Trend-spotting: 'D' decisions to turn on special teams

Trend-spotting: 'D' decisions to turn on special teams
August 30, 2013, 12:00 am
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The defense finished the preseason with 14 takeaways in four games. Whether it finished the slate with precisely the players the organization is satisfied with going forward remains to be seen.

Final cuts are due no later than Saturday afternoon and the Bears are expected to announce theirs by mid-Friday. Then comes the process of looking for upgrades in the castoffs from other teams. In the meantime, a number of Bears made their roster cases Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns:

Defensive line

It was a dominant evening for the corps of hopefuls on the Bears’ defensive line depth chart. No defensive lineman had a sack, quarterback hit or tackle for loss, based on immediate post-game pressbox stats….

[More trend-spotting: Close calls at skill positions]

End Cornelius Washington played virtually the entire game and was credited with just one assisted tackle. He generated some push on occasion and was part of the kickoff return unit…. Tackle Zach Minter was close to a QB hit in the second quarter with good pressure on an inside stunt…. Aston Whiteside delivered arguably the DL play of the evening with an inside rush to destroy a Browns try for a two-point conversion in the third quarter.

Trending: Minter, Washington and Whiteside all had extensive playing time as a final shakedown test for final cuts. They each had moments.

The ends group projects to be Washington, Shea McClellin, Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton. Tackles will include Nate Collins, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. The Bears could roster nine defensive linemen with Minter as a backup nose tackle and Whiteside able to work at both end and tackle, as he did on Thursday.

The problem with keeping nine is that it takes a spot away from either linebackers or defensive backs, from where special teams are largely staffed.

Linebackers

Starters James Anderson, Jonathan Bostic and Lance Briggs were held out, and backups Blake Costanzo, Khaseem Greene and J.T. Thomas, in addition to Jerry Franklin all delivered impact play.

Greene was credited with six tackles, one for a loss. Franklin had three solos plus one more on special teams. Costanzo had three tackles plus a quarterback hit.

[More trend-spotting: Offensive line sorted out]

And Thomas produced the only Bears sack with a blitz of Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Trending: As it does many years, special teams abilities will decide whether the Bears keep six linebackers or seven. The roster situation is complicated by the place of D.J. Williams, out all preseason with a calf injury, on a one-year contract, and faced with playing just special teams with Bostic established as the starter.

Secondary

DeMontre Hurst made a strong roster statement with an interception and a blitz that forced an intentional grounding. He delivered a third-down tackle to prevent a conversion…. Sherrick McManis played perfect position defense to intercept a Cleveland throw in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Hardin had three first-half tackles but was victimized for big plays on the first two Cleveland possessions. He was rotating for deep coverage for a 45-yard completion on the game’s first play, and slipping after taking a poor angle on a tackle, leading to a 32-yard catch-and-run….

[More: Jordan Palmer makes a statement against Cleveland]

C.J. Wilson contributed three tackles to a solid preseason and Illinois State’s Tom Nelson gave himself some good game tape with four solo tackles and three assists on special teams.

Trending: Sorting through the depth chart after the starters plus nickel back Isaiah Frey will not be simple. Craig Steltz had the night off and Anthony Walters delivered four solo tackles but whether the Bears are satisfied with four safeties is problematic. Zackary Bowman was a scratch with a hamstring strain but has played well through preseason.