2015 is a big year for the Chicago Bears. Despite relatively low expectations across the board, the Bears are on the precipice of change. A new coaching staff, a new philosophy on defense, and a seeming commitment to refocus on the run game are things many fans wanted to see. They've got some new faces mixing with the old, and if executed properly, can set the team up going forward.
However, it is the first preseason game. We're unlikely to see the first team for more than a series or two. On the offensive side of the ball, that's not too big a deal. We know who virtually all of those starters will be. Defense, hoo boy, that's another story. There's a big competition at linebacker, nothing in the secondary is really set, and there are some questions about whether the types of player for a 3-4 defensive line are even truly on the roster.
That said, let's take a look at four big things, in no particular order, to keep your eye on as you watch tonight's game.
1. Quarterback Play
As mentioned before, Cutler is likely to only see a series or two. David Fales is currently marked as injured, so we should be seeing a TON of Jimmy Clausen and a little Shane Carden, as well.
For Clausen, there are some elements of his play you'd expect - as the team learns the playbook and he learns his progressions and checks, there'll be some inconsistency. However, it's games like these where he has to show that he has the ability to step up and run the offense. If not, the Bears could be looking at some of those veterans sitting around right now.
For Carden, it's about showing some flash, enough to get him an increased look next week against the Colts. If he shows up well here, he could push David Fales for the third job, or the Bears could opt to try and stash him on the practice squad.
2. Running Back Battle
There six running backs on the roster currently. Matt Forte is clearly not going anywhere, but the next few steps are up for grabs. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers comes over from Atlanta, and new draft pick Jeremy Langford is impressing. Ka'Deem Carey is in his second year, but we all know he didn't see a lot of work last year, so he's got a lot to prove. Perry has shown his abilities in special teams situations.
The amount of time each of these guys sees, and what they do with it, will go a long way towards determining who stays and goes. I personally feel that they will want to get a good long look at Langford, and Carey may simply be a casualty of not having been drafted by the current GM.
3. Linebacker Line-ups
in the 3-4, linebacker play is absolutely crucial. The ability to recognize, disguise, and attack will determine a lot of what this defense can do in 2015.
Shea McClellin has been tapped for making playcalls this season, so I'd expect to see him on the field more than you'd expect to see most veteran defensemen. It's very interesting to see McClellin paired with Christian Jones on this first depth chart at the #1 spots, and this set should see some significant play in the first quarter.
It's interesting to see Allen ahead of Houston on the first depth chart outside, as many thought he might be used as a more situational pass rusher. This is likely a nod to his veteran presence. Allen, Houston, and Acho should all compete hard for that spot opposite Pernell McPhee. McPhee has been impressing in camp, and he's itching to get to an opposing quarterback:
LB Pernell McPhee is eager to hit someone in another uniform. "And not only hit them, I can actually hurt them if I get a good hit on them."— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) August 11, 2015
4. Defensive line
There are big questions about whether the personnel the Bears have can fit into the 3-4 defense that new DC Vic Fangio runs. Players like Ego Ferguson and WIll Sutton are moving from 4-3 tackles to 3-4 defensive ends, and Jeremiah Ratliff is listed as the starting NT. Backing him up are rookies Eddie Goldman, who has impressed at camp, and Terry Williams.
Can they match up and eat the blocks needed for the linebackers to hunt and roam? Can they be disruptive enough to keep the running backs from hitting their lanes? What kind of rotations will be utilized?
There are definitely other things to watch for. We won't see a lot scheme-wise, as Fox & Co. will want to keep as much mystery on the plate for the season as possible. Many might point to the big questions that exist in the defensive backfield, but I believ that solid play from this front 7 will be able to mask some of the secondary play for the year.
The game is at 7pm CST. Check out our post here to see how you can go about watching it.