Things to watch in the Bears-Panthers preseason game

August 9th, 2013 - 2:00 pm

It’s finally here. Football is back. Sure, it’s just preseason and we’re not likely to see much of the starters — or much from them — but it’s football. The crack of the pads, the thrill of the pursuit, the big plays that will surely result from missed assignments.

Oh, and crisp, clean game jerseys will be a welcome sight from the bland garb they don in Bourbonnais at camp.

But what do we watch in a meaningless, glorified practice? All too often, the mantra for fans of all 32 NFL teams is: “Let’s just come out of this game healthy. No injuries.”

Of course we want the Bears to remain healthy. That’s a given. But preseason games provide opportunities to watch other things that may not be at the forefront of the casual fan’s mind.

Here are a few of those opportunities:

How will Kyle Long fare in his first NFL action?

Word out of training camp is that the Bears’ first-round draft pick and potential starting right guard has had a typical camp in terms of rookie production. That is to say, he’s had his ups and downs, moments of encouragement and enticement as well as a need to improve and play more consistently. Long has incredible strength and has bullied defensive linemen around on occasion. But can he turn that around in game action and against actual opponents? And can he do it with consistency?

Will Shea McClellin take that next step?

Last year’s first-round pick, Shea McClellin, is supposed to take that next step, as most second-year players do. With Israel Idonije no longer on the team, McClellin will be counted on to be a rotational defensive end with Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton. Whereas the mature Long looks pretty comfortable with his surroundings, McClellin was awestruck last year when he got to Chicago. Has he settled down yet? Has he picked up some new moves and counter moves to avoid getting swallowed up by bigger offensive linemen?

Is Isaiah Frey legit?

Every year there is a player or two who turns heads and makes a name for himself in training camp and the preseason, only to fizzle out when the regular season comes about. This year’s version might be second-year cornerback Isaiah Frey. After Kelvin Hayden tore his hamstring and the Bears were informed he will miss the season, Frey stepped into the nickel back role and might be counted on to log heavy playing time. Can the youngster handle the workload? Frey spent last year on the practice squad so he’ll need to have incredible turnaround to make the most of this opportunity.

Why all this talk about Joe Anderson?

Similar to Frey, there’s a buzz about wide receiver Joe Anderson in Bourbonnais. Anderson has been making plays and making the most out of his opportunities. But will he make the team? Can he make a contribution on this roster? He’ll have to earn it on the field in the preseason, and his development and production are worth monitoring.

How do the running backs factor into this offense?

I wouldn’t expect to see much of Matt Forte Friday night, if he plays at all, but we can get somewhat a glimpse of how the running backs are utilized in this offense. The backs ought to be used in the passing game quite a bit and Forte should have a big year. But, God forbid, if Forte were to go down with an injury, how would his backups — Michael Bush, Armando Allen, Michael Ford — fair?

Can Jon Bostic step in on Day 1 and replace the former face of the franchise?

It’s a tall order, that’s for sure, but rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic may have to take Brian Urlacher’s job and run with it. When D.J. Williams went down with an injury, it provided an opening for the young Bostic to step in with the first defense and get some reps. He ought to see a lot of playing time against the Panthers as well as throughout the preseason — unless he grasps the starting job by the final preseason game, in which case they may hold him out or keep his reps limited.

What will Marc Trestman’s approach be in his first preseason game?

Don’t expect the full array of Marc Trestman’s offense, or even a healthy dose of it. Trestman has spent enough time in the NFL to know how the practice games work. He’ll want his starters to get a small amount of game action to pick up their game speed preparation (which they’ve been doing throughout training camp) and then Trestman will want to see what he has in his second-, third-, and even fourth-stringers. But it will be a special moment for the Bears’ new coach who has been waiting a long time to be a head coach of an NFL team.