Trend-spotting: Close calls at multiple skill positions

Trend-spotting: Close calls at multiple skill positions
August 29, 2013, 11:30 pm
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The conclusion of the preseason set the stage for final cuts, expected on Friday, with the Bears facing several complicated roster decisions. Performances and who played vs. who didn’t on Thursday suggested how some of those might go:

Quarterbacks

The game showed the Bears what they have available as a No. 3 QB even without using a roster spot, just keeping the phone numbers handy. Jordan Palmer got the start and managed the offense effectively in his first two possessions, completing eight of his first 10 passes and producing a field goal and touchdown. Palmer finished with 11-for-17 passing for 111 games and a TD pass, all with a passer rating of 102.8.

[More: Palmer makes a statement in final preseason game]

Trent Edwards was given the second half and posted nearly identical numbers (10 for 17, 135 yards) but had the misfortune of a pass going off TE Fendi Onobun’s hands for an interception. That dragged his rating down to 59.7 but he was generally serviceable with the limited practice time going in.

Trending: If the Bears opt for three quarterbacks, Palmer rates a slight edge off the game. Roster needs elsewhere (wide receiver) may make going with just Jay Cutler and Josh McCown the plan, with Palmer or Edwards available for an emergency call.

Running backs

Coaches alternated Armando Allen and Michael Ford by series and both showed flashes. Allen started and ran well in his first action after missing two games with a hamstring strain. Allen converted a red-zone third down on second effort and finished with 39 yards on 10 carries with a long of 18. “It felt pretty good to be back out on the field,” Allen said. “I felt like I gave it all I got, held up pretty well, so feel pretty good about that.”

Ford had a solid night. He ran well (nine carries, 48 yards, with a 27-yard burst) besides catching one of two passes thrown to him. He also incurred a false-start flag on punt team and had a bad pass drop just before halftime.

[More: NFL and players settle concussion lawsuit]

Special teams didn’t provide a clear winner. Ford returned two kickoffs for a total of 50 yards. But Allen was credited with two special-teams tackles.

Trending: Hard to give a clear advantage in the competition for No. 3 running back. Ford offers better impact in the return game, Allen in kick coverage, and both give adequate ability in the run game. Too close to call.

Wide receivers

Joe Anderson turned in the kind of preseason performance that coaches need to see in roster discussions. Anderson had a highlight catch of a pass behind him for a 13-yard gain and executed a back-shoulder route and catch in the second quarter. He added a 37-yard catch in the half and caught all four of the passes thrown to him, for a total of 64 yards.

Terrence Tolliver flashed with six catches (out of six targets) and added two special-teams tackles.

Trending: Who didn’t play was perhaps as illuminating as who did. Anderson and Tolliver likely earned roster spots, with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett and Eric Weems a possible top four. The uncertainty with Bennett’s concussion may push the Bears to protect themselves with the six receivers.

Tight ends

The evening was really about one player…. Fendi Onobun, who was called for holding in Oakland, was flagged again for holding in Thursday’s first quarter. Coaches are holding every door open for him to win a roster spot, playing him on special teams as well as in standard offense. He was unable to come up with a catchable low throw late in the half.

Onobun’s worst play was a ball off his hands and into those of Cleveland linebacker James-Michael Johnson who returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. “It was definitely the most football I’ve played in my life,” Onobun said. “Whatever happens [Friday, as far as cuts], I know I gave it my all.”

Trending: Martellus Bennett and Steve Maneri are roster givens. Onobun remains an extreme work in progress, with the organization high on his raw skills but questions remaining on whether he can be counted on in games. Kyle Adams is less flashy but more dependable so the Bears will need to decide between the known and the possible.

The wild card is fullback Tony Fiammetta, who did not play Thursday and looks to be in for his blocking abilities. Whether the Bears feel they can afford Onobun will play out on Friday.