Four members of the Bears’ first-team defense — DL Eddie Goldman and Bilal Nichols, LB Roquan Smith and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — played the first five snaps in the preseason opener.
That’s four starters and five snaps more than we’re expecting to see from Chuck Pagano’s “1s” Friday night against the New York Giants.
Indeed, it appears at least for the Bears’ defense, MetLife Stadium will serve exclusively as the staging point for the reserves, many of whom are scratching and clawing desperately to secure what are likely no more than a few available spots at the bottom of perhaps the NFL’s most talented depth chart on ‘D.’
Here are the five defenders to whom PFW’s eyes will be glued:
LB Josh Woods
So far so good for the first-year converted safety from Maryland, tallying a second-quarter fumble and tackle for loss vs. Carolina and potentially readying to supplant top 2018 reserve Nick Kwiatkoski, who looked as vulnerable in coverage vs. the Panthers as he did in Week 1 last year against the Packers filling in for camp holdout Roquan Smith.
Woods is faster and more dynamic than Kwiatkoski, and our understanding is he’s become a locker-room favorite, but he must continue to show Pagano that his lesser experience at linebacker, compared to Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Kevin Pierre-Louis, won’t be a detriment.
OLB Chuck Harris
The undrafted rookie from Buffalo recorded one solo tackle in 17 snaps in his nondescript NFL debut, which, frankly, also basically describes his offseason and camp to date. But he showed some legitimate NFL pass-rushing chops when he was healthy in the MAC, and it was Khalil Mack after the first day of practice in Bourbonnais who said Harris was “like my little brother” and “I’m really excited to see what he does in the preseason.” Much like DL Jonathan Bullard, backup OLBs Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving seem fairly entrenched in their respective roles, but mostly because no one has flashed enough to threaten them … yet.
CB Michael Joseph
We resisted the urge to include one repeat from Hub’s preseason No. 1 primer, because although Kevin Toliver missed last week with an illness, he appears to remain the favorite to be the top boundary backup to Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. But in addition to Toliver and John Franklin III, Joseph has intriguing upside and and did some positive things vs. Carolina, including an athletic pass breakup in the end zone.
If the Bears keep 11 defensive backs — which we think they could because of Chuck Pagano’s background and the sheer fact that there’s so much secondary talent — it could mean Joseph, Franklin and the man below are fighting for the last spot. It looks like the Bears just might have the ultimate NFL luxury: a surplus of capable cover men with size and speed.
Nickel CB Clifton Duck
It was impossible not to notice Duck in the opener, which he finished with a game-high six tackles in 32 defensive snaps. It’s also difficult to ignore that he’s similar in stature to undersized sixth-rounder Duke Shelley. Both weigh less than 180 pounds dripping wet but have had strong camps, showing a knack for finding the football, most recently Duck tipping a Mitch Trubisky pass to Sherrick McManis for an interception in the mock game Wednesday night. The Appalachian State product is certainly a longshot, but GM Ryan Pace seems to have an affinity for diminutive defensive backs with ball skills (Shelley, Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc).
Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson
Chicago’s leader in combined special-teams tackles over the past two seasons, DHC somewhat surprisingly didn’t receive a restricted free agent tender in the spring before returning on a one-year deal with only $25,000 guaranteed. He’s ran with the “2s” alongside Deon Bush basically ever since, but he doesn’t have the positional flexibility of third-string S Sherrick McManis — who also happens to be the Bears’ longest-tenured player and most accomplished special-teams performer. And regardless of where they’re lining up currently, we suspect, in a pinch, the Bears would call on McManis before Houston-Carson. We also suspect both are safe, but first we’d like to see more positive contributions from the latter on ‘D.’