Training Camp has officially ended but there are still roughly 30 Chicago Bears players who will need to be cut before the season begins. The best way to evaluate one's potential is to see him in live game action. So while tonight's matchup at the New York Giants won't count toward the final win/loss record, it will go a long way toward shaping the 2011 roster, and ultimately the team's chances of reaching another Super Bowl.
Here then, in no particular order, are a touchdown's-worth of important things to watch for in tonight's contest:
The running back competition
Marion Barber and Chester Taylor have been battling the whole preseason for the backup spot to Matt Forte. Right now, Barber has a significant lead due to his downhill, bruising running style – something the team lacked in 2010. Kahlil Bell is a decent runner who excels in special teams. He also comes at a much cheaper price than Taylor, who will need to be outstanding throughout the remainder of the preseason if he's going to earn a roster a spot.
DE Vernon Gholston
Backup defensive ends
DE Corey Wootton's injury in the opening kickoff against the Bills dealt a big blow to the depth the team was building at the position. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije have played very well in camp, yet Wootton was the most impressive end during the first three weeks of practice. He's lost for at least a month, which opens the door for Vernon Gholston and rookie Mario Addison to earn more playing time. If either can stand out tonight it will go a long way toward them making the final 53.
No. 2 corner
Charles Tillman is entrenched as the team's No. 1 cornerback but across the field the position is wide open. Tim Jennings is leading the race but by a slim margin. Zack Bowman is out with a concussion and likely won't play. Jennings could widen the gap between he and Bowman with a strong showing tonight. Joshua Moore and Corey Graham also have an opportunity to work their way into the competition for No. 2. Both will get an extended look tonight.
Williams versus Knox
Upon his arrival in Chicago, Roy Williams was handed the starting flanker spot over the incumbent, Johnny Knox. Yet Williams hasn't been that impressive in camp and still drops too many passes. Knox hasn't looked much better and seems distracted by the competition. One of these players needs to distinguish himself.
Major Wright and Chris Harris are set as the starting safeties. Behind them, both Craig Steltz and rookie Chris Conte have been very inconsistent. They seem to be developing but very slowly. Each player blows at least one of his coverage assignments every practice. The last two practices have been especially tough. Conte, known for his tackling ability, was very poor in that area against the Bills. The duo needs a better showing tonight to help them build confidence.
The front five
There are a few guys on the starting offensive line that are on very short leashes after last week's performance. RG Lance Louis and LT J'Marcus Webb played horribly through most of the first half in the Bills game. Webb – due to his recent switch to the left side, his age and the Bears' lack of options behind him – probably has a little more leeway than Louis. Backup C Chris Spencer is making $6 million over the next two seasons. The team wants to play him. If they move him into the stating lineup, it will slide Garza back to right guard, which would push Louis down to the second team. A poor outing tonight might be all the impetus Mike Tice needs to make the move.
After last week's 3-7 performance, coordinator Mike Martz let rookie Nathan Enderle take all the second-team quarterback reps the following practice. Martz inserted Hanie back with the twos the following day, leading some to believe it was a motivational tactic. Either way, Hanie has been subpar in practice so far and needs a good performance to give his confidence a boost. Cutler is going to take some hits this year, meaning the team is likely to have to call on Hanie at some point in the season.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.