By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Traditionally this week in the preseason was the juiciest because it was the all important “dress rehearsal” to the regular season. Meaning across the league NFL stars would play for about a whole half.
But with Chicago’s team, one who has historically has embraced and celebrated tradition, we’re seeing something besides the traditional approach in this situation. In recent years, a few coaches have decided to forgo the opportunity of a dress rehearsal game for guaranteed health by resting their starters all preseason.
Head coach Matt Nagy has elected to rest all his starters and key players for the second year in a row and will leave the back end of the roster to play against the Colts.
Ironically enough, the Colts announced that they would follow suit and not play their starters as well. Plenty of young players and players fighting to make the roster will get extended playing time to impress. These preseason games are limited opportunities for lots of players across the league.
Cut day looms just a week away on the 31st, these last two games are important finals steps of the entire off-season before the grueling 17 week phase of the journey. Here are some things to watch for in preseason game No. 3.
Kicking Competition Hits Overdrive — For the first time since the beginning of the calendar year, the Bears are down to one kicker on the roster in Eddy Pineiro.
Questions certainly remain about whether the young kicker will be the starter once the final cuts happen league wide. No doubt, Pineiro is a great example of how important the preseason can be. Depending on the volume of kicks, this could be a great opportunity to show out, flame out or…worst case scenario, perform just okay.
On the other sideline is kicker Cole Hedlund for the Colts, Hedlund is pure trade bait or a future cut for his team. The Colts already know who their kicker will be this year in Adam Vinatieri.
Hopefully the Bears get a great performance out of Pineiro but if Hedlund impresses then maybe the Bears will pivot to him right away. Hedlund has been talked about positively with his potential, similar to Kaare Vedvik who the Vikings traded for on the 11th.
Pressure to Perform — A lot of competition is a natural byproduct of a talented roster of players. The Bears are no doubt a talented team which is why so many players won’t be in pads Saturday night. It feels like there is only a few roster spots up for grabs if any at all.
Players should no doubt feel the pressure to try and impress the staff or put together good tape to land perhaps on a less talented team. Some spots that look up for grabs, the fourth running back spot, the fourth tight end, the sixth receiver, the swing tackle, depth in the defensive backfield and linebacker.
This game means a lot to a bunch of guys on offense like running back Ryan Nall, tight end Ian Bunting, wide receivers Javon Wims and Marvin Hall because they all have flashed and look capable of filling the reserve roles. Flipping to the defense, cornerback Clifton Duck, outside linebacker James Vaughters and inside linebacker Josh Woods need to keep flashing like they have.
One tip to watching for players making the roster, look at who plays special teams. Back end roster players have to play special teams because thats where a team’s special teams comes from. Players that play on multiple special teams units are likely guys the team is looking at trying to keep.
Places, Ready…and Action! — Last week against the Giants, the Bears looked over matched and were outperformed for the majority of the game. Not really a huge deal but coach Nagy could not be happy with the teams overall execution and competition.
At this point in camp, everything switches to preparation for the regular season. The meetings and practice plans are now on the schedule the team uses during the regular season. In a sense it is a tone setting moment letting everyone on the team know its almost show time. No better way to set a tone for a locker room than a good team performance on game day.
A win or a loss doesn’t matter but having a clean game free of mistakes sets a good bar for the rest of the team as the regular season comes closer and closer.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR