By Laurence Holmes-
(CBS) Saturday provides the first opportunity to see what the Bears look like in game-situations. I caution you to not draw too many conclusions from what you see. The Bears are not game-planning and no matter what they say, winning this game is not important. This is about putting stuff on tape to help the team get better in the classroom & practice field. Here are some of the things that I’m interested in seeing Saturday:
Starter Playing Time: Lovie Smith usually plays starters a couple of series in the first preseason game just to get them back into the swing of things. I’m curious if the starters will be pushed a bit longer because of the lack of an off-season. There are so many new moving parts that game experience may shed some light on things that practice can’t. My guess is that the starters will go about a quarter.
Offensive Line Play: How are they aligned? Are the splits good? Is there a level of “nasty” in the run blocking? This is essentially a new group because there has been so much movement. The Bears have a lot of faith in J’Marcus Webb’s athleticism. Watching Jay Cutler’s level of comfort in the pocket on his dropbacks should be interesting. The Bears think Gabe Carimi can be a mauler in the run game. The Garza/Cutler exchange has been pretty clean in camp, does that continue in game situations?
Field Conditions: The Park District and the Bears have had a week to improve on what was an “unplayable” surface last week. George McCaskey told the Score this week that the Bears were going to take a bigger role in the preparation of the field. So watch to see if there are any big spaces in the turf and how quickly it gets chewed up. It’s hard for me to believe that the new sod has settled in, but we shall see.
Dane Sanzebacher: Every year there’s a player like this. A guy that looks great in practice and gets a lot of attention. Sanzenbacher was undrafted out of Ohio State, but the Bears wanted him and he took less money to sign. The reason is that he thinks he can push for playing time. He has good hands, good instincts and has made great strides in learning the slot position. He’s been rewarded with first team reps in practice. Now let’s see if he’s as sure of himself when guys are going to hit him.
Matt Forte: Will he even play a snap?
Special Teams: The rules have changed. Plenty of teams are going to experiement with their kickoffs in the pre-season. Last night around the league we saw a bunch of touchbacks, but we also saw a 103-yard touchdown return. I think Bears fans will be pleased with new punter Adam Podlesh. He is a directional kicker (like Brad Maynard), but has a bigger leg. He’s athletic too. The Bears factored in his holding ability when they targeted him so hopefully there won’t be any mishaps.
If you’re trying to make the team, special teams is where a player can catch the coaches’ eye. Were you in the right spot? Did you breakdown properly? If the play got by you, did you give up? For the new guys, it’s a chance to shine, without doing a ton of thinking. Also, watch Sam Hurd. He’ll be one of the gunners on punts. He was a special teams standout in Dallas.
Battle at CB: Tim Jennings will start opposite of Charles Tillman. Jennings hasn’t done anything to lose his job, but the Bears were hoping that Zackary Bowman would be further along in his developmnet.
Linebacker Depth: Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are all-world. Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh are dependable players. Everything else is a mystery. From a sheer numbers standpoint, the Bears would like to have six NFL-caliber linebackers. I count four. If players don’t impress, the Bears will have to seriously consider adding players over the next couple of weeks. The position is very thin.
Competition at WR: The Bears have sent a message to Johnny Knox. Now he has a chance to respond with his play. There has been a lot of faith placed in Roy Williams to be a play-maker because of his familiarity with the system. They’ve fostered a sense of competition throughout camp with these two guys. Let’s see if it’s a fair fight.
The first game is usually a little sloppy and I expect it’ll be even more sloppy this year because the new guys have had only two weeks to get up to speed. The most imporant thing is that the game you love is back. No matter what, you should sit back and enjoy it.
As always, 670 The Score will have you covered during the game. I’ll be tweeting from the game, so follow me (@lholmes670) for instant analysis. Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) will have updates from the sidelines and Adam Hoge (@AdamHogeCBS) will be covering the game for 670TheScore.com and will have live updates on Twitter as well.