Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Titans presents the final chance for young Bears players to impress before Saturday’s roster cutdown to 53. Here are five individuals to watch in the game at Soldier Field:
Alex Bars, offensive lineman
In last Saturday night’s preseason win over the Giants, Bars showed his versatility and the ability to replace an injured teammate at a moment’s notice—two of the most important requirements for a reserve lineman in the NFL.
Bars, an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame, had been playing and practicing at guard. But with Rashaad Coward unavailable due to an elbow injury, Bars was inserted at left tackle after veteran T.J. Clemmings exited with a season-ending quad injury. Bars is expected to see more action at the position Thursday night against the Titans.
“I would suppose so,” said coach Matt Nagy. “I think that he did a good job. I watched the tape post-game in my office and you could see that he did some good things there. We just want to see him keep growing and see what he can do, but I liked what I saw, so we’ll get him going there a little bit more.”
At Notre Dame, Bars started 12 games at right tackle in 2016 and 13 contests at right guard in 2017. Remaining at right guard last year, he was lost for the season when he sustained a torn ACL and MCL Sept. 30 against Stanford.
Ryan Nall, running back
Competing for a roster spot at a deep position, Nall will try to build on an impressive performance against the Colts. He displayed his speed and power on one second-quarter possession. First, the second-year pro burst through the line and dashed 69 yards before getting dragged down at the Colts’ 21.
“The offensive line did a great job making a hole,” Nall said. “There was nothing but daylight. I just had to make a guy miss and try to get to the edge. Trying to make the last guy miss, I tried to stiff-arm him, but he ended up bringing me down. It was a great run; I just need to finish.”
It appeared that Nall had done just that a few plays later when he kept churning his legs, moving the pile for an apparent 4-yard touchdown run. But the score was negated by a holding penalty on rookie tight end Ian Bunting.
“I saw the goal line,” Nall said. “I had no intentions except to get in there. Unfortunately, it got called back. But I’m just going to keep pushing it no matter what and I’m going to keep trying my hardest.”
James Vaughters, outside linebacker
No Bears player on offense or defense has improved his chances of making the 53-man roster more during the preseason than Vaughters. The 6-1, 256-pounder has consistently produced impact plays; he recovered a fumble that led to a touchdown against the Panthers, recorded a strip/sack and recovered the loose ball versus the Giants and had another strip/sack that Joel Iyiegbuniwe returned for a touchdown against the Colts.
“He’s around that football,” Nagy said. “He’s quick around the edge. A lot of times you see these guys and they sack the quarterback. But what James is doing is he’s going after that football, and it’s just something that our own guy here in 52 (Khalil Mack) does a lot. He sacks the football. You’ve seen that two weeks in a row right now, and you’re telling these guys ‘no regrets, no regrets,’ and he’s doing a great job with that.”
Vaughters, who was born in Chicago but grew up in Georgia, spent the past two seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Calgary Stampeders. He originally entered the NFL in 2016 as an undrafted free agent with the Packers, but he was waived during final cuts. Vaughters has also spent time with the Patriots and Chargers, but he has yet to appear in an NFL regular-season game.
Duke Shelley, cornerback
Shelley has impressed Bears coaches by showing continued improvement throughout the preseason. The rookie sixth-round pick from Kansas State projects as a backup nickel back and special-teams contributor this season.
“He’s getting used to the speed of the game,” Nagy said. “He's a twitchy kid that can play inside and has good ball skills. Just the more he gets playing-time wise, the slower the game will be, but I like where he’s at.”
Shelly was selected by the Bears with the 205th pick in the draft. He appeared in 38 games with 37 starts over four seasons at Kansas State, where he recorded 165 tackles, eight interceptions—returning two for touchdowns—and seven tackles-for-loss. He started all 12 games he played as a junior in 2017, ranking fourth in the Big 12 with 13 pass breakups while earning honorable mention all-conference recognition. Shelley opened the first seven games last year before sustaining a season-ending toe injury.
Eddy Pineiro, kicker
Pineiro took a major step toward locking up the Bears’ kicking job when he made all five of his kicks, including a 58-yard field goal last Saturday night against the Colts. In three preseason games, Pineiro has converted 8-of-9 kicks overall; 5-of-6 field goals and 3-of-3 extra points. He’s made his last five field goals since missing his first attempt from 48 yards in the preseason opener against the Panthers.
After the game, Pineiro acknowledged that winning his competition with Elliott Fry boosted his confidence, as did a recent pep talk from Nagy. “He made me feel comfortable,” Pineiro said. “It was just like, ‘Stay positive. We are going to back you up, our team is going to back you up. Don’t let any of the media stuff get you. You’re in a good place right now.’”
Pineiro will remain under the microscope in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Soldier Field. “Every kick that he gets, we’re all going to be evaluating him,” Nagy said. “But I think from last weekend, what he just did, it’s definitely looking good for us—and I hope it stays that way.”