Five Players To Watch: Week One (McClellin, Paea, Bennett, Tillman, Holmes)

Five Players To Watch: Week One (McClellin, Paea, Bennett, Tillman, Holmes)

Bears head coach Marc Trestman has decided to not select permanent captains for the 2014-15 season; instead approach it game by game.

Personally, I love the decision. I think it shows that Trestman has a real sense for team unity. He summed it up perfectly on Friday, saying "there are influential leaders in our locker room right now that go beyond five guys."

With that being said, the Bears have a nice season-opening matchup right in front of them with the Bills coming to Soldier Field this Sunday afternoon.

Bills second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel is looking to take the next step after struggling to impress in his debut season under center. Finally healthy, Manuel has a couple of weapons around him in versatile back C.J. Spiller and speedy rookie receiver Sammy Watkins.

The Bills defense is where this team excels, especially along the defensive line with Mario Williams and Co. We examined the key matchup in this game on Thursday take a look, here.

The Bears have plenty to prove under Trestman's second-year running the show. They're looking to improve on a 8-8 season that had many bright spots, most of them coming on offense, but defensive woes plagued them for most of the year.

Jay Cutler looks to stay healthy for a full 16-game season and guide this team into the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 campaign. So do many of the other veteran and rising Bears this season.

Here are five players to watch in Sunday's season opener at Soldier Field.

Linebacker Shea McClellin

Prior to being hired by the Bears three seasons ago, general manager Phil Emery stated that he intended on drafting McClellin as an outside linebacker, while still a member of the Kansas City Chiefs staff. After two mediocre seasons, where McClellin drew 10 starts and recorded only 6.5 sacks, the move to linebacker took place this off-season. Although, he hasn't played the position since his high school days in Idaho, McClellin's athleticism should help him develop into a solid strongside linebacker with time. He's had his ups-and-downs throughout training camp and preseason, but it will be interesting to see if McCellin can hold his own next to veterans Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams. This is a big debut for No. 50.

Defensive tackle Stephen Paea

Entering his fourth season with the Bears, Paea hasn't proven to be consistent just yet. Drawing 24 starts at nose tackle, he's recorded 61 tackles, six sacks and three pass deflections in three seasons. A turf toe injury has plagued the former second-round pick the past two seasons. Paea grew up in the Polynesian state of Tonga, where he played rugby. At the age of 16, he moved to the states and switched over to the football field along the defensive line. He has looked good this off-season, but once again his health and consistency remain a worry. Paea will likely be on a short leash if he falters with highly-touted rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton right behind him on the depth chart.

Tight end Martellus Bennett

We're exactly one month removed from the incident between Bennett and rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller that forced Trestman to suspended Marty for five days of camp. With all that behind Bennett, he is strictly focused on football and rightfully so. He had one heck of a season last year, reeling in 65 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns in his Bears debut. The catch mark placed him second all-time in Bears' tight end history directly behind legend Mike Ditka. Sometimes a forgotten man next to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, there's no doubt Cutler depends on Bennett a ton to stretch the field. This is a good matchup for the Black Unicorn with former Bills star safety Jarius Byrd no longer in town.

Cornerback Charles Tillman

The Bears should feel very lucky to have Peanut in the orange and blue once again this season. He wasn't healthy in 2013, starting only eight games, recording three interceptions. He's currently third in Bears history with 36 interceptions and has been a playmaker in 150 starts over 12 seasons. Famous for his "Peanut Punch", Tillman has forced 42 fumbles, the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2003. All his past accomplishments and contributions off the field have made him a fan favorite, but at age 33 is he still an elite talent? He was used sparingly in the preseason, but now is the time for Tillman to prove his worth as he looks to possibly earn another contract after the season.

Wide receiver Santonio Holmes

Prior to Marshall and Jeffery coming to town the Bears had little talent at the wide receiver position. Now they have plenty. Josh Morgan and Holmes are behind the two tall starters, while second-year man Marquess Wilson (collarbone) heals up. The 30-year-old proved he can still turn on the jets, in the preseason finale against the Browns with a 32-yard touchdown. He should get a chance to return punts as well as contribute on offense. How many snaps he earns remains to be seen, while he continues to take in the nuances that go with this offense. Morgan should see more time than Holmes in the early stages of the season, but regardless of that, Holmes is a guy to keep an eye on at all times.

 

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