Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears for WARR
A week ago, the NFL and the Chicago Bears opened up the preseason last week in Canton along with Baltimore, but today is the opening day for the majority of the league.
Returning to Ohio like Kevin Love, the Bears once again play in the Buckeye state for their second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at tonight at 6 pm local time (Fox 32, WBBM 780 AM). For Bears fans, the starters should be playing tonight but it is unknown how long they will play for.
Generally, in a five-game preseason, due to this year’s Hall of Fame Game, action for the for the starters in this second overall scrimmage lasts a series or two. It’s possible the Bears give even more time to the starters tonight but remember the most important goal of the preseason is to make it to the season as healthy as possible.
Sadly, Roquan Smith is still in contract negotiations and four other players will not be making the trip to Cincinnati. Those four players are defensive back Rashard Fant, tight end Dion Sims, wide reciever Joshua Bellamy and linebacker Isaiah Irving.
Losing Irving is a little bit of bummer since he is a guy that can help the pass rush and injuries were already the reason why he was limited in playing last year. Bellamy being out is a little interesting as is looks like he’s caught up in a battle for one of the last few wide receiver spots with Bennie Fowler and last week’s standout Javon Wims.
As for Sims, he has been getting positive reviews from camp and most likely will be the starting “Y” tight end while off-season acquisition Trey Burton will be the starting “U” tight end. But Sims’s absence in this opens the door for Adam Shaheen to get some more reps. There will be a lot of things to watch in this game, here are some specifics to keep an eye on.
First Team Offense
The Bears didn’t run their full offense against Baltimore, don’t expect them to do so tonight or at any other point in the preseason. There may be some plays here and there that will need to get a look but this offense will look and be so much different in the regular season than it is now. First-teamers will most likely play only a series or two tonight and that could be enough to draw some early conclusions regarding development. It would be great to see if the Bears offense can sustain a drive or two.
As long as no major injury happens, it will be fun to watch what the offense will look like tonight. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has had a couple good practices this week and a good performance for him could bode well for his confidence going into next week’s practices.
The Rookie and the Vet
While the top four receivers on the depth chart sat out last week, the starters at the position were Bellamy and Fowler. Don’t expect too much of a difference tonight, mostly due to injury recovery.
Prized free agent signing Allen Robinson may not play tonight just because he is coming off major surgery, so why risk it, but it will be fun to see some of the other guys. Taylor Gabriel has been dealing with a foot issue so his status is unknown.
It is possible that the starters will be Kevin White and Anthony Miller for tonight, those two have to be towards the top the roster regarding guys to watch in the preseason. Robinson and Gabriel are important of course but we have at least have an idea what they look like when healthy on an NFL field. There has also been a lot of hype for Miller and the possibility that White can still become a valuable contributor is tantalizing.
Chicago’s starters are pretty much all figured out on both sides of the ball. So far, there does not seem to be any roster battles of note for a starting spot, but that could potentially change tonight.
Battles do remain throughout the rest of the roster and they may not be the sexiest to report on but they leave plenty to watch for in the game once the starters are done for the night. As mentioned before, Bellamy will not be playing in this game, leaving the door open for Wims and Fowler to open eyes. Bellamy seems like a lock for a roster spot based on his receiver and stand out special teams skills. If Fowler and Wims have a good night on offense and special teams you never know.
On the offensive line, rookie James Daniels will make his debut today and he is battling to become a starting guard, though its possible that he gets a majority of his reps at center tonight due to the injury to Hroniss Grasu. Daniels could build up confidence of his coaches in him with a solid performance tonight. Any potential standout performance can help a number of players impress the coaches and create a previously unforeseen roster battle.
On the defensive side of the ball, keep an eye out for the pass rush. The starting secondary will only get a little burn so it will be hard to evaluate them. The majority of the pass rush will hopefully come from the defensive line and Leonard Floyd in the regular season but they will need other contributors. Isaiah Irving is a guy competing for playing time and he showed well last week.
Since Irving is not making the trip then that leaves the door open for late-round 2018 draft pick Kylie Fitts. Fitts had a good game against Baltimore as well but the coaches have pointed out how Fitts needs to develop more and that he is still raw. Fitts will get more opportunity to show development with Irving out and a chance may exist here to pass by Irving on the depth chart or in the pass rush rotation.
Also, keep an eye out for rookie Bilal Nichols, who had a sack and contributed well in the Hall of Fame Game, he doesn’t figure to be a starter but could be used in packages as a rush specialist.
The pass rush will likely be a team effort for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the more players that are capable contributors, the better the pass rush will be.
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