The Chicago Bears face the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks this Friday night in the supposedly all-important third game of the preseason. For the starters, it's their chance to play significant minutes, gaining reps while the bubble players will have one more test. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the Bears match up against a very stout Seahawks club.
Here is what I’ll be watching for:
Special teams/Return game
Head coach Marc Trestman told ESPN Chicago that he’s “not feeling good” about the return game, and who could argue with that? Can it really be as bad as it has looked thus far? While there’s no doubt that talent is always the key, one has to wonder how good Joe DeCamillis is at coaching special teams at this point.
The Cowboys’ ST unit improved considerably after DeCamillis left Dallas, while the Bears’ unit plunged into the abyss under their new coach. If that isn't enough to convince you that special teams coaches do make a difference, consider how much better the Chiefs’ unit was last year under former Bears’ coach Dave Toub.
Specifically, I’ll be looking for Chris Williams, who has missed time with a hamstring injury, and freshly minted Santonio Holmes in the return game (if Holmes plays, which has not yet been decided). The Bears released Eric Weems, so the job seems to belong to the speedy 5'8" Williams, although Michael Ford and Micheal Spurlock are both still in the mix.
In fact, for Ford (who has averaged 24.5 yards on two kickoff returns) to make the team at all, he will likely need to impress in the return game and on special teams, as he is behind both Shaun Draughn and Ka'Deem Carey on the running back depth chart. Meanwhile, Holmes hasn't contributed much in the return game since his early days with the Steelers.
Another wild card could be recently signed Darius Reynaud, who has played for four teams, most recently returning kicks and punts for the Jets.
Backup QB battle
Jimmy Clausen clearly won the first round, with a very impressive showing and a veteran poise in the pocket that only served to highlight Jordan Palmer’s lack of real game experience.
In game two, it’s not that Clausen was bad — that one pick aside — it’s that he failed to dominate the matchup as much as he did the previous week. Still, based on game play and what I've seen and heard around practice, Clausen would appear to be the better QB at this point.
Yet one cannot discount the importance of what Cutler thinks, as he will apparently have a big say in who is selected to back him up. Cutler is said to be closer to Palmer and the coaching staff clearly wants a smooth relationship between Jay and his backup.
Rookie David Fales will be on the practice squad unless the team keeps three QBs.
Shea McClellin and Jonathan Bostic
While he played better last week, I still cringe at the thought of McClellin lining up as the starting strong side linebacker, but that’s apparently where he’s headed. Still, Bostic is the harder hitter, although he continues to not always be where he's supposed to be.
I thought Bostic looked far more comfortable in practice, and I still like the talent and explosiveness. I will be watching these two with a keen eye to see if last week's improvement was a mirage or more indicative of better things to come.
Third WR competition
According to reports, Josh Morgan will apparently get the first nod. However, if Holmes plays it will be fascinating to see what he has left in the tank. If he is at all humbled by the fact that no one wanted him and hungry to continue collecting NFL paychecks. This could be interesting. If nothing else, it's a low risk gamble.
Morgan seems deserving of the opportunity as he has been productive thus far in the preseason. He has caught five passes for 77 yards. Meanwhile, Holmes caught 23 balls for 456 yards and one TD with the Jets in 2013.
Defensive line play
I will be watching the continuing development of rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Plus, it will be good for Jared Allen to get more reps in this defense, assuming his bruised shoulder allows him to play. (Did you know ... Willie Young graded out higher than Allen in rushing the QB last season despite his lack of sacks? It's true.)
Hopefully, by the fourth quarter we'll see Austin Lane and/or Trevor Scott, who have looked good and should make the final roster. And I am always looking for any signs of a breakthrough with Stephen Paea, who I had high hopes for when he was drafted.
- Can Adrian Wilson show that he has enough left in the tank over the final two preseason games to make the final roster? I’m betting no.
- And will Chris Conte get enough reps to take the starting nod away from Ryan Mundy, who has looked good so far, or Danny McCray? That's questionable at this point. But if he plays, Conte will be worth watching as well.
- Will Jordan Mills (foot) suit up? I doubt it, but if not, isn't his ability to start game one seriously in jeopardy? Although he was rated poorly at RT last season, it's important for continuity sake to keep the same five intact. In the meantime, backup Michael Ola continues to impress.
- TE Dante Rosario (calf) returns after missing the game last week.
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