The Chicago Bears preseason is flying by. Not only is the team left with just one more practice open to the public in Bourbonnais, but they are just over 24 hours away from their second preseason game of the 2018 season.
After a watered down Hall of Fame game that consisted of minimal week one starters, tomorrow’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals promises to offer at least a glimpse into some of the Bears’ week one product.
When asked how much second round rookie Anthony Miller would play, he said he expects to play “a series or two.” This is likely a good barometer for all of the team’s starters, especially on offense.
Even without the majority of the starters playing much more than a quarter, there’s still plenty to watch for.
Taylor Gabriel has been slowed by a foot injury and I expect the Bears to continue to play it extremely safe with prized free agent Allen Robinson. Even with that, both Miller and Kevin White are worth keeping an eye on in what would be their first game action of the preseason.
At this point, it seems safe to assume that the team’s top four are set with the names mentioned above. But names like Javon Wims, Josh Bellamy, Bennie Fowler, Tanner Gentry and Demarcus Ayers are still firmly entrenched as players competing for the final two spots.
Players like Wims and Bellamy could do themselves plenty of good with a strong performance tomorrow night.
Wims is one more impactful game away from being too “seen” to try and sneak back on the practice squad.
Interior Offensive Line
Four of the five starting offensive linemen are set. What has not been determined is who is going to be the fifth starter, and more importantly, who’s going to start at center and left guard.
Currently, Cody Whitehair continues to hold down center, while Eric Kush looks to have the “starting” left guard job for the moment. The factor that could change that? Rookie James Daniels, who missed last Thursday with a minor shoulder injury.
Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said the team would work the rookie primarily at center this week, which means he’s likely to see quite a bit of time with the second time at the position. Looking even deeper into this situation, one can’t help but wonder if this is in preparation for a future swap that would entail Whitehair at left guard and Daniels starting at center.
Obviously, the former Iowa product must play well and stay healthy but it would be foolish for the Bears to start a veteran like Kush if the competition between him and Daniels is even close.
It would also behoove the entire team to figure out where both players will line up sooner rather than later. Too many interior offensive linemen have been shuffled too close to the start of the season and that’s a trend that needs to stop.
Aaron Lynch continues to sit out with a hamstring injury, which calls the overall quality of this position into more question.
Even with Lynch, this is still a position that lacks a quality number two options (at least on paper). Enter sixth rounder Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving (who sat out Monday’s practice with an injury).
This is a big spot for both players and once again they should see ample playing time with the starters only expected to see a couple of series. Both players had a sack and a handful of tackles last week, but should see stiffer competition this time around.
In order for the Bears to truly feel comfortable with their pass rushers, one of these two will have to step up and prove capable of playing a key role off the edge.
This is a position that could go from being good, to being one of the strongest on the team if at least two of Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris or Bilal Nichols can continue to play at a high level.
Each player accounted for a sack last Thursday in an eight-sack overall performance. While Bullard may currently be the projected starter, having an extra capable lineman would be a huge boost and keep Akiem Hicks fresh longer into the season.
Ultimately, this is a position group with a ton of upside but only one player can win the starting job. With the race close so far, it will be fun to monitor who gets the upper hand in the competition.
Defensive Back Depth
The Bears are returning all five starters from the 2017 secondary, which should lead to more good things.
With that in mind, the depth behind those starters is somewhat of a question mark, despite the upside some players bring.
Undrafted rookie Michael Joseph played often and performed well last Thursday. Veteran Marcus Cooper is proving to be just a guy, but with his starting experience, he’s the obvious player to beat in the early going for that primary backup boundary cornerback spot. Kevin Toliver is healthy and should see plenty of time this week as he looks to build off his strong start to camp before going down with a quad injury.
At safety, Deon Bush appears to have full control of the third safety position, but behind him is special teamer DeAndre Houston-Carson (who had an interception), Deiondre Hall and undrafted rookie Nick Orr.
Safety is the more intriguing position to watch on Thursday, but even if all three falter, there’s still plenty of quality talent sitting on the free agent market in the middle of August.