After two straight losses at home, the 5-8 Bears set out for a road trip to Minnesota to face the 8-5 Vikings. The Bears’ season is winding down while the Vikings are currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC right behind Seattle.
With three games remaining, plenty of this current Bears’ group has to prove their value. Much like the final two games at Tampa Bay and at home against Detroit, the Bears need to find out what still works and will continue to work next season and beyond.
#Bears Final Injury Report DOUBTFUL: Callahan QUESTIONABLE: Jeffery, Miller, McPhee, Sutton, McManis, Porter
— Jake Perper (@BearsBacker) December 18, 2015
Getting rookies and role players is important at this juncture as well as letting the high priced fringe guys see the field. Here are the five players to watch as the Bears take on the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium this week.
Last year’s off-season splash, Lamarr Houston signed a five-year, $35 million as he lined up as a defensive end generating one sack before tearing his ACL. Switching over to the outside linebacker this season, Houston has gotten hot as of late with five sacks over his last six games and six on the season.
Houston had a team-high nine tackles along with a sack, two tackles for a loss and a quarterback hit against Washington. He played 52 snaps last week with Pernell McPhee inactive with his nagging knee injury. He’s owed $5.95 million over the next two seasons and $7.95 million in 2018.
It’s hard to imagine Houston being back at that price since he’ll be simply a rotational pass rushing piece with McPhee, Willie Young and a likely rookie in front of him.
Matt Forte was out snapped by Jeremy Langford 31 to 28 last week as he added 53 yards on 11 touches (10 runs, 1 catch) last week. Forte has this three-game stretch to prove his true worth. At age 30, Forte has plenty of miles on his legs, but it remains to be seen if he’ll truly be let go this off-season.
Making just over $7 million this season, Forte won’t get that much on the open market whether it’s from the Bears or another running back needy team. Forte has a rushing touchdown in each of his last two games and came into last week averaging 21 touches per game since his return to action following a three-game absence due to a knee injury.
This much like the final two games is an important week for Forte’s future. He wants to get some good play on film.
Although he only has one tackle this season, second-year Oklahoma product Demontre Hurst looks likely to see playing time at slot corner this week with Bryce Callahan doubtful and Sherrick McManis questionable.
Hurst saw extensive time last year, adding 39 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 15 games, two starts. He was moved to safety this off-season, but is versatile enough to move around in the secondary. Expect him to see the field often this Sunday.
Veteran wideout Eddie Royal returned to action for the first time in five weeks last Sunday, catching one pass for 15 yards in 53 snaps. He didn’t make much of an impact as a pass catcher, but Royal helped in the blocking aspect on screens and out routes.
On the season, Royal has 27 grabs for 186 yards and a touchdown. His 6.9 yards per catch average is the lowest of his eight-year career. His $4.5 million base salary is fully guaranteed for next season, so the soon to be 30-year-old has to stay healthy to be around much longer.
A star of the preseason, rookie linebacker John Timu was promoted from the practice squad this week and should some time at inside linebacker in sub-packages. A Washington product, Timu had seven tackles, a sack and an interception this preseason.
In four games this year, he’s been relegated to mainly special teams duty, adding one tackle against Oakland in Week 4. This kid was a leader in college and could run with this opportunity. Expect big things from Timu over these final three weeks as the Bears assess the future in the middle of their defense.
Thoughts on Sunday’s NFC North matchup between the Bears and Vikings? Make sure to comment below.
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