The third game in the preseason is typically a dress rehearsal for most NFL clubs. Teams like to play the starters well into the third quarter, then rest them the following week.
Such will be the case with the Chicago Bears this evening when they take on the New York Giants. We'll know a lot more about the top of the depth chart, as well as the back end, after tonight's matchup.
The first round of roster cuts will happen Monday, with the Bears trimming the roster by 15 players.
Here are 10 things to watch for during tonight's contest.
The competition for the starting left tackle gig will likely be decided tonight. Coordinator Mike Tice said as much this week. The club may not make an official announcement after the game but Tice will use game film from tonight to decide whether J'Marcus Webb or Chris Williams will be the starter come Week 1. Expect those two to play into the fourth quarter, giving each plenty of reps for Tice to evaluate.
G Chris Spencer
The same goes for the left guard position. Chris Spencer has a tenuous grasp on the starting job, with Chilo Rachal pushing hard for the gig. Last week, Tice inserted Rachal and Williams together for Webb and Spencer every two series. That will likely be the case against the Giants as well. If Spencer struggles and Rachal excels, that could be the impetus for Tice to make a change.
I have not been impressed with Carimi so far in the preseason. Last week, he graded the worst of any starting offensive lineman in terms of pass protection. He struggled stopping Washington OLB Ryan Kerrigan his entire time on the field. I firmly believe the knee is still bothering him, either physically, mentally or both. He just does not look like the same player he was at this point last year. A strong game tonight though could quell some of that worry.
Third running back
The news yesterday of the Bears waiving Kahlil Bell was surprising. The club had $1.26 million invested in him this year, a lot for a third running back, and asked him to take a $700,000 pay cut. Bell didn't want any part of that and asked to be released. Now the door has opened for players like Armando Allen, Lorenzo Booker and even Harvey Unga. Allen appears to be the frontrunner, as he was impressive in training camp. Booker has value as a kick returner but didn't receive a carry in last week's game. Unga brings flexibility, as he can play both fullback and running back. Starting tonight, one of those three players needs to take the reigns.
Alshon Jeffery has led the club in catches (7) and receiving yards (97) in both preseason games, while Devin Hester has just 2 catches for 22 yards combined. Granted, Jeffery has been on the field as a backup much more than Hester but he's made the very most of those extra snaps. Jeffery is already starting to steal reps from Hester with the first team. If he continues to impress these next few weeks and into the regular season, he'll snatch that starting gig from Hester by the Week 6 bye. Hester would do himself well to have a strong game tonight and show he still can be a weapon in the offense.
Remember all of the talk this offseason about how Tice plans to use the tight ends more? Well, so far in the preseason, that hasn't been the case. Starter Kellen Davis has just one catch and backup Matt Spaeth has no catches. Kyle Adams and Evan Rodriguez have five catches between them. So far, it's been all wide receivers, all day. The Bears may be keeping their tight ends under wraps, so opposing defensive coordinators will mistakenly pay too much attention to the wideouts. But these tight ends need to get into the flow of this offense during game action. Getting them some more looks tonight, especially Davis, would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
Davis vs. Sanzenbacher
Who is going to lay claim to the club's sixth receiver position? Rashied Davis was inserted before Dane Sanzenbacher last week, catching two passes for 17 yards, his first receptions of the preseason. Sanzenbacher, after catching two passes in the preseason opener, did not receive a single target last week. Davis appears to be ahead in this battle, due in part to his contributions on special teams, so Sanzenbacher is going to need to light it up over the next two weeks if he wants to make the final 53-man roster.
The Bears are down two safeties right now: Chris Conte (shoulder) and Brandon Hardin (neck). Major Wright and Craig Steltz will start but second-year player Anthony Walters will see a lot of reps as well. Walters played well after Hardin went down last week, particularly against the run. The door has opened for him to claim a roster spot. A strong game tonight could seal the deal. Additionally, players like Jeremy Jones and Trevor Coston also have an opportunity to step up. The safety position is wide open right now. Who wants it the most?
LB Nick Roach
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Playing middle linebacker in place of Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach has had his ups and downs. If Urlacher isn't ready to go in Week 1, it will be Roach's job to lead the defense. He's athletic and smart but needs to show more consistency. The Giants bring a power running game, as well as an accomplished aerial attack. This will be a good test for Roach, as well as OLB Geno Hayes. Strong performances tonight will give both players confidence heading into the regular season.
Defensive tackles Brian Price and Nate Collins have firm grasps on roster spots, assuming the team keeps five DTs – which is likely considering Stephen Paea's ankle injury. Both have been outstanding in the preseason and need only keep pace if they are to lock up their positions. Corey Wootton didn't play last week after tweaking his groin. His biggest hurdle in the NFL has been injury. When he's healthy, he's great, but if he goes down again, Chicago's coaches might start wondering if he's worth the risk. Also, pay attention to the rush nickel package on passing downs, which includes Shea McClellin rushing off the edge and Israel Idonije sliding inside to DT. Last week, that group had a lot of success getting pressure on the quarterback.
With Brian Urlacher out, as well as Dom DeCicco, someone needs to take control of the sixth linebacker position. Blake Costanzo looked very good at middle linebacker last week and is a core special teams member. Yet behind him, Patrick Trahan and J.T. Thomas have a great opportunity to slip onto the roster. Thomas, Chicago's sixth-round pick last year, has made a lot of progress this offseason. A stellar performance tonight, both on defense and special teams, could propel him into the regular season.
The Bears are set with their top four corners – Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden – yet the fifth cornerback spot is a mess. Veteran Jonathan Wilhite has been entirely unimpressive, as have rookies Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy. All three have stunk against opposing team's backups and third stringers. Additionally, McCoy has showed nothing as a kick returner. If one of these guys actually wants the job, he's going to have to show it tonight.
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.