By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) Opening preseason games are ugly to watch, to the point that sitting in your dentist’s chair and having a root canal can be more fun. There have only been a couple weeks of practice, and the starters usually play less than a quarter. Once the reserves get into the game, the timing is way off because they don’t get the practice reps that the starters get.
Because of the above, I seldom watch team play in opening preseason games. Rather, I watch individual play. With a few exceptions, we know how the starters will be. What we don’t know is who will be the backups.
When I was working in the NFL, I would spend at least two hours every day watching the practice tape. By doing that, you could see which players had the arrow pointing up and who was regressing. Still, many of the younger players don’t get the practice reps that the starters get, and they then have to take advantage of the opportunity they get in the early preseason games. They have to be productive and show the coaching staff they deserve to be in the mix to make the final 53-man roster or practice squad.
With that in mind, I thought there were a number of Bears who performed well Thursday night in a 27-10 win against the Dolphins when they got their chance to play. Let’s take a look.
Jimmy Clausen – The way quarterbacks go down with injuries, it’s imperative that a club that has a backup who can win some games. In the past, I have never had that much confidence in Clausen’s play. He has always seemed tentative with his play and often had that “deer in headlights” look when facing pressure.
On Thursday, Clausen played with the more poise than I have ever seen him play with since he came into the league. He seemed at ease on the field and made plays. His overall decision-making had to be considered a plus. He finished the night completing 17 of 27 passes for 151 yards, and the offense scored 17 points with him as the quarterback. Sure, he still needs to improve his red-zone play, and that should come as he feels more comfortable with the new offense.
Ka’Deem Carey – When the Bears drafted Jeremy Langford in the fourth round this year, many wrote off Carey’s chance of making the team at running back. Not so fast. Carey played well, rushing for 34 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He also had two catches for 14 yards. He was quick to the hole and decisive, running with power. He also did an adequate job in pass protection.
Carey’s in his second season and like most second-year players, they come to camp with a comfort level they didn’t have as rookies. Carey looks confident and comfortable, and it’s going to be very difficult to cut him.
Will Sutton – When the Bears brought in Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator, many — including myself — were quick to write off Sutton as a member of the roster because he didn’t look like he had the physical traits to play in a 3-4 scheme. He looks more like a 3-technique in a one-gap 4-3 scheme, which is what the Bears ran last year.
In the opener, Sutton may have been the Bears’ best defensive lineman. He showed top instincts and reacted quickly. He was able to get penetration and disrupt plays while also getting some inside pressure while rushing the passer. The other trait that stood out for me was his competitive nature. He played hard on every down. He was aggressive and did a good job in pursuit. Like Carey, it will be tough to cut Sutton.
Michael Ola – People forget that Ola was a valuable member of the Bears’ offensive line last year. While he wasn’t listed as a starter, he did start 12 games at both guard and tackle. Now in his second season, he feels more comfortable about his play.
Ola outperformed Jordan Mills at the right tackle spot Thursday. He played with more intensity, and he’s stronger and a better athlete. Mills had some trouble blocking wide speed when he was in the game. I didn’t see Ola have those same problems. I thought his overall play was consistent. While Ola doesn’t have the ideal height many clubs would like for a tackle, he overcomes that with his long arms. It wouldn’t shock me if Ola gets some reps with the ones this week and eventually replaces Mills at the right tackle position.
Eddie Goldman – There has been a lot of negative comments written about Goldman since the Bears drafted him in the second round. He couldn’t complete his first practice at rookie mini-camp, nor his first training camp practice.
Last week at the Family Day scrimmage, I concentrated on Goldman and felt he played well. On Thursday, he picked up where he left off last week. He showed he can become a dominant force at nose tackle. He’s strong, explosive and tough to move off the line of scrimmage. He does a good job getting penetration and can occupy two blockers. He also showed he can get a good push as a pass rusher.
Yes, Goldman has to learn how to be a pro, but he has excellent traits. And if the last two weeks are any indication, he will get a lot of playing time this season.
John Timu – Timu was an undrafted free agent and as such has to make plays to get noticed. He did Thursday.
Going back to tape last year, Timu was an instinctive tackling machine but undersized. He didn’t get to play until the third quarter but made the most of his opportunity. He finished with three tackles and played aggressively when on special teams.
Right now, I would say he’s more of a practice squad prospect, but if he keeps performing the way he did Thursday, he has an outside shot of making the final 53.
Sherrick McManis – The competition for the backup cornerback spots will be fierce. McManis let it be known that he wants to be on the team. He was the Bears’ leading tackler with four tackles. He stood out in both coverage and run support and was an aggressive tackler. McManis has always been known for his special teams play, but Thursday he showed he could make a run at being the team’s fourth or fifth corner.
Cameron Meredith – Rookie free agents have to find a way to stand out when they get an opportunity to play in the early preseason games. An undrafted free agent from Illinois State, Meredith did just that. He finished the game as the Bears’ leading receiver with four catches for 47 yards. In limited play, he showed good route running skills and hands. While it will be difficult for him to make the roster, I would like to see more of him next week at Indianapolis.
A.J. Cruz – Cruz wasn’t with the Bears during OTAs, as he wasn’t signed until after training camp had already begun. He was a defensive back at Brown while in college and moved to wide receiver when he played in the Arena League.
The Bears are using Cruz as a kick returner, and he just may win the job. While he didn’t have any big returns Thursday, he looked comfortable and confident in his role. He does an excellent job tracking kicks and doesn’t make poor decisions. He also has an explosive first step, which is needed to be a good returner. Being that he was a defensive back in college, you have to figure he’s a capable tackler, which means he may also be able to be used on the kick coverage units. It will be interesting to watch his progress the next few weeks.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.