By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) Over the years, the third contest of most teams’ NFL preseason schedule has been the dress rehearsal game. Clubs would play their starters into the third quarter in what for many of them would be the last time they play in the preseason.
In recent years, that hasn’t always been the case. Many teams play their starters for just a half and then let them rest. That might not be the case with the Bears when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals this Saturday night because there are still a number of questions that need to be answered as to who will be on this team after the final cut-down next week.
In my mind, the biggest question is who will be starting at right tackle. Throuhgout the offseason, there was speculation that right guard Kyle Long may be moved outside. To date, we haven’t seen then happen in a game. In the opening preseason game, Jordan Mills got the nod. Last week in Indianapolis, it was Charles Leno. The play of both left something to be desired as both struggled at times.
With Jermon Bushrod sidelined with a back injury earlier this week, Leno may start on the left side against the Bengals. If that happens, then Mills will most likely be at right tackle. My feeling is Michael Ola — who started at both guard and tackle last year — should be the starter. While he lacks the ideal height for a tackle, he has excellent length and is stronger and more athletic than Mills and Leno.
Another burning question: How does the wide receiver position play out, given all its injuries? Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson are locks to make the roster (and all currently hurt), but who will be the other two or three to make the cut? Players like Josh Bellamy, Cameron Meredith and Rashad Lawrence have had their moments, but are they good enough to be trusted to make plays once the regular season starts? A.J. Cruz has also flashed potential, and he just may be the best return guy on the roster. I still wouldn’t rule out a trade or waiver acquisition in the next week.
The Bears want to be able to run the ball effectively. With that in mind, we may see more of two-tight end sets in place of three-receiver formations. If that is the case, who will be the two tight ends on the roster after Martellus Bennett? My guess is Zach Miller and Bear Pascoe. Miller can play fullback when they use that type of formation, and Pascoe is the best blocker. The other player in the equation is Dante Rosario, who’s similar to Miller in style.
On defense, the main question is who will back up Eddie Goldman at the nose tackle position with Jeremiah Ratliff out for three games? Based on play in the first two games, it could well be Brandon Dunn, who has shown promise. He has the bulk necessary to play on the nose. If rookie free agent Terry Williams gets a lot of playing time this week and performs well, he could be the guy.
Regardless of who the backup nose tackle is, I feel that once the regular season starts, we will see Lamarr Houston playing at the defensive end position for at least a few snaps every week.
The other thought that comes to mind is what happens to edge rusher Willie Young? He saw his first game action last week and performed well. With all the injuries at receiver and uncertainty on the offensive line, could he be used as trade bait to acquire a veteran receiver or offensive lineman? How much and how well Young plays this Saturday may tell us the answer.
The final question has to do with the secondary. The Bears could keep four or five corners. Who will that be? In my mind, there are two locks: Kyle Fuller and Sherrick McManis. Fuller because he’s the clubs best cornerback, McManis because he’s a reliable reserve and a quality special teams player. After that, you may be able to flip a coin.
Tim Jennings hasn’t really stood out and is only 5-foot-8, but he’s in the picture. Both Terrance Mitchell and Demontre Hurst have made plays, are young and have size, length and upside. The same can be said for Al Louis-Jean, but can he be trusted mentally not to blow assignments? Alan Ball is another veteran who has a lot of experience, but will that overcome the superior talent of some of the younger players?
The next week will be interesting and tell us plenty.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.