Five Bears To Watch: Week 1 vs. Green Bay

Five Bears To Watch: Week 1 vs. Green Bay
The Bears welcome rival Green Bay to Soldier Field for the season opener. Here are the five players to watch, from top to bottom: offensive lineman Kyle Long, linebacker Shea McClellin, defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, wide receiver Eddie Royal, cornerback Alan Ball.

The Bears-Packers rivalry will continue on Sunday when the season officially starts for the two historic NFC franchises.

One team is on the verge of putting together a serious playoff run while the other is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 5-11 campaign.

The Packers have beaten up the Bears as of late, winning 11 of the last 13 head-to-head matchups dating back to 2009. The two Bears wins came by a combined 10-point margin.

The most recent victory was in a game where Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the game where the Bears won 27-20 in 2013 at Green Bay. The other win came in 2010 before the Bears lost to the Packers allowing them earn a playoff spot and then in the NFC Championship.

Right now the past is the past and the Bears should be doing everything in their power to put those bad memories in the rear view mirror. Just last season the Bears were outscored 93-31 by rival Green Bay.

Many question marks surround these rebuilding Bears, but having head coach John Fox and coordinators Adam Gase and Vic Fangio will only help.

The 3-4 defense will make for an interesting change in this matchup, but remember that the Bears will be employing a 4-3 front in nickel packages.

Quarterback Jay Cutler certainly has a lot to prove against the Packers. In Cutler's career against Green Bay, he has thrown 14 touchdowns and 21 interceptions with a 67.1 passer rating.

With all that being said, here are five players to watch against the Packers in the home season opener at Soldier Field.

Offensive lineman Kyle Long

I've written Kyle Long down as an offensive lineman because right now nobody outside the Bears' organization truly knows where the two-time Pro Bowler will line up on Sunday. It appears that Long will be at right tackle which means veteran Vladimir Ducasse likely would slide in at right guard.

The idea of Ducasse being a starter could make New York Jets fans laugh hysterically considering he made five starts in four seasons after being taken as a second round pick in 2010. Ducasse made six starts in Minnesota a year ago, but hasn't shown starter qualities.

Right now, the Bears don't have many better options. Using Long at right tackle would be wise even with the transitional period for the two-year starter. The Bears still have second-year tackle Charles Leno Jr., but he didn't exemplify much confidence in the preseason and either did Jordan Mills, who was cut last Sunday and claimed by Dallas off waivers shortly thereafter.

Most football fans watch the playmakers: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, but against Green Bay all eyes should be on Long no matter where he lines up. My hunch is he'll be at right tackle. We all know how secretive coach Fox is by now.

Linebacker Shea McClellin

We know where 2012 first-round selection Shea McClellin is going to line up, at inside linebacker. The fourth-year Boise State product went from defensive end (2012-13) to strongside linebacker (2014) and now the man in charge in the middle of the Bears' defense.

It's a tall task for a player, who the Bears declined his fifth-year option. However, McClellin won coaches over throughout training camp and the preseason. With second-year riser Christian Jones next to him the two need to perform right away because Jon Bostic and John Timu are the main backups inside.

McClellin's most success has come against Green Bay where he's compiled 4.5 sacks, the most against any team in the league. However, he isn't going to be counted on to be the pass rusher he once was at defensive end. This is a huge game for McCellin and this new look defense.

Defensive end Ego Ferguson

Last year's second-round pick Ego Ferguson didn't make much of an impact in Year 1, but he's going to be counted on to be a steady defensive lineman this season. With veteran Jeremiah Ratliff suspended the first three weeks and possibly out longer with an ankle injury, Ferguson is the most gifted starter along the line.

Next to Ferguson will be fifth-year veteran and former Washington Redskin Jarvis Jenkins. At nose tackle, second-round rookie Eddie Goldman was cleared of his concussion and will be the starter. The Bears also have Will Sutton and Cornelius Washington.

With Ratliff out, the Bears' defense will likely be in nickel formations more often than not. That would mean they would line up in a 4-3 front where their best pass rushing outside linebackers would be used along the line.

Regardless of what the Bears do this week, Ferguson has to be a leader in his first season as a starter. For what it's worth, Ferguson recorded a sack against the Packers last season, but it came on a play where Rodgers simply ran out of bounds to avoid the tackle.

Wide receiver Eddie Royal

Off-season signing Eddie Royal has been limited in practice all week with a hip issue that kept him out for two weeks. Along with Alshon Jeffery (calf) and Marquess Wilson (hamstring) all three pass catchers have made plenty of progress this week and are trending towards suiting up.

Jeffery sat out the entire preseason while Wilson played in just two games. As a slot receiver and a security blanket, Royal is a big piece to the Bears' offense. He has a nice chemistry with Cutler, who he put up career numbers with as a rookie in 2008. Yes, that was seven years ago, but the two seemed in sync throughout camp until Royal was injured.

Look for Royal to be open more often than not against a shaky Green Bay defense. The top three Bears' receivers have a chance to suit up. How much they play remains to be seen.

Cornerback Alan Ball

Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are both gone. The Bears starting cornerback duo were together the last five seasons (2010-14). Now, it will be second-year Virginia Tech product Kyler Fuller and 30-year-old Alan Ball as the starters at cornerback.

The Bears also have special teamers Sherrick McManis and Terrance Mitchell, who are both expected to see action at nickelback. Veteran Tracy Porter, who played previously with Fox in Denver is out this week with a lingering hamstring injury. Expect versatile defensive back Demontre Hurst to get a chance to be a rotational cornerback with Porter not in uniform.

No one is as important as a starter, so Ball will be looked upon to be a steady cover corner opposite Fuller. However, Ball only made it through seven games last season in Jacksonville due a biceps injury. Now he is healthy and the Bears need Ball to play well week in and week out.

Latest Injury Report

Bears: OUT - Cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring) and linebacker Sam Acho (illness); QUESTIONABLE - Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf), wide receiver Eddie Royal (hip), wide receiver Marquess Wilson (hamstring) and linebacker Jon Bostic (ankle); PROBABLE - Left tackle Jermon Bushrod (back), Eddie Goldman (concussion).

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Thoughts on Sunday's season opener against visiting Green Bay? Make sure to comment below.

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