By Laurence Holmes-
CHICAGO (CBS) — Preseason games are about opportunity. When given the chance, can you catch the coaches’ eyes? Saturday night a few Bears players made a good impression and increased the level of competition.
With a shortened off-season, the Bears are placing more weight on what they see in these games. Lovie Smith knows what to expect from veteran players, which is why their time on the field is short. For those players that have something to prove, what they put on film can be an invaluable teaching tool.
“It helps a lot. That’s why you want to get to the first game as soon as possible.” Smith said. “You can’t do a lot of hitting in practice, but you do want to get to this game. To not have a big game-plan in, it’s not like we game-plan. You just want the guys to go out there and read their keys, carry out their assignments and see what they can do.”
Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell put pressure on Chester Taylor with their play Saturday. Barber was stout in pass protection and ran with fury. He finished the game with 45 yards on 7 carries. Bell had 73 yards on the ground and 46 receiving. Being versatile especially as a back-up is key if you’re going to play for Mike Martz. Bell was given a long look and took advantage.
“I just feel like when I do get an opportunity, I wanna make the best of it. I can’t really control what’s going to happen with me, but I know the coaches in preseason are going to give everyone the opportunity to show what they can do. Hopefully, I can impress them enough to get an opportunity to get on the field.” Bell said.
Bell has added value because he’s a special teamer too.
“The more you can do in this league, the longer you’ll stay around.” Bell said. “If you’re just a running back, unless you’re Barry Sanders, it’s not going to pan out for you. The more you can do, the better your chances are.”
Since becoming a Bear, Taylor hasn’t had a role on special teams. It’s hard to believe that the Bears will keep four tailbacks. If Barber and Bell continue strong play, it’ll make the decision on who to keep a tough one.
On the defense, Henry Melton was given the start at 3-technique. He was used as a 3-down lineman and not just a specialist. Melton was disruptive against the run. He had two run stuffs and one tackle for loss. He’s been impressive at camp, but wanted to make sure he could do it in games.
“I just wanted to carry over what I was doing in practice, just coming off the ball and trying to disrupt things. Especially in the run game.” Melton said.
Amobi Okoye was a top ten pick five years ago, but hasn’t quite lived up to his potential. Saturday night he flashed his athleticism getting two sacks. The Bears are looking to find the right mix of defensive tackles and Melton and Okoye looked the part.
As for the secondary, Major Wright did some nice things to solidify his spot as the starting safety alongside Chris Harris. Deeper down the depth chart, cornerback Mike Holmes came up with a two tackles and an interception which caught Smith’s eye.
Now the coaches will review the tape and evaluate who deserves more playing time. They’ll also challenge the guys that did do well to sustain that level. The first preseason game isn’t about winning, it’s about improvement and shaping the 53-man roster.
Players who didn’t do well will have something to build on. Guard Lance Louis called his performance “below-average”.
“My technique was just sloppy. I definitely could’ve did better things with my feet and my hands,” Louis said.
It’s a results-oriented business and Louis knows that time is running out is he wants to solidify his spot on the offensive line.
“Every day is critical for me.” Louis said.
This year, the pre-season games can make or break a player.
For more Bears coverage throughout training camp, follow Laurence on Twitter (@LHolmes670).