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Chicago Bears: What to watch for in the Hall of Game game

Your guide for exactly what to watch for in tomorrow’s Bears preseason opener.

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Almost hard to believe as I’m typing this out but the Chicago Bears off-season is officially over and even better, they play an actual football game tomorrow night. All of this before the enshrinement of Bears great, Brian Urlacher.

One could say that the Hall of Fame game is the worst display of professional football each year, but Bears fans have a right to be excited. Whether that excitement is for actual football, symbolism that the regular season is less than six weeks away, or Brian Urlacher’s enshrinement on Saturday, there’s no judgement here.

From a game standpoint, this one is all about the bottom of the roster. Each team currently has 90 players, and it will remain that way until the single cut down period on the Saturday following the final preseason game. With this in mind, coaching staffs around the league have a lot to digest in a fast paced month of practices and games.

Even more, the Bears are a team that has even more to evaluate due to a new coaching staff and high roster turnover from the previous year. The extra game could go a long way in getting the best evaluation possible.

For those not familiar with the opening game itself, it’s usually a sloppy one, filled with names very few have even heard of. This will likely be true once again for both the Baltimore Ravens and the Bears, but don’t be surprised to see some starters get a peak for a series or two.

Outside of the minor detail, there will still be plenty to watch for those bottom of the roster fiends, such as myself.

Wide Receiver

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It’s been a well-known fact since the start of activities two weeks ago that certain players have received many reps with multiple teams.

Kevin White headlines that list of players. The former seventh overall pick is entering his fourth season with just five NFL games under his belt, and of those five games, he only finishing three of them. After spending multiple resources to completely overhaul the position, White finds himself in a vulnerable position as the Bears head into the season. The former Mountaineer was general manager Ryan Pace’s first draft pick — meaning he’ll get every chance to not only make the team, but push for significant snaps once they hit the regular season.

Outside of White, rookie Anthony Miller is another player that should see a decent amount of time in the first half. He’s impressed everybody and their mother during practice so far, but the next step in proving he can be a key contributor from week one on will be making the same impact in preseason.

It’s safe to say, barring injury, that four of the probable six spots on the depth chart are penciled in. The final two spots will come down to a bunch of hopefuls.

Those players include special teams aces Josh Bellamy and Bennie Fowler, along with seventh round pick Javon Wims, 2017 camp standout Tanner Gentry, and a host of others.

Depth has been a missing piece at the receiver position for the last few years, so this is a battle worth monitoring in the preseason opener and throughout the next five weeks.

Outside Linebacker

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Arguably the worst position on the roster, edge rusher is one to keep a very close eye on through the preseason.

Leonard Floyd is the only unquestioned starter but Sam Acho is likely to be at least a two down player opposite of him. Outside of that, there are too many unknowns for anyone to feel overly comfortable with.

Aaron Lynch is still ailing from a hamstring injury. Kylie Fitts has been an early standout, but was slowed by an arm injury that could leave him as a gametime decision, despite practicing on Monday.

This opens the door for one player in particular, which is second year pass rusher Isaiah Irving.

The former undrafted free agent out of San Jose State has added bulk and has flashed multiple times since the start of practices in late April. He’ll have a chance to burst onto the scene and steal a roster spot from either Fitts or Lynch with a strong preseason.

Behind Irving will be former New Orleans Saint Kasim Edebali and a pair of undrafted free agents in Andrew Trumbetti and Elijah Norris. With the current developments, one of these four players must step up and push for a roster spot.

Undrafted Free Agents

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Back in late April, the Bears signed a host of undrafted players. That group was headlined by cornerbacks Kevin Toliver II and Michael Joseph, coupled with Swiss-army knife Ryan Nall.

On the surface, open roster spots appear to be at a minimum but that doesn’t mean one of these names can’t steal a job. Starting tomorrow, that’s exactly what we’ll see unfold.

Toliver had a phenomenal start to camp with a multitude of interceptions early on, but has since been slowed by a quad injury, leaving his status for the game in doubt. Out of the three names above, the former LSU standout has the clearest route to a roster spot, but health and availability will be key. The 22-year-old was back at practice on Monday, but will likely be a game time decision.

Joseph is a bit more of a project, but in the wake of Toliver’s absence he has flashed in camp. The former Dubuque product could go from practice squad candidate to primary boundary backup, but that starts with a strong outing tomorrow. The good news? He should see plenty of reps.

Finally, Nall is a player that should see a sizable amount of time as well. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are 100% roster locks and Benny Cunningham isn’t far behind. This will leave Nall, Taquan Mizzell and even fullback Michael Burton to duke it out for the projected final roster spot at the running back position. Nall has not only impressed in camp so far, but he also brings versatility and a hard-nosed style to the table. Don’t be surprised to see the former Oregon State back steal the show tomorrow night.

Punting Battle

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This type of list wouldn’t be complete without highlighting the exciting punting competition that will officially start as the lights come on.

Fifth year veteran Patrick O’Donnell and undrafted free agent Ryan Winslow will begin their battle royale for the undisputed punter of the Chicago Bears in just over 24 hours.

Yes, maybe some hyperbole has gone into those first two sentences but in all seriousness, this new coaching staff has made it a point to value special teams. Cody Parkey was brought in as the new kicker and for the first time in his career, O’Donnell will have to fight for his job.

The evaluation of special teams isn’t an easy one but luckily for us, judging punting can be done with eyes and a focus on any holds for field goals.