Five Things To Watch: Bears-Chargers
August, 14, 2013
By Jeff Dickerson | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Mike McCarnJay Cutler will have Brandon Marshall and more plays to show some progress on Thursday.CHICAGO -- Here are five things to keep an eye on Thursday night when the Chicago Bears host the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field.
1. The progress of the offense: The 10 snaps the Bears' starting offense took in Carolina is too small of a sample size to draw any sort of conclusions. But we might have a better idea about where the offense stands on Thursday night, if the first team plays at least a quarter, as expected. Take away Jay Cutler's early interception, and the quarterback had a decent performance versus the Panthers, even without Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the field. With Marshall back in the lineup and Matt Forte expected to carry the ball more than one time against the Chargers -- we should have a better feel for the Bears' offense heading into next week.
2. The right side of the offensive line: Kyle Long's rise up to the depth chart does not come as a surprise. Although Long is still in the process of refining his technique, footwork and overall feel for playing right guard at the NFL level, he was the Bears' first-round pick (No. 20) in the draft. The plan was always for him to be a starter his rookie year. The surprise is fifth-round draft choice Jordan Mills replacing J'Marcus Webb this week at right tackle. Is this development more of a credit to Mills or an indictment of Webb, who if I recall correctly, basically entered training camp as the clear cut No. 1 right tackle. Whatever the reason, Mills has a great opportunity to win the job permanently. But if he falters, veterans Eben Britton and likely Jonathan Scott are waiting in the wings. So is Webb, technically.
3. Can the rookies sustain success: There is no way of knowing for sure how a first-year player is going to react after he tastes initial success. Can he sustain it? That is the question surrounding linebackers Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, wide receiver Marquess Wilson and defensive end Cornelius Washington going into Week 2 of the preseason. All four rookies made plays last week in Carolina, the most notables being Bostic's 51-yard interception return for a touchdown and Wilson's 58-yard reception. But Greene quietly had the strongest game of all, recording four tackles, one special teams stop, plus a tackle-for-loss in the red zone that required the fourth-rounder to anticipate the play, read his keys and shoot the gap to finish the play. Even the athletic but still developing Washington stood out with a couple of tackles. What will they do for an encore?
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIWhat will Jonathan Bostic do for an encore Thursday?
4. Isaiah Frey pursuit of nickel back: Frey has been one of the best stories of training camp, hands down, but he cannot afford to let up just because he took over the No. 1 nickel back spot after Kelvin Hayden suffered a season ending hamstring tear. The Bears have other options on the roster in the event Frey slips in the coming weeks. The coaches could ask Pro Bowler Tim Jennings to slide inside to nickel and bring in cornerback Zack Bowman on passing downs. That is a plausible scenario. Rookie Demontre Hurst has appeared to do a nice job as the No. 2 nickel in camp, however, it's unclear if the Bears would be comfortable turning the complicated position over to an undrafted rookie with zero experience. Frey didn't appear in an NFL game last year, but at least he spent portions of the year around the team, plus the entire offseason. Recently signed defensive back Derrick Martin has experience at nickel, and so does safety Tom Nelson dating back to his days with the Cincinnati Bengals. The point is, Frey needs to keep pushing and making plays to ensure the Bears don't eventually turn to Plan B.
5. The reserve quarterbacks: Barring an injury, veteran Josh McCown enters the regular season as the Bears' No. 2 quarterback. That really isn't up for debate. Bears general manager Phil Emery once called McCown "a glue guy" for his ability to keep things together behind the scenes. I couldn't agree more. But after McCown, do the Bears keep three quarterbacks and break the preseason with Matt Blanchard on the 53-man roster? The question has nothing to do with the way Blanchard has performed in the preseason. He managed to complete 15-of-18 passes for 194 yards (one interception) versus the Panthers, despite being sacked five times. Blanchard has a strong arm, looks good in practice against the other backups, and seems like an intelligent and hard-working kind of guy. But sometimes the NFL comes down to a numbers game. Somebody is going to be squeezed off the roster to make room for Devin Hester. Remember, Hester is no longer a wide receiver, he's purely a specialist. That means the Bears will have four guys on the roster strictly for special teams. Where does that roster spot come from? Well, sometimes teams carry only two quarterbacks, as the Bears did last year. Would Blanchard clear waivers and be eligible to be signed to the practice squad for another year? Tough to say. All Blanchard can do is keep competing at the same level he has been. But it certainly wouldn't hurt his chances to earn a better paycheck if he lights it up whenever he hits the field in the final preseason games.