By Chris Emma–
(CBS) For the general viewing public, preseason football often becomes a laughingstock.
Frankly, the jokes are fair. The NFL boasts a dominating presence in which even its exhibition games garner the national spotlight. The casual fan gets a bit of fatigue well before Week 1 even nears.
However, the diehard football junkie loves these games. It’s where you bust out the 90-man roster and look at the position battles.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace and his other executives are looking forward to Thursday evening’s preseason opener. The defending Super Bowl champion Broncos are in town, and the Bears are offered the chance to hit somebody in a different color uniform. Pace will get a good chance to evaluate the many details of his team’s roster.
Whether you’re a casual fan, a diehard or the general manager, there’s something to watch for in these preseason games.
1.) What will White do?
Don’t be surprised if Bears receiver Kevin White has a few butterflies in the stomach on Thursday night. After a lost rookie season in 2015, White has still yet to take the field for a game with the Bears — preseason or regular season. Thus, Thursday brings a special moment.
White will take to Soldier Field essentially as a rookie, getting the feelings out of the way before lining up out wide. The Bears have high hopes for White, and he has been impressive during training camp.
Let’s see what White can do in game action. He will line up as a top receiver, having already emerged as a go-to target for Jay Cutler.
White has shown a flair for the spectacular in Bourbonnais. It’s going to be fascinating to see what comes of his action at Soldier Field.
2.) Look for Leonard
White will join No. 9 pick and edge rusher Leonard Floyd as intriguing young Bears to follow during the preseason opener.
Unlike White, Floyd hasn’t secured playing time just yet. He has worked with the first-team defense and seems to have an emerging role in the Bears’ defense, but it will take a strong showingThursday and the rest of this preseason to earn a firm role in 2016.
Floyd has a slender 6-foot-6 frame, meaning he will have to beat NFL tackles with his great speed and finesse. His development is an ongoing process, and Thursday brings the first test.
3.) Can Langford run away with the job?
When the Bears elected to let Matt Forte walk, Pace came out and expressed his confidence in the team’s young running backs, specifically Jeremy Langford. Consider it a nice vote of confidence for the second-year player, but was it warranted?
Langford was effective during his rookie season, but he didn’t exactly win over the starting job. His 3.6 yards per carry average was a bit concerning, as was the inconsistency in the passing game. Langford needs to be a versatile back, but he hasn’t completely shown it.
During the preseason, Langford will be pressed for carries by Jacquizz Rodgers, Ka’Deem Carey and rookie Jordan Howard. He must go prove his place.
4.) All down the D-line
Bears newcomer Akiem Hicks has brought great excitement to this team. He became an important addition this offseason, bringing a massive, steady presence to the defensive line.
Hicks will pair with Eddie Goldman on the defensive line, and the Bears hope they can create problems. The two are big bodies who explode off the snap and can create disruption in the backfield. Of course, they’re the certainties on the defensive line. What about the rest of the group?
Veteran Mitch Unrein is likely to be the third hand in the ground for base defense. Bears coach John Fox loves the consistency of Unrein, whom he coached in Denver. But rookie Jonathan Bullard should have plenty to say about how reps are divided. Many experts believed Bullard was the steal of this past draft as the Bears took him in the third round, and he has shown early on that testament may be true.
Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson, a pair of Phil Emery picks, are locked into battles to stay on the roster and earn a spot in the rotation. Their playing time is certainly worth noting, too.
5.) It all starts up front
Soldier Field went silent last Saturday when a Bear stayed down on the field. It was Hroniss Grasu, the starting center who would later be diagnosed with a torn ACL to end his season.
Losing Grasu was devastating to the Bears. They deeply care about him as a teammate, which was of first mention in the days that proceeded the injury. Of course, his absence will be felt on the field, too. Grasu was in line to start at center for his second season and was having a quality preseason by all accounts. Now, the Bears are moving forward with veteran Ted Larsen at center and not much depth.
The Bears have to hope for good health on the offensive line, because they’ve failed to solidify depth. They’ve seen injuries and even two sudden retirements create concerns up front. Recently signed veterans Amini Silatolu, Garry Williams and Mike Adams bring starting experience in reserve roles, but the three remain uncertainties.
The preseason opener with the Broncos brings the chance to evaluate how the Bears’ offensive line can hold up with little depth. The answer may not be great.