By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Soon, there will be real games.
The NFL’s long offseason led into training camp and the preseason, and now days are numbers until Week 1. Finally, football is upon us.
Thursday brings something different. The Bears have one final preseason tune-up, with most roster decisions set. It’s one final time to impress general manager Ryan Pace and his regime.
The Bears will continue their traditional preseason series with the Browns, traveling to Cleveland for their fourth and final exhibition. Don’t expect the starters to play, and key members of the team will be limited if forced to play.
Even as Browns coach Hue Jackson plans to play starters, Bears coach John Fox won’t budge.
“Uh, no,” Fox replied when asked if Jackson would force his hand. “I think we kind of know what we’re gonna do. We pretty much keep that to ourselves until we get out there. What they do won’t impact what we do.”
So, what is there to watch for on Thursday? Here are a few storylines.
1.) Reps, reps, reps
The Bears have most of their starters figured out by now, like most teams in the NFL, but they’re far from set with some of their rotations for playing time.
Thursday offers important reps for some players who haven’t taken the field much in the preseason. David Fales will get a good chance at quarterback, Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard will be afforded the opportunity to grow at running back and receivers Marc Mariani, Josh Bellamy, Cameron Meredith and Daniel Braverman should see plenty of work.
Rookies like Leonard Floyd (more on him later), Jonathan Bullard, Nick Kwiatkoski and Deiondre’ Hall will find an important chance to learn, and perhaps the Bears’ young secondary can sort itself out a bit with playing time.
The fourth preseason game rarely brings importance for the regular season, though it can help foster development for the long term.
2.) Concern corner
Who will line up opposite of Texans star DeAndre Hopkins come Week 1? The Bears are hoping it’s Kyle Fuller or Tracy Porter, but they could face a dire situation.
The Bears are without their top three cornerbacks after Porter sustained a concussion last Saturday. Fuller is recovering from a knee scope, and Bryce Callahan is dealing with a hamstring injury. None of the three will play Thursday in Cleveland, and each of their statuses for the opener in Houston remain up in the air.
Thursday brings a chance for the Bears to sort out their emergency options at cornerback. Hall, Jacoby Glenn, Demontre Hurst and De’Vante Bausby expect to see opportunities at cornerback in what will be the final audition for the depth chart.
Hall is an intriguing player to watch, a fourth-round rookie out of Northern Iowa who flashes plenty of potential.
3.) Leonard Floyd
What do the Bears have in Floyd, the edge rusher the Bears moved up to nab in the first round? We’re no closer to knowing the big picture.
Floyd projects to play a role in the Bears defense this season, with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio appreciating the speed off the edge. What his potential holds down the road is far from certain.
Floyd hasn’t shown much during the preseason, both in games and on the practice field. He has plenty of athleticism, but it hasn’t produced much in terms of results.
The key for Floyd will be developing a finesse game to make up for his lack of edge rusher size. Bears outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt has been guiding him along the way.
On Thursday, Floyd should be in the spotlight as he looks to show what he’s capable of in this Bears defense.