June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Roster spots up for grabs

Eric Mangini insists he hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback heading into tonight’s preseason finale in Chicago. Whether or not that’s the truth, there are plenty of other determinations to be made before the season starts Sept. 13.


And this is the last chance for those on the bubble to secure roster spots. The league mandates rosters must be cut from 75 to 53 by Saturday.


As always, the discussion begins with the quarterbacks. Mangini wouldn’t say who’ll start tonight or how much Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn will play. It’s hard to believe a couple of series, possibly against the Bears backups, will give Mangini clarity, but he’s committed to “going through the whole process.”


“I’ll let Coach be the one who makes the decisions,” Anderson said Tuesday. “He obviously doesn’t listen to what everybody else says, he’s going to make his own decision and the best guys are going to play.”


Running back Jerome Harrison was definitely considered one of the “best guys” when training camp opened Aug. 1. But an injury sidelined him until this week. In the meantime, rookie James Davis has looked good, including ripping off an 81-yard touchdown against Detroit, and perhaps made Harrison expendable.


“We’ll see Saturday,” said Harrison, who wasn’t sure if he’d be able to play tonight. “Injuries are part of the game I play, so it happens and I live with it. I don’t worry or think about stuff like that. I’m not paid to think, I’m paid to run.”


Who stays and who goes will depend on how many players Mangini keeps at each position. If he keeps only one fullback, Charles Ali would get cut, but Harrison and Noah Herron could stay as tailbacks. Or he could go with four tight ends, sparing Martin Rucker and Aaron Walker from the chopping block.


“That’s another important thing that you try to teach the guys at the start of camp. You’re competing against all the other positions,” Mangini said. “Special teams, oftentimes, is the deciding factor.”


That’s especially true on defense, with the backup linebacker, cornerback and safety spots likely coming down to the kicking game. A pair of Phil Savage fourth-round picks are in the middle of the mix.


Linebackers Leon Williams, who’s started 12 games in three years, and Beau Bell, the team’s top pick in 2008, aren’t being considered for regular playing time on defense, are behind rookies David Veikune and Kaluka Maiava on the depth chart and are in danger of winding up on the waiver wire Saturday.


“It’s the last preseason game, so you have to show these coaches, show everybody what you can do,” Bell said.


“You never want to feel comfortable, especially if you’re not one of the main guys,” Williams said. “I will play the best I can play. Whatever happens happens.”


The fourth preseason game is often an afterthought. Starters don’t normally play more than a series or two, and the fans have turned their attention toward the start of the season. But Mangini said the final three quarters could have a significant say in the roster choices.


“There are some guys that you think really have solidified things, and they get significant playing time and it doesn’t look like what you thought it was going to look like,” he said. “There are other guys that maybe hadn’t made as strong of a case, and hadn’t gotten as much playing time. Then they get in the game and they play better than you think they would have. 


“I’ve seen some guys really make a strong case for themselves during this game and some other guys really make a strong case the other way in these games.”


Behind the quarterback, the most compelling battle for a starting spot comes at center. Rookie Alex Mack figured to win the job by now, but veteran Hank Fraley was splitting first-team snaps in practice this week.


“All I know is I’m playing the Chicago Bears,” Fraley said. “You always just think about the fourth game as a nice tune-up. That’s what I’m doing.”


“I think (Mack’s) gotten a lot better over the course of the last two games,” Mangini said.


Mangini never wants anyone to feel too comfortable, so the 53 men on the roster Saturday won’t necessarily be the 53 on the roster Sunday. Mangini will scour the waiver wire and roster cuts of the other 31 teams for the final pieces to his puzzle.


“We scout all the preseason games and evaluate all the different rosters,” he said. “It’s Browns and then it’s the league.”


Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.