Five Bears To Watch: Week 4 vs. Oakland

Five Bears To Watch: Week 4 vs. Oakland
The Bears host the Oakland Raiders in an interconference matchup on Sunday. Here are the five players to watch, from top to bottom: Linebacker Sam Acho, cornerback Kyle Fuller, linebacker Lamarr Houston, tight end Zach Miller and running back Jeremy Langford.

Well, we know two things for sure heading to Sunday’s Week 4 clash with the 2-1 Oakland Raiders: the Bears will be without left tackle Jermon Bushrod and punter Pat O’Donnell.

Bushrod suffered a concussion in last week’s 26-0 shutout loss in Seattle and was out of practice all this week. Second-year Boise State product Charles Leno Jr, who played 36 snaps in Bushrod’s place last Sunday will make his first career start. Leno Jr. has been out on offense on 14 other snaps as an extra tackle and was with the first-team often throughout the preseason.

As for O’Donnell, he has a knee injury, so the Bears signed Spencer Lanning to likely fill in for him this week. Lanning spent the 2011 training camp with the Bears. Unfortunately for O’Donnell this knee issue is likely from his long punting day in Seattle where he had 10 total boots.

For the rest of the confusion that is the Bears’ injury situation, six other players are listed as questionable, but one certainly appears to be out for a third straight week. That player is Alshon Jeffery, who was limited all week with his hamstring injury, but ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson reports the No. 1 wide receiver will likely be out this week as the team hopes he’s back to full health for a Week 5 meeting in Kansas City.

It’s hard to believe quarterback Jay Cutler wasn’t mentioned first out of all these players considering his importance, but with the Bears sitting at 0-3 there’s not much excitement about his possible return.

He’s trending towards starting after splitting reps with backup Jimmy Clausen, but with Bushrod and Jeffery out it could be wise to hold Cutler for one more week. Hamstrings are tricky and the Bears regime definitely want to see what he can do with almost everybody on notice for the future.

The other four players who are questionable are: cornerback Alan Ball (groin), defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (ankle), defensive lineman Ego Ferguson (knee) and defensive lineman Will Sutton (elbow).

If I had a crystal ball, it would say that Ball and Ferguson will play, Ratliff will be limited and Sutton will be inactive. Having Ratliff back at all will be big for a defense that seems to be making some progress a little less than one month into the regular season.

Here are five players to watch on Sunday when the Bears play their third home game of the season.

Outside linebacker Sam Acho

Fifth-year linebacker Sam Acho was a solid pickup this off-season considering he’s played his entire NFL career in a 3-4 scheme. With Jared Allen now in Carolina after Monday’s trade, Acho is now listed as the starter opposite Pernell McPhee in the base defense. The personnel fits and now the Bears can really see what their 3-4 defense is really like.

Allen never fit the scheme especially this late in his career. He’s a pure defensive end. Acho, on the other hand can play outside, inside or on the line. He’s a smart and talented player, who fell out favor in Arizona simply due to some unfortunate injuries.

In 34 defensive snaps last week, Acho had two tackles. He also led the special teams unit with 27 snaps and nearly blocked a punt. This is a big opportunity for Acho. Expect big things for the first-year Bear, who hopes to stick around for the long run.

Cornerback Kyle Fuller

Talk about a player with a ton to prove. Second-year cornerback Kyle Fuller was the No. 1 cornerback for most of last season with Charles Tillman on the shelf and this year with Tillman in Carolina, he was supposed to be a steady cover man. He hasn’t been thus far.

The first two games against Green Bay and Arizona, Fuller was routinely picked on and found himself out of much too often. However, last week when the Bears’ defense allowed four receptions of 20 yards or more, it wasn’t Fuller who was the victim on any of them.

He was credited with a season-high three tackles as he played every defensive snap and broke up a pass in his direction sent for the endzone right before the end of the first half.

Against a rising Oakland offense led by quarterback Derek Carr and rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper it could be tougher for Fuller. But he knows he has to be more consistent, so this could be the game where he finally makes a play.

Outside linebacker Lamarr Houston

Recovering from a torn ACL is not an easy thing. Second-year Bear and former Oakland Raider linebacker Lamarr Houston can attest to that. It appears though that the Texas product and former college teammate of Acho’s will be playing a whole lot more this season. Not only because of the trade of Allen, but also because he’s healthy.

Houston played on a season-high 26 defensive snaps and had two quarterback hits. He was the first substitute off the bench, even before Acho. Expect the two of them to play together at outside linebacker with McPhee moving inside along the line at times in nickel packages.

The sixth-year man has a lot to prove as he still has three years left on the five-year, $35 million deal he signed last off-season to come over to Chicago. If he’s in the future plans now’s his time to prove that he can be an effective pass rusher because the Bears need help there bad.

Tight end Zach Miller

Finally an offensive player on this list. Tight end Zach Miller (knock on wood) is back to 100 percent and has really been solid as the No. 2 tight end behind Martellus Bennett. He’s improved his in-line blocking and has even looked natural as a lead blocker in the backfield.

He played his most snaps a week ago, 29. He has three catches for 35 yards over the last two games and with Jimmy Clausen under center for the last six quarters of play, the two have a solid chemistry. Miller had the longest catch of last week’s loss, a 21-yarder. His longest since 2010.

Either way, Miller is an important player for both the run and pass game. He sets up blocks in both departments and if offensive coordinator Adam Gase can find him some open space against a bad Oakland defense, watch out. Miller is very athletic and deserves chances to prove what he can do as a pass-catcher.

Running back Jeremy Langford

Last week, rookie back Jeremy Langford didn’t see a single snap for the first time this season. On the road, where the Bears wanted to control the clock with a heavy dose of Matt Forte and change of pace back Jacquizz Rodgers, Langford was not in the gameplan.

This week against the Raiders expect him to be. Whether he lines up outside as a receiver like we’ve seen at times or in the backfield while Forte is out wide, Langford should be involved this Sunday.

With all the trade rumors swirling around Forte and the Bears’ supposed fire sale after they traded Allen, Jon Bostic and waived Brock Vereen, finding out about Langford’s abilities to be a No. 1 lead back would be smart.

As much as Forte should be rewarded with a new contract, likely his last, Langford was drafted for a reason in the fourth round and right now the Bears have the future on their minds. Expect to see plenty of Langford as the season progresses.

Thoughts on Sunday’s matchup with Oakland? Make sure to comment below.

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button to get all the latest Bears Backer articles sent to your inbox.

Make sure to follow Jake on Twitter, @Bearsbacker and on Facebook for up to the minute news about the Chicago Bears.

Leave a comment