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Bears vs. Dolphins: All eyes up front

Chicago opens up exhibition action Saturday. What to monitor aside from the man in the No. 1 jersey is an interesting query.

NFL: AUG 03 Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To most, August is the official Purgatory month of the calendar. There aren’t any federal holidays to look forward to. By this time of year, humidity and unrelenting heat are much more prevalent than the refreshing early spring months when a great deal of the the North American landmass is, with mercy, defrosting. But in the NFL, August is put up or shut up time for the dreams of so many different young men. Ah yes, it’s the preseason. If you’re at or near the bottom of a roster, you better be prepared to make a name for yourself.

The Bears and their own dreamers slot in their first exhibition action against the Dolphins on Saturday morning. Now, I’m never one to judge a person’s lifestyle or habits. Barring outright harmful ignorance, do what you please! On the off chance you’ve been living under a very solid rock since late April, which again, no judgment here, a certain special someone is making their official Bears debut.

It’s Justin Fields’ world. There’s no denying such a cold-hard truth. But he is sharing a field with other Bears that happen to exist, who also have plenty at stake over the next few weeks. How they measure up against the Dolphins as a start is an important first step.

Let’s examine the tale of the tape on both sides of the ball (Fields, for once, not included).

Much ado about the big boys

Unless my eyes or the numbers deceive me, it’s far too early to conclude, with complete certainty, that the Bears have the worst offensive line situation in pro football. But until further notice, given injuries to young building blocks like Teven Jenkins, along with an outright lack of proven difference makers, it’s not too early to believe that they’re near the bottom. This is not a unit that inspires a ton of confidence in keeping quarterbacks upright, in the least.

Thankfully, this is what preseason tuneups were tailor-made for—development, patience, and gauging what your players can handle. Unlike other starters like say, Andy Dalton or David Montgomery, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of snaps for every currently healthy offensive lineman the Bears have on their roster. That’s a good thing. Even veterans such as Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, now settling into permanent guard roles, should see more than a few series in the interest of gelling on the interior with center Sam Mustipher.

Where the spotlight will really shine is on the book-ends. As Jenkins and his running mate Germain Ifedi remain sidelined, a fantastic opportunity is on the table for Lachavious Simmons, Elijah Wilkinson, and 2021 fifth-round pick, Larry Borom. Borom in particular is an interesting case, considering there are some within Halas Hall who believe he’s a future starter. If any of this trio, Borom especially, are to make a push for meaningful action in the regular season, a competent (“good” can come later) showing against the litany of defenders on the Dolphins’ front seven will do wonders.

Secondary merchants

Aside from their beef up front on offense, the other glaring hole the Bears have is on their defensive back-end. Even with the hopeful assumption that Eddie Jackson enjoys a return to form closer to the version who was a 2018 All-Pro, the rest of Chicago’s secondary does not pop off the page. Who they have at cornerback, specifically, assuming that the second-year Jaylon Johnson starts his own Shutdown Island of sorts, is an aspect the Bears definitely want sorted out before passers carve them up come September.

Chicago is reportedly high on Kindle Vildor—an underrated small school product from last year’s draft class. It’s on him to prove his status as the current boundary starter opposite Johnson is warranted over a more seasoned player like Desmond Trufant. I’d like to see how he handles the responsibility of manning his own sideline for at least a couple of series against the Dolphins.

The same goes for the Bears’ incumbent slot cornerback. The last half decade or so has seen Chicago be blessed with the stellar Bryce Callahan and a solid Buster Skrine as the nickel-back. Entering his third season as a former sixth-round selection, current nickel Duke Shelley will face a lot of pressure to prove faith in him as a starter is valid over the next month. New defensive coordinator Sean Desai, a coverage disciple at heart, is assuredly not going to shift the Bears’ defensive focuses away from a more modern, standard three-corner look. Whoever is Chicago’s slot man will have a bevy of responsibility.

I would note to keep an eye on veterans like Artie Burns and Teez Tabor, but I don’t have high expectations for either. At this point in their careers, they are known commodities, with a capacity for depth. Maybe strong preseasons change my mind. That’s a familiar refrain for many other Bears, and NFL hopefuls, at the moment. At least the magic of exhibition time rarely disappoints in showing who truly belongs, and who’s turned a new leaf.