BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Bears’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli knows he has tough decisions to make soon.
In fact, it’s likely he and the staff will start naming some of the winners of the various position battles as soon as next week, based on the timetable the club faces. Although the Bears don’t open until Sept. 12, teams typically treat their third preseason game as somewhat of a dress rehearsal for the regular season before resting many of the starters for the exhibition finale.
So after the game Saturday, the Bears will likely gear up for the “dress rehearsal”, in which they’ll subject the starters to their most significant action of the preseason.
“We’ve got to find out who can step up and play,” Marinelli said.
Currently, the club’s most hotly-contested position battles on defense appear to be at linebacker, defensive end and safety. Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa are fighting for the start at strong side linebacker, while Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije compete for the start at defensive end opposite Julius Peppers.
Marinelli indicated his most difficult decision could come at linebacker between Roach and Tinoisamoa.
“Oh, man,” Marinelli said. “They’re both playing well. They’re going after it.”
Marinelli said that a player’s performance in the preseason serves as just a fraction for the overall evaluation.
“We put a lot of stock in practice every day -- what a man does -- because it tells you a lot. It’s a little easier to get wired into the game,” he said. “You’re looking for the guy who -- game or practice -- it doesn’t matter to them. You know what you’ve got as a competitor; a toughness and what he’s bringing to the table, and the work habits. So we put a lot of stock in every day in practice, and how he can take material from a classroom on a hot day and go out and not make a mistake; the concentration. It’s really not [about] intelligence it’s [about] concentration. It’s all of it. We evaluate it every day.”
Camp battle focus: tight end
A month ago Kellen Davis was in trouble.
Outplayed by journeyman Richard Angulo in offseason workouts, the former fifth-round pick out of Michigan State actually began training camp behind Angulo in the tight end pecking order.
"Right after OTAs, I told Kellen I wasn't really happy with where he was, at that point, with his footwork," Bears tight ends coach Mike DeBord said. "I said in this league that is a key to get started in blocking. You can't block with bad footwork in this league."
Davis got the message.
While Angulo's play seemed to level off once training camp began, Davis kicked it into high gear, and before long, vaulted past Angulo on the team’s preseason depth chart. Although the Bears are crowded at the position, Davis is expected to earn a roster spot for a third consecutive year.
"From day 1 of training camp, all the way through until right now, he's really continued to get better and better," DeBord said. "He's really improved his footwork, and is doing a great job keeping his hands tight. He's playing with really good pad level and now he's running really good routes."
"He's been dominating now [when blocking]. He's been unbelievably powerful, strong, and moving guys. From day 1, he's really bought in. So I would say it's been a mindset of his to really want to get better and improve."
"He just made that decision."
Heat index: 90
Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer saw his first action since injuring his foot last weekend in San Diego.
Earl Bennett (hamstring), Major Wright (finger), Caleb Hanie (shoulder), Craig Steltz (ankle), Josh Bullocks (quad) and Patrick Mannelly (stinger) all sat out Thursday's practice. If Mannelly is unable to play Saturday night against the Raiders, veteran Desmond Clark will handle long-snapping duties.
Thursday marked the final training camp practice open to the public and media. The team will conduct a closed walk-through Friday morning before officially breaking camp and heading up north to Halas Hall.
Rookie Freddie Barnes made the catch of the day in Thursday’s workout, with a one-handed grab as he tight roped the sideline.