In a typical season, the practice squad is just another tool to help teams evaluate young talent. Most of the players on them never really amount to much but sometimes there can be a surprise or two. For example, Bryce Callahan started his Chicago Bears career on the practice squad back in 2015 and ended up becoming one of the better nickel cornerbacks in the NFL.

So it’s not something to be looked at as a sideshow. It matters. Perhaps now more than ever before. COVID-19 has changed society in so many ways. Especially in the NFL. What people probably didn’t expect was how much more important it suddenly made the practice squad.

With the virus capable of rendering a player unfit for action at a moment’s notice, roster depth is absolutely crucial. Bears GM Ryan Pace is starting to see the squad as a key component to protect against such losses. Especially at critical positions as he told Albert Breer of the MMQB.

“Pace brought up the idea that you may have to carry a kicker on your practice squad—and that you’ll need to have someone you feel comfortable with long snapping on your roster who isn’t, you know, the long snapper. And at other spots, having extra guys who have years of experience in the league, and have been in your meetings, should make a difference.”

Chicago Bears likely to store veteran depth at most iffy positions

According to the latest outlines in the adjusted CBA, teams will be allowed 16 players on the practice squad this year. Six of them can be veterans of any experience level. One should expect Pace to use those spots carefully. Perhaps at the positions on the roster under the most threat of becoming a major hazard if struck by the virus. Kicker, punter, and long snapper are three obvious ones. Running back, offensive tackle, and safety could be others to watch.

Make no mistake though. The squad will still be used as a storehouse of younger talent they wish to continue evaluating. Undrafted free agents and maybe even one or two of their late round picks. With no preseason, the Bears have to make sure they take full advantage of this. Otherwise the odds of them letting a potentially good player slip away will skyrocket.

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