The Chicago Bears will be making first roster cuts shortly after tonight's preseason matchup against the Tennessee Titans. The majority of players that will make up the final 53-man roster have already been determined, yet there are still a good number of positions up for grabs. Which means, for a number of players, tonight is one of their final chances to prove they belong on the team.
Yet those straddling the cut line won't get a lot of snaps tonight to show their worth. As is typical for all NFL teams, the third preseason game is the one in which the starters play into and sometimes through the third quarter. Fans will get a good long look at the guys who will get the most snaps on Sundays, with the borderline players jumping in for the fourth quarter.
Here then are seven things to watch for, both from the starters and the backups, in tonight's matchup.
To say that Williams is doing nothing more than collecting a paycheck would be a little harsh … but only a little. He has sleepwalked his way through training camp and the first two preseason games, dropping nearly as many balls as he's caught. He looks disinterested, just like he did the past three years in Dallas. His addition to the offense has pushed the team's leading receiver last year, Johnny Knox, to the second team. If Williams cannot, or will not, step up his game, he'll not only be hurting the offense but he'll be stunting the development of a good, young receiver. He needs a strong showing tonight to ease these concerns.
DT Marcus Harrison
There's a glut of talent right now on the interior of the defensive line. Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina and Amobi Okoye have been very good so far. Anthony Adams will again assume his nose tackle role once he's recovered from his calf injury. Yet behind those four is a heated competition. Marcus Harrison, Stephen Paea and Tank Tyler have all been inconsistent up to this point. Amazingly, considering his history, Harrison is the one showing the most effort. Once the starters come off the field, it will be interesting to see which of these three, if any, will stand out and earn himself a roster spot.
There is a close race going on for the third tight end spot between Desmond Clark and Kyle Adams. Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth are the undisputed starters but the backup spot is up for grabs. Clark is a savvy veteran who is capable in all phases of the game. Adams is a rookie who has shown well as both a pass catcher and a blocker. Typically, the Bears keep just three players at the position. Against the Giants though, Adams was used as fullback and H-back, which has led some to speculate the team will keep all four tight ends and wipe out the fullback spot altogether. Pay attention to where Adams lines up tonight. That might give us a good indication as to which way the coaches are leaning.
In the Bills game, Chris Conte stood out because of a missed open-field tackle at the line of scrimmage. Last week, Major Wright was on the receiving end of a juke by Brandon Jacobs, which cost the team a touchdown. In any defense, the back line players have to be able to take the ball carrier down, something Wright and Conte have excelled at in the past. I talked to Conte about it and he made a good point: "The only way to get ready for tackling is tackling. In the games is really the only time you're going to get practice." Both players need to slow down a little and let the game come to them.
The depth at the linebacker position is thin. Behind the starters are all players with hardly any experience in the NFL. With Lance Briggs out last week, the defense was gashed for 218 yards on the ground, including a 97-yard jaunt by Giants rookie Da'Rel Scott in the fourth quarter. Not all of the blame can be placed on the linebackers but the group as a whole did not show well. Brian Iwuh and J.T. Thomas in particular have missed a large number of assignments. Iwuh is too aggressive against the run and Thomas is awful in pass coverage. Dom DeCicco is new to the position and looks lost at times. He's still in possession of the sixth and final linebacker spot but only because Tressor Baptiste, Deron Minor and Patrick Trahan have done nothing to unseat him. Of those players, Trahan is most likely next in line.
The former Jet has not bee impressive so far, yet is surely going to be relied upon for as long as Corey Wootton is injured. He'll get plenty of reps tonight. It would do the team well, and give the coaches peace of mind, if he could make a few plays. If he disappears again then the door may swing wide open for Mario Addison or Nick Reed to walk through.
Tonight could be Chester Taylor's last real shot to steal back the second-team duties from Marion Barber, who has been quite impressive since donning a Bears helmet. Taylor will need to show well as a runner, pass catcher and blocker, and make his presence felt on the field the way Barber has so far. If he doesn't and has his third straight mediocre performance, he'll almost assuredly be looking for work elsewhere in the near future.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
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.