The Chicago Bears’ 2015 season kicks off tonight as they open the preseason against the visiting Miami Dolphins. This gives us our first opportunity to assess many of the new players added to the roster under the Ryan Pace and John Fox regime.
Like most preseason games every year, we’re not exactly going to see much of the starting units, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be anything worth watching.
Here are story lines to pay attention to when the Bears take the field.
Who will backup Matt Forte at running back?
We know that Forte will be heavily utilized when the regular season begins, but as his age continuously climbs, he needs to have a capable backup give him some rest throughout games. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers is listed as the first backup in the Bears’ unofficial preseason depth chart, but all eyes will be on rookie Jeremy Langford to see what he can do. Also of note is where second-year pro Ka’Deem Carey fits in. He didn’t fare well last year and will have an uphill climb to make the roster this year.
Can anybody unseat Jordan Mills at right tackle?
Mills has just the right attitude you want from an offensive lineman: a guy who is confident, believes in himself and his abilities, and likes to fire off the line and go maul people. The problem is that he hasn’t been very consistent and I’d like to see if there is any competition to push him. Michael Ola is listed behind him and Charles Leno, Jr. will have a lot to prove as well.
Will rookie Hroniss Grasu push veteran Will Montgomery for the starting center position?
There’s much to be excited about in Grasu, but he’ll have to earn his stripes before being given the starting job at one of the key positions on the offensive line. Montgomery has spent time with Coach Fox in both Carolina and Denver, so there’s clearly a comfort level there. But let’s see if Grasu shows promise for the future.
Does Royal still have a rapport with Jay Cutler?
Eddie Royal and Jay Cutler had one great season together in Denver in 2008, when Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns. Royal has not come close to that production from his rookie season ever since. The difference between Royal, and former Bears receiver Brandon Marshall — who also had success with Cutler in Denver — is that Royal is a shifty slot receiver who gives the Bears a different type of threat than the twin towers of Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. I don’t know how much, if any, playing time Royal and Cutler will get, but I look forward to that connection.
Can Marquess Wilson pick up where he left off last year?
Wilson looked like an ascending player a year ago before suffering an injury that sidelined him for quite some time. Marshall and Jeffery spoke highly of him, but he has yet to show it on the field. The preseason is his chance to shine, especially with rookie Kevin White hurt and starters Jeffery and Royal not likely to see too much time. Wilson needs to show his deep threat abilities and play consistently.
How will the tight end and fullback position shake out?
The Bears have a hybrid tight end/fullback position listed on their depth chart. The days of the pure fullback are all but gone in the NFL, so I’m curious to see how the Bears use that hybrid position in their offense. How often will one of the tight ends line up in the backfield? Will the quarterback throw passes to them out of the backfield or will it be a position used primarily for blocking? The Bears have seven tight ends on their depth chart and I’m curious to see who — besides starter Martellus Bennett and backup Dante Rosario — will make a name for himself and earn a roster spot.
Do the Bears have enough — and the right kind of — talent on the defensive line?
With the Bears switching to a 3-4 base defense, I’m sure we’ll all be sitting on the edge of our seats to see what kind of transition the team has made so far on that side of the ball. Don’t expect defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he of the clever schemes and formations, to show too much of his arsenal in the preseason. But more than anything I want to see the defense play with hunger and go after the ball carrier. Do the Bears have enough on the defensive line, though? Four of their defensive linemen from last year’s 4-3 defense made the switch to linebacker. How will rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman fare? Can Ego Ferguson, last year’s rookie defensive tackle, make the switch to 3-4 end? Does second-year pro Will Sutton have a position?
How will the linebacking corps sort itself out?
Right now, veteran Jared Allen and prized free agent acquisition Pernell McPhee are listed as the starting outside linebackers. McPhee is an up-and-comer and Allen is an aging veteran who has never played the 3-4. They couldn’t be too more opposite players. Similarly, Shea McClellin and Christian Jones will start on the inside, with Jones having a lot of promise and McClellin having a lot of doubt. I’d like to see how all four of these guys perform as well as what happens behind them. Lamarr Houston and Willie Young — two players signed to play defensive end last year — will have to show what they can do as linebackers. Free agent acquisitions Sam Acho and Mason Foster will be intriguing to watch. Jon Bostic needs to show something in his third season.
How will the young defensive backs perform?
The Bears signed veteran safety Antrel Rolle this offseason and already have Tim Jennings lined up at one cornerback. The team pretty much knows what they have in those guys and there’s not a whole lot to watch with them. I’m curious to see how second-year pro Kyle Fuller fares as the lead cornerback with the departure of Charles Tillman and whether Brock Vereen can hold on to the starting safety position he’s been tentatively awarded.