The first of three exhibition games couldn’t come at a better time for the Bears.
With all the talk around Halas Hall the past three days basically all Roquan Smith, all the time, a young and inexperienced front office, coaching staff and roster are in real need of a distraction from the major disturbance Smith has become.
The arrival of the Kansas City Chiefs at noon Saturday will provide some temporary relief.
Head coach Matt Eberflus fed that beast Thursday, announcing that starters would play somewhere between 15 and 20 plays.
He went on to add, “Some guys are going 10-15, some guys are going 15-20, but again, that changes by guy.”
While the bulk of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s and defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ new schemes will be kept under wraps, we will get our first hints of what they will look like under live fire.
The three exhibitions are the only time before the opener against the San Francisco 49ers we will see full-speed, full-contact football, and there will be some significant shifts in the evaluations of individual players and units as a result.
What we see Saturday will go further than all 13 practices to date in determining the starting lineups and bottom half of the eventual 53-man roster.
Significant players we’re unlikely to see because of minor injuries and/or missed practices include RB David Montgomery, TE Cole Kmet, TE Ryan Griffin, TE James O’Shaughnessy, CB Kyler Gordon, S Dane Cruikshank, CB Thomas Graham Jr., WR Velus Jones Jr., WR Byron Pringle, WR David Moore, C Lucas Patrick and DL Mario Edwards Jr.
Most Interesting Position Battles To Watch
Offensive Line: With the first exhibition comes the first-team depth chart, and the worst-kept secret of camp is official. Going in Saturday the starting offensive line is LT Braxton Jones, LG Cody Whitehair, C Sam Mustipher, RG Michael Schofield and RT Riley Reiff.
That is unlikely to change soon with the four veterans, but for Jones, Saturday will be the biggest day of his pro career. It’s one thing to look the part in practice, Saturday we get our first look at him with full contact against NFL competition.
It is unclear whether Teven Jenkins will play, but when the second and third teams hit the field, all eyes should be on him, Larry Borom and Ja’Tyre Carter as the guys most likely to claim remaining roster spots and push the starters.
Wide receivers: Equanimeous St. Brown has grabbed the starting spot across from Darnell Mooney for now, but with N’Keal Harry out through at least the first three or four regular-season games and Pringle, Jones Jr. and David Moore all probably out Saturday, this will be a huge opportunity for Dazz Newsome, Dante Pettis, Tajae Sharpe, Isaiah Coulter, Nsimba Webster and Kevin Shaa to make a statement and possibly steal a roster spot with no more than one or two likely making the team. Let’s see who steps up.
Tight ends: I’ve been on the Chase Allen bandwagon since training camp, and with Kmet, Griffin and O’Shaughnessy all likely out, this is his, Rysen John’s and Jake Tonges’ chance to make a statement.
Linebackers: With Smith out, we’ll see a lot of Nicholas Morrow, Matt Adams and Joe Thomas, giving us a chance to see how dire or surprising this could look if Smith is traded or holds out into the season, and which of Adams or Thomas has a better chance of ending up the starting Sam linebacker if Smith’s back.
Caleb Johnson and Lake Zurich’s Jack Sanborn also will get significant reps and test the depth in this group.
Special teams: Cairo Santos, Trenton Gill and Patrick Scales appear set, but watch closely as multiple players are shuttled in and out on protection and coverage units with this being their best ticket to a roster spot. Newsome, Webster, Khalil Herbert and Trestan Ebner will battle to secure return duties over an absent Jones Jr.