Here are 10 players, positions, or story lines to watch in the meaningful meaningless preseason game between the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns on Thursday.
Do Bears need Josh McCown?
The first question is whether the Bears even choose to keep a third quarterback. Backup Jason Campbell is one of the best No. 2 options in the entire league and many teams are choosing to keep just two quarterbacks on the active roster and stashing a third on the practice squad. With the Bears having tight competitions elsewhere, they could be better served using that roster spot on a bigger position of need.
Battle for third-string running back
After the Bears let go of Kahlil Bell last week, the third-string running back job suddenly opened up. Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker will be battling in this one for that last opportunity. Allen appears to have the inside track at the job because he is more versatile on offense and can provide a change of pace in certain situations, but Booker provides better special teams help, which is what the Bears need from their third back.
Kyle Adams vs. Tyler Clutts
Do the Bears keep a fourth tight end or a fullback? The Bears liked Adams last year and they value what he can do and where he can line up this season, too. Clutts, meanwhile, might be a man without a position because offensive coordinator Mike Tice prefers to have versatile tight ends who can line up in the backfield if need be rather than the traditional fullback. Clutts is the Bears backup long snapper, but that’s hardly enough reason to keep him on the squad.
Dane Sanzenbacher’s value on special teams
When the Bears released Rashied Davis this week, it appeared that Sanzenbacher’s chances of retaining the sixth wide receiver spot were solidified. However, don’t discount the notion of the Bears keeping five wideouts and using that extra spot on a lineman or defensive back. Much like the case at the quarterback position, the players at the top of the depth chart are so strong that they might not need a sixth receiver. Still, chances are good that Sanzenbacher does make the team, but I’d like to see more from him on special teams, where he’ll earn his living.
Will James Brown stick around?
There was a lot of raving about undrafted free agent offensive tackle James Brown when the Bears signed him after the draft and there also were good reviews throughout minicamp. But in the preseason games, Brown has made his fair share of mistakes. He’s on the bubble for making the team but needs a strong final game. Therein lies the problem for the Bears: a strong performance and the Bears might have to decide on either keeping him on the roster (maybe taking the place of veteran Chris Williams) or risk losing him to another team after final cuts.
Defensive line competition
In an ideal world, those players battling for defensive line positions would sort out the jumble themselves. Some players would step up and others would fizzle out. But as long as the depth along the defensive line maintains a promising yet unspectacular outlook, it’s going to make it difficult for the coaches to make their final cuts. Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, and Shea McClellin are locks at defensive end. Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, and Matt Toeaina likewise at tackle. The Bears will likely keep 10 players along the line, meaning there are four spots for the following seven players: Nate Collins, Brian Price, Corey Wootton, Chauncey Davis, Cheta Ozougwu, Aston Whiteside, and Jordan Miller. My guess is the first four I listed will make the final cut, but I like Ozougwu’s potential and would like to see if he can make a final push against the Browns.
The bottom of the depth chart at cornerback
Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, and Kelvin Hayden appear to have spots locked up at cornerback, but it’ll be interesting to see how the competition for the last one, maybe two spots pans out. Veteran Jonathan Wilhite and rookies Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy will be under the microscope Thursday night.
Backup safety play
With Brandon Hardin out for the season with a neck injury and Chris Conte still nursing his shoulder, the Bears are not going to want to put any unnecessary risk on their current starting safeties, Major Wright and Craig Steltz. That means we should see a lot of work for the backup safeties as the Bears try to settle on their depth at the position. Throughout Lovie Smith’s tenure with the Bears, the safety position has seen a lot of rotation, so the Bears need players that can step in and play, or, at the very least, contribute on special teams. Newcomer Mark LeGree and Anthony Walters should both get a long look. The Bears may need to look for a veteran after final cuts.
The Bears have been trying out different punters and they even made a claim for former Bear Spencer Lanning — losing him to the Jets — which doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in starter Adam Podlesh’s health or in backup Ryan Quigley’s abilities. Quigley will get one final audition Thursday against the Browns and he needs to have some booming kicks to maintain his job if Podlesh’s injury keeps him out for a while.
Special teams clarity
Aside from deciding position battles, the fourth preseason game helps the Bears determine which bubble players are best suited to contribute on special teams. This is special teams coordinator Dave Toub’s time to see what he has to work with, even though he has publicly stated he has little say in what players make the roster who can help him out.