By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Last week’s start of the NFL preseason schedule provided a breath of fresh air for starved football fans. The Chicago Bears could have provided more fireworks in a loss to the Carolina Panthers, but the main point was seeing the team for the first time.
As it is in baseball, the preseason can sort of be a grind, it doesn’t offer much in the way of immediate feedback or impactful feedback given how most teams play starters for limited time, if any time at all. As a general rule around the league, the parsing of minutes seems to continue to be the norm, but we have seen teams change up the normal preseason routine like the Bears did under coach Matt Nagy last year.
Players popped for the Bears last week and made their presence known, among them rookie running back David Montgomery, tight end Ian Bunting, safety Deon Bush and inside linebacker Josh Woods were the stand outs. Depth is usually a huge determining factor for how well teams do so seeing some of these guys play well is huge for the team. Hopefully, we will see some more new faces stepping up this week.
Finally comes the elephant in the room — the Bears’ kicking situation. A microscope continues to be fixated on every kick attempt in the preseason for the Bears and its likely their competition extends to every active kicker in the league currently as several other potential kicking candidates could be available by the end of the month.
Let’s take a look at some things to watch out for in preseason game number two for the Bears.
How Will The Starters Play? — Preseason protocol in the NFL has traditionally been rest your starters in the last preseason game, limited work in the first two games and extensive work in the “dress rehearsal” game three.
Last year the Bears bucked this trend resting the starters in the final two weeks of the preseason, and the starters getting only limited work in games two and three (the Hall of Fame game gave the Bears an extra preseason game last summer). We only have a brief history with coach Nagy to read from, but odds are he will repeat what he did last season. Clearly to Nagy it is about the team being as healthy as possible for the regular season.
Keep the schedule in mind, since the Bears open against the Packers on Thursday, September 5th, they will play two preseason games in twelve days starting with their game against the Colts next week. That doesn’t leave much time for a starter to recuperate from an injury to be ready week one.
If the starters are going to get anymore playing time this preseason, it likely will only happen this week.
Players To Watch — Montgomery, Bunting, Bush and Woods all highlight the names to watch for in game two. Montgomery may get limited time if he is starting to win a fair share of the carries come the regular season.
Bunting looks like a possible answer for some of the questions surrounding the depth at tight end. Worst case scenario seems to be if tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen go down with injury then the position group could be in trouble, Bunting playing well again might ease some of the concerns.
Ryan and Kyle Means talk about the Panthers game and preview the Giants match-up (WARR on Anchor)
As for Bush and Woods, both are battling for backup and special teams roles. Another week of good football from them may force the hand of the coaching staff to keep them. Other to watch for in this match-up with the Giants is cornerback John Franklin III. The Bears will likely see a lot of Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, while Franklin has impressed at camp and can maybe make some plays against a rookie passer. On offense, look out for the Georgia receivers Javon Wims and Riley Ridley.
Last week Ridley did not play because he was still nursing a hamstring issue and its likely we will get to see the rookie wideout. Wims is putting together a good camp and he is a favorite target of backup quarterback Chase Daniel, setting up what might be an explosive night for the second year vet.
Kick Start or Stop? — One of the most torturous parts of Bears training camp is not really knowing about the kickers. This huge roster hole has been hard for the team to figure out ever since letting go of kicker Robbie Gould. Perhaps they have the right replacement on the roster or maybe he is somewhere else on another team’s roster. Each week the Bears have a preseason opponent, it is note worthy to check the opposing teams kickers. Unfortunately, the Giants have only one place kicker so nothing to scout for this week.
Meaning this week will just be about the Bears kickers Elliot Fry and Eddie Pineiro. Still hard to say which guy has an edge, Pineiro has the leg strength but Fry has been more accurate. The problem with Fry is that his leg just might not be strong enough which could be an issue when it gets cold or when the wind is swirling in Soldier Field.
Game action will be the best indicator of performance for the kickers. Fry was the clear winner in the last game, it will be interesting to see if Fry can out perform Pineiro again.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR