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Column: Chicago Bears youth movement is underway with 20 players in their 1st or 2nd year on the initial roster

Ryan Poles has danced around the word “rebuilding,” calling it a “super sensitive” term. But roster moves are more instructive than words, and the first-year Chicago Bears general manager reinforced one of the organization’s plans with his cuts to form the initial 53-man roster.

The Bears are getting younger in a flash. The team that had the second-oldest Week 1 roster in the NFL last year has 13 rookies and seven second-year players after cuts Tuesday to form a roster that surely will see changes in the days to come.

Ten of Poles’ 11 draft picks made it through cuts, with the lone exception former Illinois center Doug Kramer, who will spend the year on injured reserve. Three undrafted rookies made it, including Jack Sanborn, the linebacker from Lake Zurich. The Bears have so many rookies on the roster, three first-year Joneses made it: left tackle Braxton, cornerback Jaylon and wide receiver Velus. Yes, they’re unrelated.

Of the 20 players in their first or second year, seven are a good bet to start against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 11 at Soldier Field — none more important than quarterback Justin Fields.

That doesn’t include Velus Jones, who at least will be on special teams if healthy, or punter Trenton Gill, both rookies. Rookie defensive end Dominique Robinson could be in a rotation, and second-year running back Khalil Herbert will receive a share of the carries. The vast majority of these 20 players will have roles on game day and won’t be inactive or forced into the background by veterans.

Contrast that with last season, when former GM Ryan Pace and former coach Matt Nagy were clinging to the idea they had a postseason-worthy roster, a notion the higher-ups at Halas Hall bought into. The Bears had an NFC-low six rookies and first-year players in 2021 while they carried 13 players 30 and older.

Poles isn’t straying from the blueprint that other teams have used to kick-start rebuilding projects — or whatever fan-friendlier term you want to apply. In 2021, the Detroit Lions with first-year coach Dan Campbell had 15 rookies or first-year players and the New York Jets with first-year coach Robert Saleh had 14.

This is what you do when you take over an aging roster that has struggled to find success much less sustain it. You bring in a slew of younger players, introduce them to your system and give them the opportunity to prove they belong.

“The experience they get in that first season playing, it’s invaluable,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “They’re going to learn so much ball by being out there and playing rather than being on the sideline, and if they’re good enough athletically and they’re good enough players, you just have to put them out there and they’ll figure it out eventually.

“And then you just have to coach them up and coach them through the ups and downs of it and keep their confidence up. I believe in that because what you do is you build a faster, younger football team when you do that.”

When Eberflus was the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator, he inherited a group with almost no foundational pieces. It was rebuilt quickly, and one thing he said when he was with the Colts is you can’t be afraid to put in young players right away. That’s in contrast to how some veteran coaches operate, believing rookies can make mistakes that get them fired.

“You can understand a coach that is like that, wants to play with the more experienced guy because he knows what he’s doing and all that,” Eberflus said. “But to me if you’ve got the right guys in there and they’re young, you have to play them.”

There will be roster moves beginning Wednesday. Poles and his staff will be on the lookout for players who fit some of the holes on the roster. The Bears are seventh in the waiver order. It’s noteworthy the Houston Texans, who run a similar defensive scheme, are third.

Some positions to watch:

  • Wide receiver N’Keal Harry (high ankle sprain) will be placed on injured reserve, allowing the team to designate him for return, maybe around midseason. With fellow wide receivers Byron Pringle, Velus Jones and Tajae Sharpe all sidelined at Tuesday’s practice, a healthy body is needed. This doesn’t strike me as the time or place the Bears would add a retread expecting him to fill a significant role. Poles signed Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown with the belief both could break out. They need opportunities, and the same goes for Velus Jones.
  • With two tight ends in Cole Kmet and Ryan Griffin — three if you count Jake Tonges, whom the team lists as a fullback — the roster is light there. The Bears need more bodies if they’re going to rely on 12 personnel as a main staple of Luke Getsy’s offense. Veteran James O’Shaughnessy was released, and a move could be in the works here.
  • Eight defensive linemen also seems light when considering Eberflus likes to play guys in waves there to keep them fresh into the fourth quarter.
  • They might be a little heavy at cornerback (six) and safety (five), but injuries challenged the depth at cornerback throughout training camp and the team will add an extra player at some positions if he is viewed as a core special teams performer.

No matter what transactions occur in the days ahead, it will be a drastically younger roster that the Bears hope blossoms.

“We know where we are,” Eberflus said. “We’re developing. We’re setting a foundation. We’re nowhere near where we want to be.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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