It's that time of year again. It's time to dry clean the old jersey and get ready for some Bears football. It's the first pre-season game of the 2013 season in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers, and the Bears, with all their new additions, will have a very different look to them heading into this season.
It starts with the brand new coaching staff and seeing how/if this first game will shed new light on what the Bears will try to accomplish this season. On the field, the Bears won't have No. 54 to look to for guidance on defense. It's a new year, with new philosophies, players and hopefully better results.
Here's what I'll be keeping an eye on during tonight's game:
First look at Bears’ rookies
First off, how will the rookies fair in their first pre-season game. It's key to watch the demeanor of the rookies. Most you can tell right away if they feel comfortable in their role with the team or if they look rattled or flustered. It's also a look into how they'll perform against another offense or defense and how they adjust to their game plan.
Kyle Long, the Bears’ first-round pick, will be an especially interesting player to watch considering how relatively new he is to the game. He's an extremely raw prospect who hasn't had a lot of on the field experience, and the Bears’ coaching staff will be looking to give Long a high number of reps this pre-season.
Long has displayed his brute strength this training camp, but we haven't necessarily seen how his play translate onto an NFL playing field. The Bears will also have players like Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, and fringe players like Cornelius Washington and Marques Wilson playing in their first pre-season game.
The starters are reportedly going to play limited snaps which should put these players front and center. Bostic and Greene in that second string position behind newly acquired D.J. Williams and James Anderson will be another unit to keep an eye out for. It will give us a look into the Bears’ potential depth at those positions and the options they could potentially have during the season.
Any surprise performers
Pre-season doesn't tell us much but at times will gives an insight to a potential breakout star for a team. The Bears are currently holding on to a lot of pieces that could end up playing a starting role who will start as backups in this game specifically. Isaiah Frey is a name that comes to mind, with the news of the Kelvin Hayden injury, and the Bears not pursuing any other CB on the market, Frey will be put into a starting job tonight.
These four games will give the Bears a sense on Frey and if they need to go an acquire a veteran CB on the market. Frey is entering his second season with the Bears and has impressed at times during this training camp period. He's made plays during training camp, and now we need to see how that translates onto the field in a live game.
The Bears have had average production from that nickel spot in the last three years. Hayden was a solid contributor last year but with him out it gives a young guy like Frey a chance to move into that starting position and produce. Frey was arguably making a case for that starting position anyway.
Other players I could see having a breakout year are guys like Nate Collins, Brandon Hardin, or even a guy like Joe Anderson. The Bears will have to scour their roster to find production at some points of the season and will be able to see if any of these guys can step in and perform.
The new-look offense
We won't be seeing much of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall or Matt Forte this game, or basically any of the pre-season, but it should give us a tiny preview of what the Bears will try and accomplish on offense in 2013. Trestman has a lot of talent to work with on offense, believe it or not, and this year he might have a stable line to do what he pleases.
Aside from Kyle Long, the offensive line won't have a lot to offer in this game considering Jermon Bushrod could be out healing from a calf-strain. We will, however, get our first look at Matt Slauson and see how the battle for the right tackle position pans out between J'Marcus Webb and Jonathon Scott.
The Bears also added four new tight ends this off-season, and though Martellus Bennett will most likely play limited snaps, it should be interesting to see how guys like Steve Maneri fit into this offense and into certain situations. It will also be nice to see Michael Bush back on the field as well as watching the battle for that last running back spot between Armando Allen and Michael Ford.
The Panthers will most likely be hiding most of their hardware as well, so we shouldn't see a whole lot of Cam Newton tonight. The game starts at 7:00 C.T.—the weather report says it should be a bit cloudy but at a great, muggy football temp of 86 degrees.