By Laurence Holmes-
(CBS) It’s a slow crawl during this preseason with the Bears. It makes you wish that you can hit the fast-forward button and just get to the regular season, but you can’t. Preseason games are better than practice, but they only gives you a snapshot of the team.
When the Bears take on the Broncos Thursday night at Soldier Field, you won’t see their cards. Lovie Smith does not gameplan in the preseason, so the mosaic of the Bears offense won’t become clearer until they host Indianapolis Sept. 9.
That being said, there are a couple things I’m interested in and looking for when the guys take the field tonight:
Where In The World Is Brian Urlacher?
Throughout his career, Urlacher has been a fantastic teammate. His peers speak about him with respect and reverence. The speculation on where he is and what he’s doing has been frustrating the last couple of days. We know he’s not gonna play in the game and I think it’s unlikely he plays at all in the preseason, but I would be shocked to not see him on the sidelines. Perhaps that will add some clarity if he has been out actually dealing with “personal issues” or if his MCL/PCL injury was re-aggravated.
If you’ve been down to Bourbonnais, you may have noticed that the Bears are doing more live hitting. They’ve had plenty of sessions where the third and fourth string players are tackling. This is a departure for Smith who is known around the league for running a player-friendly camp. I would imagine the extra work may make special teams look a bit cleaner than it ordinarily would in the first preseason game.
Devin Hester has been working on fielding “sky balls” in the punt game. We’ll see if Dave Toub allows him to catch a couple in game situations. Cornerback Greg McCoy (#39) was an outstanding returner at TCU. Eric Weems (#14) went to the Pro Bowl two years ago. With guys flying around with their hair on fire on returns, they sometimes are so amped up they get out of their lanes. You could see a big return.
It’s been a tough camp for Shea McClellin (#99). Tonight might give him a chance to not think so much and let off some steam. He has the NFL motor and I think he has NFL speed. He hasn’t shown NFL strength. In a game situation, will that speed make up for what he gives up in size?
Hard To Miss
Rookie safety Brandon Hardin (#35) is a big, physical player. At 6’3, 220lbs, he considers himself part of the new breed of what he called “cover safeties” — bigger guys to deal with the hybrid tight ends (Finley, Graham, Gronk, etc…).
He’s seen reps with the first unit, but he told me earlier this week: “On Thursday, I wanna show Chicago what they’re gonna get out of a third round pick … and prove to them that I was worth their investment.”
He is a very serious young man who likes to hit. I’ll be watching if he stays disciplined. On play-action, does he get sucked in on the fake because he’s so excited to make a big play?
The Godfather Of O-Line Play
It’s imperative that J’Marcus Webb continues to develop and win 1-on-1 battles, but for now, I’m more interested in undrafted free agent left tackle James Brown (#78). Brown had some third and fourth round grades before the draft. He’s looked quite competent in camp. He initially started out at right tackle, but Mike Tice moved him to left.
Here’s what Tice told me on why they made the switch: “Well, we moved him to the left side. He looked uncomfortable on the right. He’s played left his whole career. He’s a great athlete. We wanna give him a better chance to succeed and get more reps. He’s athletic.”
Brown is 6’4, 304 lbs, has long arms and plays with a lot of nasty. The Bears like how he practices. If he does as well in games, I think he has a real shot of making this team and maybe pushing for that left tackle job at some point.
Enjoy the game. Enjoy seeing Brandon Marshall walk out in a Bears uniform for the first time, but don’t read too much into anything you see. Just remember it’s all part of the process. I’ll be on 670 The Score at 7 p.m. with even more info and you can hear my full interview with Hardin (which I think you’ll like) during the show.
For more Bears coverage from Laurence Holmes, follow him on Twitter at @LaurenceWHolmes. Listen to his show weeknights from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. on 670 The Score & 670TheScore.com.