LAKE FOREST – One thing’s for sure for one of the Bears’ veteran receivers this weekend: A lot of his current teammates will be past ones come the end of the weekend.
“Hectic,” is how Victor Cruz envisions the cutting of the roster from nearly 90 players to just 53 for the regular season on Saturday.
That’s something new for the 2017 season. Before teams would have to cut their roster gradually before reaching the regular season limit after the final preseason game. Now everyone on the roster stays there till the end, with the always painful cuts coming at once.
“When you start to see all these names start flying around when that day comes, its gonna be a little different than what you’re used to,” said Cruz.
The same could be said for the receiver’s situation in Bears’ camp this season. Unlike years past, where Cruz was a lock to be on the roster for the Giants, the former Pro Bowler is one of the many receivers competing to just be on the 53-man roster.
Even with the loss of top receiver Cameron Meredith to a knee injury, Cruz figures to be a spot for one of the final receiver spots on the roster. Kevin White and Kendall Wright are leading contenders to star but the race for playing time after that gets interesting. Markus Wheaton has been limited by injury in the preseason, Josh Bellamy along with Deonte Thompson are entering their fourth and third season with the team, respectively. Meanwhile emerging rookie Tanner Gentry is making a strong case to make the roster after a solid preseason.
Add other receivers like Daniel Braverman and Titus Davis, Cruz has ended up with a signficant amount of competition for a spot on the Bears.
“I always feel that way,” said Cruz when asked on Tuesday if he feels like he’s fighting for a roster spot when the Bears finish the preseason against the Browns on Thursday night at Soldier Field. “Whether I was a starter or coming off a Super Bowl, my mindset is always like I’m fighting for a job so I never get complacent, I never get easy-going in my position.
“I always want to have that chip on my should like I’m fighting for a roster spot.”
Such an attitude is understandable, considering that Cruz made his way into the league as an undrafted free agent out of UMass with the Giants in 2010. The next year he had a touchdown in New York’s Super Bowl XLVI win over the Patriots in Indianapolis and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012 after a career-high 86 catches along with ten touchdowns.
A torn patellar tendon suffered against the Eagles in 2014 knocked Cruz out for nearly two years and his number of catches dropped to 39 when he returned in 2016. That prompted the Giants to part ways with the receiver and led to his signing by the Bears this spring. So far this preseason, Cruz has four catches for 19 yards and a touchdown from Mitchell Trubisky in the first game of the preseason against the Broncos.
That combination could be key on Thursday as Trubisky will start the game and Cruz should get a decent amount of playing time as he fights for a chance to step on the field September 10th against the Falcons as a member of the Bears.
“It’s always added pressure, it’s always something you have to be prepared for and be ready for,” said Cruz of the final roster cuts.
One way or the other, at least he knows he won’t be alone.