The preseason is a time of the year when most football fans are teased with some action from their favorite teams. Stadiums never sell out and fans rarely stay up to watch entire games.
I, however, am different. I thirst at the opportunity to watch the Bears play, even if it’s a preseason game that doesn’t count. While most fans turn off the TV because the starters don’t play for the full game, I leave the TV on for the very same reason. It gives me an opportunity to watch the younger guys play, to evaluate their performances and judge which of those guys will have a future in the NFL and which ones will be bagging groceries.
Here are a few things I’ll be watching in tonight’s preseason game against Kansas City:
1. Matt Forte
The biggest camp gossip through training camp thus far has been how good Forte has looked. But I’m interested in seeing how he performs with full pads on when the defense is allowed to hit him.
2. The left side of the offensive line
The single most important position to the success of the Bears this season is actually two positions functioning as one: left tackle and left guard. No team, not even the Patriots or Colts, who have the two best quarterbacks in the league, can succeed without a running game and this side of the Bears line needs to be stable heading into the regular season. With Terrence Metcalf out, Josh Beekman and Anthony Oakley will see extended time at left guard while the third competitor, John St. Clair, sees extended time at left tackle in place of injured rookie Chris Williams.
3. Wide Receivers
This position is loaded with talent, even if it isn’t top-tier caliber. I’m interested in seeing which players will stand out and try to jostle for a roster position. We know Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, and Earl Bennett are locks because they just signed contracts while Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd are probables because of their veteran status and Booker’s dependability. If the Bears keep six receivers, that leaves just one spot open for players like Mark Bradley, Mike Hass, Brandon Rideau, Marcus Monk, and Ryan Grice-Mullen.
4. Young defensive backs
Trumaine McBride played well last year as a rookie starter filling in for Nathan Vasher most of the season, but this off-season has belonged to Corey Graham. I’d like to see how both play tonight, as well as safety Kevin Payne. Rookie Craig Steltz has received rave reviews and should be fun to watch. Zackary Bowman was listed by several draft guides as one potential sleeper pick because he has explosive talent but has struggled through some injuries in college. And, I’d like to see if Brandon McGowan is really worth the starting role he’s been given.
5. Defensive tackle
With Dusty Dvoracek still ailing, that second defensive tackle spot next to Tommie Harris remains wide open, and I’m curious to see how the battle will unfold. Keep an eye on rookie Marcus Harrison as well as veterans Anthony Adams and Israel Idonije.
6. Mark Anderson vs. Alex Brown
Alex Brown has been given his starting job back after losing it — for no apparent reason — to Mark Anderson prior to last season. Anderson struggled and Brown played well, so the two flip-flopped back to their 2006 roles. I’m anxious to see if that’ll help Anderson get back to doing what he does best: pinning his ears back on passing downs and getting after the quarterback.
7. Danieal Manning
Manning might have finally found a home at nickelback after being moved back and forth from safety to cornerback last year. This seems like a natural position for him because he can use his safety skills to help in run support but is also one of the most athletic guys on the team — he’s raced Devin Hester before for the honor of the fastest player on the team — and he’ll help out in coverage.
8. Ricky Manning
How much playing time will he get? Will he try to fight his way back into the mix? Or is he resigned to the fact that he may get cut or traded by the Bears later in training camp?
9. Special teams / kick returners
How will the special teams fare after losing Brendon Ayanbadejo? Will they make a run at a third consecutive No. 1 ranking? Also, with Devin Hester playing more offense this year, will we see somebody else get increased repetitions returning kicks? We already can figure that the Bears won’t bother putting Hester back to return too many kicks in the preseason because they already know what he can do, plus they want to see how the special teams units are progressing.
Notice how I put the quarterbacks last on this list AND I didn’t mention either by name? It’s just not as important as many people are making it out to be. These two guys are essentially the same player and neither one will make or break this season. But, I’m still interested in seeing how the position pans out and whether both guys have made strides since last year.
I encourage you to keep the TV on for the whole game and pay attention to the younger guys. You can learn a lot.