The Chicago Bears recently started their six-week hiatus that serves as a bridge from mandatory mini-camps in June to the start of training camp in July. That break leaves us with ample time to pour over the roster (which currently stands at 90 players), in an attempt to project how things will play out this summer.
Eventually, the Bears will need to trim down their roster for the start of the season. And over at Bleacher Report, Chris Roling offers up some of the most likely candidates to be on the outside looking in when the season starts. Among the names that stand out are two players who were starters as rookies for the Bears in 2015.
Roling lists running back Jeremy Langford and center Hroniss Grasu as two of the most likely players to be cut before the 2017 season begins. Both players were displaced as starters by rookie draft picks in 2016, in part due to injury.
Grasu tore his ACL in the preseason, which opened the door for second-round pick Cody Whitehair to move from guard to center. The domino effect that followed couldn’t have been predicted. Whitehair put together one of the best seasons a Bears offensive lineman has posted in a while, and now projects to have a breakout season that could lead to several other breakouts on the offense. Meanwhile, Grasu is in a position to be Whitehair’s primary backup, but only if he takes to playing other positions on the line, too.
A third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft who started eight games as a rookie, Grasu has been working out with the guards during the Bears’ offseason training program. It’s a move that is necessary because of how well Whitehair played at center as a rookie, and because the team brought back Eric Kush – a player Grasu will be competing with for time among reserves along the offensive line. Kush made starts at guard last season and has experience as a center, so Grasu will have his work cut out for him this summer.
Langford, who was a fourth-round pick in the same draft class as Grasu, could also potentially find himself on the chopping block this summer. Jordan Howard emerged as a feature back as he went from a fifth-round pick to Pro Bowl player as a rookie in 2016. Howard took advantage of increased playing time that came about after an early season injury to Langford, and quite literally ran away with the job. Now, Howard has eyes on being the NFL’s leading rusher and increasing his value to the offense by working on the pass-catching aspect of his game.
Howard’s rise led to a decline in production for Langford, who gained 816 scrimmage yards and scored seven touchdowns as a rookie. Unfortunately, the Michigan State product saw his percentage of offensive snaps dip from 36.3 percent to 24.5 percent from his rookie season to his second year.
To complicate matters, the Bears added a pair of running backs to the mix to play behind Howard. The team drafted Tarik Cohen, an undersized speed back who earned favorable comparisons to Darren Sproles because of his play in college, albeit not against FBS defenses. And we can’t forget about Benny Cunningham, a back who is a special teams standout with loads of kick return experience. Langford, on the other hand, hasn’t shown that his timed speed during the NFL Combine can translate into game speed, which could be one of the factors that hurts him during training camp evaluations.
Despite seeing significant playing time as rookies, neither Grasu nor Langford fared well by the standards of Pro Football Focus’ grading scale. Grasu earned a 46.1 grade, which rates as poor, while Langford’s 65.8 grade rates as below average. Both have a lot to prove to a coaching staff that wants to win now, as well as a front office that is trying to build a winner for the future.