The Chicago Bears' first preseason game of the year brought an exhilarating first quarter with two big-play touchdowns and some nice surprises in the second, third and fourth quarter as the Bears took care of business against the Tennessee Titans.
The Bears now face the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night after having joint practices with the horseshoes earlier in the week. The practices were intense with some chippy action and pushing and shoving. It could make for a compelling game tomorrow night, well, at least for a preseason game. But with most key players most likely sitting during the third game against Buffalo, this will be the last chance for many to shine on television for the coaching staff.
With that said, here are five Bears to keep an eye on during the Colts’ game.
I think many Bears fans expected to see Johnson in the game earlier against Tennessee. But he played after Trestan Ebner and D’Onta Foreman and had himself a nice second half despite playing behind some low-level offensive linemen at times. Johnson flashed a couple nice runs including a beautiful run where he broke multiple tackles and rumbled for a 24-yard gain.
After his showing, Johnson saw a lot more time with the 1s in practice this week. Hopefully, that leads to Johnson getting into the game earlier with a chance to cement himself no lower on the depth chart than RB2.
Khalil Herbert will clearly be the Bears starting running back when week one rolls around, but if Johnson cements his role as RB2 by the start of the season, with his all-around skills, he could be RB1 by October.
Trevis Gipson vs Terrell Lewis vs Rasheem Green
When the Bears are on defense, you should keep an eye on one of these guys at all times. Two of these three will be making the 53-man roster. There’s no guarantee that any of them could be stashed on the practice squad with how they’ve performed. Most likely, there will be an odd man out.
Gipson flashed the most against Tennessee, but being he’s a holdover from the previous regime, he still may be the longest shot to make the team. Lewis may have been the longest shot a few months ago, but he’s been very consistent in practice and in games and certainly looks like he could help generate a pass rush on a team that needs to get to the quarterback.
Green was certainly the highest one up on the depth chart against Tennessee, but will the Bears bump him down and give Gipson or Lewis a shot against better competition? Green has the most guaranteed money while Lewis doesn’t have any and Gipson, in essence, has none, so that could play a part, but this is going to be an interesting position battle to keep an eye on tomorrow night.
PJ Walker vs Nathan Peterman
You have to start to wonder if Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles are going to start reconsidering their depth at quarterback. Nathan Peterman has looked good. Tyson Bagent has looked good. PJ Walker has not. Walker did not play well in the preseason game, and the reports throughout training camp have been that he has not been good.
Reports for Peterman’s training camp have been quiet, largely because he’s been with the third string, but he did look solid in his first preseason performance. Bagent has reportedly turned in a nice camp, he played well in the preseason game, and he looked pretty good against the Colts in joint practices as well. Bagent has clearly played his way onto the practice squad.
But in terms of straight QB depth, Walker was guaranteed $2 million when he signed with Chicago. That’s a high enough number that there’s no chance he’s going to be released. There’s no way Bagent is going to be QB2, so it would seem that he will be on the practice squad and these two would be facing off for QB2 duties.
This would be a shock if Peterman earns to QB2 spot over Walker, but Walker needs to start stacking some plays and looking like he belongs, otherwise there could be a surprise change in the depth chart come September 1st.
Velus Jones, Jr.
He has to be on here, right? If you listened to Ryan Poles' interview with Hoge and Jahns, he said that they want Jones to be a punt returner and they are going to keep working with him to see if he can get back to where he was in college. To be clear, Jones only fielded 18 punts in college in his final year at Tennessee, he did not do it before that season, but he did field those punts cleanly.
If Poles is insistent that Jones needs to return punts, while he said he has a skillset that can help create offensive plays on the offense, you have to wonder if punt returns are a key for Jones to make this roster. We’ve said it many times, if Jones doesn’t return punts, who can do it besides Dante Pettis? And if Pettis is on this roster, whose place is he taking? It’s hard to say it’s not Velus Jones.
Jones needs to play well. We should expect to see him back there returning punts again, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he flashed some big play potential on offense as well. Jones is certainly on the roster bubble, and while his roster spot is his to lose, he still hasn’t shown enough to be guaranteed that WR6 spot.
When you construct the 53-man roster, you start to see who’s clearly on the bubble at the bottom of the roster. The Bears are almost certainly going to have five running backs (including Khari Blasingame), they are going to have six wide receivers, we know those three tight ends are going to be there, and they are going to obviously have a minimum of two quarterbacks.
That adds up to 16 spots. Traditionally, teams keep 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players and the three specialists (punter, kicker, long snapper) on special teams. If teams want to take advantage of the new QB rule, all three QBs need to be on the active 53-man roster. Which only leaves room for eight offensive linemen. We know the starting five, and we know Larry Borom, Lucas Patrick and Ja’Tyre Carter are going to be on the roster.
To me, Alex Leatherwood is competing for a spot on the 53-man roster with QB3. That may seem odd, but that’s how the bottom of the offensive roster looks to me. Leatherwood will probably see all or most of his action at left guard, a position where he’s probably looked his best out of the spots the Bears have tried him.
Leatherwood needs to show the ability that the Las Vegas Raiders saw to draft him in the first round. He needs to show he’s developing and that Poles spending a waiver claim on him and inheriting his first-round salary was worth it. If Leatherwood struggles, the Bears may be comfortable saying that experiment is over and it’s time to move on.
Who will you have a close eye on when the Bears face the Colts tomorrow night?