Chicago Bears host Cleveland Browns: 5 Things to Watch

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Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead (33) is tackled by Chicago Bears free safety Adrian Amos (38) and outside linebacker Shea McClellin (50) after making a catch in the first half in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Will the defensive roster finally settle?

Not too many of the recent cuts have seriously affected the defense, except, of course, for the Bears’ decision to release veteran cornerback Tim Jennings.

Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll move on to the roster in a minute, but a brief note on Jennings: He marked the final tie to the great days of 2011-2012, when the Bears had one of the best defenses in the league. He had a great 2012, when he led the league in interceptions. I never fully bought into Jennings; if he was so good, I figured, why did people keep targeting him as much as they did, instead of trying to take advantage of other defenders? To me, it seemed that he kept being targeted because he was the weakest link in the Bears defense, no matter how often he turned up with the ball.

Nevertheless, he gave the Bears a pair of solid zone corners in himself and Charles Tillman, and it’s a bit bittersweet to see Jennings go elsewhere, even though last year he showed the unmistakable early signs of a washed-up player.

Moving on, the Bears defense has several intriguing roster situations and battles. Nose tackle, thought initially to be a point of moderate strength with veteran Jeremiah Ratliff and rookie Eddie Goldman, now all of a sudden looks thin. Ratliff injured his ankle against the Bengals and is suspended for the first three regular season games, anyway. Goldman suffered a concussion against the Bengals. I wouldn’t be surprised if neither played Thursday.

That should give The Swamp Monster, rookie Terry Williams, the chance to shine, along with Willie Sutton some reps at nose tackle. Sutton has looked strong at end, so it’s a shame to see him have to shift positions again, but hopefully it won’t be permanent and Goldman will be ready against Green Bay.

Dec 4, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) is tackled by Chicago Bears inside linebacker Jon Bostic (57) during the second half at Soldier Field. Dallas won 41-28. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

At linebacker, I’m starting to wonder if the ice is thin under Jon Bostic’s feet. He’s battled injuries throughout the preseason – an ankle injury is the latest – and he’s looked slow and tentative on defense. Mason Foster has the third inside linebacker slot sewn up, but John Timu or Jon Anderson could push Bostic for the fourth spot.

At outside linebacker, the question focuses on how many bodies the coaches want to keep. Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Sam Acho are roster locks. David Bass and Willie Young are also in the hunt. Both former defensive ends, the pair have shown flashes of talent coming off the edge, and I think both deserve to be kept to bolster the pass rush.

Jul 30, 2015; Bourbonnais, IL, USA; Chicago Bears linebacker David Bass (91) during practice at Olivet Nazarene University. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The main drama, though, is at cornerback. With Jennings and Al Louis-Jean cut, it leaves Kyle Fuller and Alan Ball as the starters and Terrance Mitchell and special teams star Sherrick McManis duking it out for the nickel role. The Bears also have injury prone veteran Tracy Porter in the mix, along with undrafted rookies Bryce Callahan and Jacoby Glenn.

I’d hoped the Bears’ defense would be more settled at this point, but injuries and somewhat surprising roster decisions (I figured Jennings would at least make the team) have thrown the unit off balance. The starters seem set, but there are question marks at several backup positions, and even some starters (Shea McClellin at inside linebacker) may be on a short leash. The Bears need to get the roster sorted, and only have one preseason game to do it.

Next: The Most Important Part Of The Preseason