Rookie Right SideThe Chicago Bears will trot out two rookie offensive linemen with the first team tonight against the San Diego Chargers. First rounder Kyle Long will be at right guard and fifth rounder Jordan Mills will start at right tackle. The pairing did a solid job in the preseason opener but that was against second- and third-team opponents. Tonight, they'll face a first-team Chargers defense, likely for the entire first quarter. Mills struggled this week in practice and still appears rough around the edges, particularly in blitz and stunt pickups. If he has a poor outing, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer may go back to a veteran on the right edge.
Swing SetJ'Marcus Webb and Eben Britton were both bumped from the starting lineup last week and now reside on the second-team offensive line – Britton at right tackle, Webb on the left edge. The Bears are committed to Mills, and Jermon Bushrod isn't going anywhere, so that leaves room for just one more tackle on the roster, assuming the club keeps the standard three. Webb and Britton are in a bona fide competition at this point for that swing tackle position. The better player in this game will also get starting consideration if Mills struggles.
Ford PickupRunning back Armando Allen (hamstring) has been designated as week-to-week, which opens the door for undrafted rookie Michael Ford, who scored the club's only rushing touchdown last week. He was also second on the team in catches (3) and receiving yards (35), showing better ability as a pass catcher than he has in practice. Yet his 2.5 yards per carry against Carolina's third-team defense isn't impressive at all. If he wants to truly challenge Allen for Chicago's third RB role, he needs to not only be more productive as a runner, but also shine as a kick returner.
Rotational DTDefensive tackle Corvey Irvin is the frontrunner for the fourth defensive tackle spot but Zach Minter is on his heels. Minter played well in the opener and had a strong week of practice. With Henry Melton on the shelf, both players will see a lot of playing time tonight. Chicago's defense needs a player who can hold the point of attack in the middle, so pay close attention to the interior of the defensive line tonight. The winner of this competition could end up being a rotational member of the D-line this year.
Hands TeamTE Martellus Bennett wasn't even targeted against the Panthers. It would be helpful for him to see a few balls tonight. Yet Fendi Onobun is the tight end who must improve on last week's performance. The Bears have no other pass-catching tight ends on the roster beyond Bennett and Onobun. Marc Trestman employs numerous two-tight-end sets, so it's crucial for Onobun to step up and start showing better hands. His drop of a wide-open touchdown pass last week surely didn't give the coaching staff, or Jay Cutler, confidence in his ability in the passing game. If he continues to falter and proves unreliable behind Bennett, it will limit Trestman's options on offense.
Act II for the KidsBoth of the club's rookie linebackers, second rounder Jon Bostic and fourth rounder Khaseem Greene, looked very good in Carolina. Bostic had a pick-six, and Greene was stout against the run and on special teams. Bostic will again resume his role as the first-team middle linebacker and Greene should see plenty of reps with the starters as well. Strong follow-up performances would be another step in the development of these two, who appear to have the requisite skill sets to be starting NFL linebackers.
Pivot ProblemsRoberto Garza is well past his prime. It showed last year and in the preseason opener. But even worse is the lack of a competent backup center on the current roster. The team has tried Edwin Williams, Matt Slauson, Taylor Boggs and even Eben Britton at second-team pivot, yet no one has stepped up. Tonight, Boggs will likely see the majority of snaps with the second team. If he shows anything at all, it will surely catch the attention of a coaching staff obviously desperate for a reliable option behind Garza.
Slinging ItCutler went 6 for 7 after his first pass attempt was intercepted last week. That was through three full series, so he could play well into the second quarter tonight, as Trestman knows time is of the essence to get his offense right. We'll see where Cutler is this week with his footwork and accuracy, yet it's backup Josh McCown who needs to show something against San Diego. Even with good protection up front, McCown completed just 3 of 8 attempts for 27 yards, good for a 47.4 QB rating. Against Carolina backups, that's nowhere near good enough.
Five-Finger DiscountThe competition for the fourth and fifth receiver spots has heated up over the past week. With Earl Bennett out, Devin Aromashodu has been bumped to the starting lineup. He's battling Joe Anderson, who missed some time this week with a shoulder injury, and rising rookie Marquess Wilson. All three have made a number of plays in camp. The player who can consistently carry over his playmaking ability to the games will end up on the final roster. Pay close attention to these three, as they could play a significant role in a pass-heavy offense this year.
Hard UpWe highlighted Brandon Hardin last week as player that has to show up in the preseason if he's going to make the 53-man roster. He wasn't very impressive in the opener and dropped an interception thrown right to him. Hardin must make a few plays tonight on defense. But beyond that, pay attention to his use on special teams, which will give us a strong indication of whether or not he's in the club's future plans. If he's absent from the first-team units, he may be destined for a year on the practice squad, which would be three straight seasons in which he failed to play a meaningful football game.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.