The Bears will be without two defensive starters on Sunday, but three other starters are returning to action.
Linebacker Lance Briggs has been ruled out for the second straight week after being out of practice with his sore ribs. Free safety Chris Conte is out after re-aggravating his shoulder in last week's road win in Atlanta.
Jon Bostic, who suffered a back injury two weeks ago in Carolina is listed as questionable. With Briggs out and Bostic likely sitting out, the Bears will turn to second-year man Khaseem Greene at weakside linebacker, D.J. Williams at middle linebacker and Shea McClellin at strongside linebacker.
Williams and McClellin return to a linebacking core that was almost unrecognizable last week in Atlanta with Darryl Sharpton and Christian Jones filling in admirably next to Greene.
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod returns after sitting out the last two games with knee and ankle issues and that is a big plus for the Bears' offensive line. With Michael Ola in at left tackle, the Bears struggled to bust off any long runs on the left side of the line and in total the line allowed six sacks.
The Bears are starting to get rather healthy though and that is a good thing as they battle AFC East foes in back-to-back weeks before a Week 9 bye.
These are five players to watch when the Bears host the Dolphins this Sunday.
With Conte officially ruled out, Vereen is set to make his first career NFL start. Vereen finished with two tackles on 31 snaps last week in Atlanta. He's stepped in three times this season. In Week 2 in San Francisco, he played slot corner with the Bears thin there and in Week 3 in New York, he played free safety with Conte out. Vereen doesn't have the best size at 5-foot-11, but he makes up for it with his speed (4.47 40-yard dash). He took all the first-team reps at free safety this week in practice. He made 36 starts at the University of Minnesota, including 11 at free safety. This is a big opportunity for Vereen. The Bears are high on him and with Conte's contract up at the end of the season this could be why Vereen secures a starting job come next season.
Bushrod's return has to come as a big relief to Jay Cutler, who at times was hit hard and pressured much too often in the last two games. Ola did a respectable job, but the Bears need their best offensive lineman, Bushrod protecting Cutler's blindside every week. The Bears' offensive line allowed eight sacks in the four games Bushrod started, but Matt Slauson and Roberto Garza missed three of four. With the starting five back together this should bring even more continuity to the Bears' offense as they look to continue their growth this week against a reeling Dolphins squad.
McClelln was starting to improve before suffering a hand injury in a practice prior to Week 3. He had five tackles and a sack in his two starts at strongside linebacker. He will look to get back into the groove of things this week at home. Last week, the Bears' defense was aggressive and blitzed often with fill-ins Darryl Sharpton and rookie Christian Jones. Mel Tucker could be looking to do the same thing this week with McClellin, who could certainly force turnover-prone Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into some bad situations. Expect McCellin to be all over the place now that he is back and healthy. He is hungry to prove his stock in his first-year as a starter at linebacker.
It was the Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery show last week in Atlanta as the two starting wideouts reeled in a season-high 249 yards. Bennett had a rather quiet outing with four grabs for 52 yards, but he made some big catches to convert third-downs. He has 36 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns this season and has been very active in his second year with the Bears. Miami's defense has held opposing tight ends to 22 receptions for 193 yards in five games. However, the Dolphins have allowed four scores to tight ends and considering that Bennett has been able to force mismatches in the red zone, he could be in line for a touchdown score on Sunday. Watch out for the Black Unicorn this week. He's always on a mission.
In his first start since Week 14 of last season, the second-year Rutgers finished with a team-high eight tackles against Atlanta. He was active to the ball and looked to be much improved from his rookie campaign. Relegated to mainly special teams duties prior to last week this is exactly what Greene needs to improve his odds with the team moving forward. Briggs and Williams aren't getting any younger, so Greene and Bostic appear to be landing starting spots in the near future after entering the league together in 2013. This is perhaps the biggest game of Greene's NFL career. He's a young talent to watch whenever he gets a chance, so this week is exactly that. His big chance.
Thoughts on the five players to watch? Make sure to leave a comment below.
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