Nagy and Pace realized it. The loss to Minnesota at Soldier Field in November underscored this, as they had to turn to Patterson as starter at running back.

Cracking the top four backs for Nall, Pierce or Marable will be a tough task. And keeping four backs seems like the limit, if not three with a few for the practice squad.

"So there's depth there, there's a lot of guys and that's a good thing so we hope it makes us better and now it's just a matter of fitting the pieces," Nagy said.

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