Last week’s preseason opener against the Bills offered some insight into what this year’s team is going to look like, but there’s still a long way to go before the football means anything. The starters should get a little more time against the Giants Monday night and the jump in performance from Game 1 to Game 2 is usually the most significant. Here’s a look at 10 things to watch in the Bears’ second preseason game, some of which are a continuation from last week’s list.
1. The Jay Cutler-Roy Williams connection
The starting offense didn’t play much in Game 1 against the Bills and new wide receiver Roy Williams has been out of shape throughout training camp. Williams has been more than direct about wanting to forge a relationship with Jay Cutler so that the two can be on the same page and clicking when the regular season kicks off. With the starters expected to see a little more time against the Giants and the offense expected to pass the ball a little more, we could see how the Cutler-Williams relationship is progressing.
2. Caleb Hanie’s development
Hanie led the Bears on their only touchdown drive against the Bills but it was mostly fueled by running back Marion Barber. Aside from Hanie’s touchdown run, he did not have a particularly good game and he has struggled mightily in the past week or so of training camp. Hanie lost reps with the second-team offense the Monday after last week’s game, although the Bears coaches claim it was just to give him a breather and to let rookie Nathan Enderle get some more reps in practice. If Hanie struggles again this week, don’t be surprised to hear rumors about veteran backup quarterbacks again.
3. Marion Barber’s encore
Barber stole the show in the first preseason game with 45 rushing yards on 7 carries, three of which went for more than 10 yards. His hard-nosed running style is endearing to Bears fans, who enjoy watching smashmouth football. With every successful Barber carry there are two things to keep in mind: backup Chester Taylor becomes more expendable and starter Matt Forte loses more leverage in negotiations for a contract extension. It’ll be interesting to see how many carries Barber gets against the Giants and what kind of success he has against his former division rival.
4. Kellen Davis’ comfortability in the offense
The fourth-year tight end finally got the opportunity to step out of the shadows of Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark and prove that he can play at this level. Davis had a great training camp and his combination of size and speed gives the Bears a nice weapon who won’t tip off the defense as to what kind of play the offense is running. I’m more interested in watching Davis’ blocking than his receiving because he’ll be doing the former more than the latter and will likely need to help out the offensive line as it learns to jell.
5. Offensive line’s progression
The Giants game will be a make-or-break game for the offensive line, specifically the interior of the line. Lance Louis struggled against the Bills and the coaching staff recognizes the urgency of stabilizing the protection for Cutler. With highly-paid Chris Spencer performing well with the second unit, he’ll find his way into the starting lineup before long if Louis continues to falter. Spencer could fit in at either center or even guard. Chances are, Roberto Garza would return to his familiar right guard spot and Spencer would take over the center duties. Chris Williams supposedly had a nice camp at left guard but he did not play particularly well in the first preseason game. Although J’Marcus Webb struggled against the Bills, he and rookie Gabe Carimi figure to be fixtures at the tackle positions and will play through the growing pains.
6. Vernon Gholston-Mario Addison battle
Corey Wootton suffered a knee injury on the opening kickoff last week and his injury will open the door for more playing time for Vernon Gholston and Mario Addison. Gholston, the first-round bust from the New York Jets, played well against the Bills and applied consistent pressure in the backfield. He’s not a strong practice player so it’s when the lights go on that he’ll need to shine. The rookie Addison had a nice performance in Game 1 and the pass-rushing specialist will try to earn a roster spot with an encore against the Giants.
7. Defensive tackle competition
One of the biggest bright spots from last week’s game was the play of the defensive line, particularly at defensive tackle. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has high expectations for his line and his expertise at the position could help the young, explosive tackles thrive. All eyes will be on Amobi Okoye to see if he can have a repeat performance from the Bills game when he had two sacks — one of which came from chasing the quarterback out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. Henry Melton beefed up in the offseason so that he could become an every-down player instead of a situational pass rusher. He had a nice game as well as swing tackle Matt Toeaina. I’d like to see more from rookie Stephen Paea, who is physically gifted and just needs an opportunity to showcase his skills.
8. Major Wright’s progress in Game 2
Wright led the Bears with five tackles against the Bills, and although it’s good to see him healthy and in the right spot at the right time — a strength of his — I’m more concerned about how he defends the pass, considering he’s playing the free safety position. Whether or not his instincts and athleticism can allow him to roam the deep half of the field was the “major” question mark — pardon the pun — about him coming out of college.
9. Depth in the secondary
Zack Bowman will be out for the Giants game after suffering a mild concussion against the Bills. That hurts him in his competition with Tim Jennings for the starting cornerback spot opposite Charles Tillman. After Tillman and Jennings and safeties Chris Harris and Wright, there is not a whole lot of depth in the secondary, a big cause for concern. D.J. Moore is the nickelback and plays that role very well, but he would struggle if thrust into the cornerback role. I like the measurables of cornerback Joshua Moore, but he’s still raw and has a lot of room for improvement. Corey Graham has proven to be good in run support in the past, and is a solid special teams player because of his pursuit and tackling, but his coverage skills are lacking. The safety combination of Craig Steltz and rookie Chris Conte is downright frightening to see.
10. Robbie Gould’s and Adam Podlesh’s second outings
“Good as Gould” was anything but last week against the Bills. He missed a pair of field goals, although one was from 56 yards out at the end of the first half. The other kick he hooked wide left from 33 yards out, definitely a makable kick. Adam Podlesh’s Bears debut was hardly inspiring. He shanked his first punt, although he got a fortuitous bounce, and finished with just a paltry 32-yard average on his four punts. Special teams coverage and returns did a nice job against the Bills, but the kicking game definitely has room for improvement.