What to Watch: Bears vs. Colts

We highlight the five biggest storylines for the Chicago Bears heading into the second preseason contest against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Chicago Bears are heading into their second preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. Saturday night’s contest comes on the heels of a 27-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins last Thursday night.

The two teams have practiced together this week and are trying to find more answers about who will occupy all 53 roster spots in the coming weeks.

Although the first preseason game did not provide much clarity, there were two sizeable shakeup on the depth chart going into Week 2: Rookie Adrian Amos is now the starting free safety and first rounder Kevin White (shin) will be sidelined for at least the first six weeks of the regular season with a Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) designation.

Preseason provides bottom-of-the-roster players, rookies and on-the-verge players a chance to shine. This week is no different, especially with starters expected to play close to the full first-half of Saturday’s game.

No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf) and backup running back Daniel Thomas (knee) are expected to miss this weekend’s match, while Tracy Porter (hamstring) and Ryan Mundy (hip) have both been battling minor injuries and are unlikely to play.

With less snaps for the bottom end of the roster, here are five things to look for Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Can Marquess Wilson take the sting out of Kevin White’s absence?

The Bears received a big blow after last Thursday’s game when general manager Ryan Pace announced that Kevin White would be shelved for at least the first six weeks of the season while recovering from surgery on his fractured shin.

This is the same team who traded Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets back in March and now could be looking at a thinned-out group of receivers moving into Week 1 of the regular season. One player that could really help soften the blow is Wilson, a seventh-round pick in 2013 who has shown flashes in each of the past two training camps. He’s now fully healthy from his broken collarbone suffered last year but was practically invisible in the team’s first preseason game.

With Jeffery set to miss his second week of action due to a calf injury, quarterback Jay Cutler will rely heavily on newcomer Eddie Royal, tight end Martellus Bennett and Wilson to be his top receiving targets.

Wilson will play the majority of the first half this weekend and he needs to show he can gain Cutler’s trust and consistently produce as the club’s top wideout. Cameron Meredith will be another name to monitor in the upcoming games, as he could emerge as a No. 4 target.

Can Adrian Amos stop the revolving door at free safety?

The recent struggles of the team’s safeties have been no secret. Pace added veteran Antrel Rolle through free agency but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is still searching for the final piece to the pair.

Second-year man Brock Vereen had a rough preseason opener, to put it nicely. Vereen was trucked as he attempted to make a key tackle on the opening drive and was later beat in man coverage for a touchdown. Not only was Vereen late in recognition, he was oblivious to the fact that the team was in man coverage.

As a result, head coach John Fox elevated Adrian Amos in practice last week and confirmed the fourth-round rookie has indeed “earned” his playing time with the first team.

Amos has excellent coverage skills and was a converted corner during his time at Penn State but will need to silence doubts about his aggressiveness and ability to support the run. If Amos can play a “center-fielder” role and proves to be solid against the run, his stay as the starting free safety could be a long-term fix.

If Amos does struggle, the last line of defense could end up being Ryan Mundy, who seems to be receiving the short end of the stick, just one year after starting all 16 games and leading the team in tackles and interceptions last year. With his game speed in question, Mundy may not make an ideal pairing with Rolle.

Amos will get his first crack with the starters in live action and if he performs well, he’ll strengthen his hold on the remaining starting safety spot.

Who will emerge as the team’s top nickel corner?

The Achilles heel of the defense the past few seasons has been the lack of play from the cornerback position. Through camp, the position does not appear stronger, with the struggles of starting corners Kyle Fuller and Tim Jennings.

A large contributing factor to this dilemma may be the switch from a zone-coverage scheme into more of a man-coverage scheme under Fangio, but someone will need to emerge soon if the secondary is going to improve.

Veteran defensive back Alan Ball has not done much to separate himself as the unquestioned starter in nickel packages, which is unfortunate considering his $3-million contract.

Also in contention are Tracy Porter and Sherrick McManis. McManis has been the best of the three and by a large margin. The 27-year-old had a standout performance last week with a forced fumble and fumble recovery on top of a deflected pass and overall good coverage. In turn, McManis has seen the majority of snaps as the first team’s nickelback and could firmly cement himself as a starter with another strong performance this weekend.

Behind him, Ball has struggled to stay away from smaller injuries that have limited his playing time and even when he is on the field, he has not done much to stand out. It’s worth noting that Ball only has $1 million in guarantees if the team decided to part ways, although that’s not likely to happen.

Conversely, Porter performed well in training camp but also can’t stay healthy. After missing last week’s opener, Porter could be in danger of missing his second straight game with a hamstring injury.

McManis seems to have the inside track to the finish line but can he maintain his impressive emergence against higher competition?

Will the team’s offensive line see improvement?

For the offensive line, the emphasis of concern has been the lack of presence from either tackle position. Jordan Mills opened the first offensive series with a false start penalty and followed up by surrendering a brutal hit on Jay Cutler – a sack that was offset by a penalty on the Dolphin’s defense. The team consistently saw the pocket collapse from the outside, which, if not fixed, could compromise Cutler’s ability to play all 16 games this year.

Unfortunately for Mills he won’t be able to redeem himself this week, as he’s unlikely to play due to a calf strain suffered in practice. That opens the door for Charles Leno, who will get his first opportunity to claim a starting gig. A strong performance by Leno would be his first step toward that goal.

There are also concerns about centers Will Montgomery and Hroniss Grasu, neither of whom played well in the opener, as well as Jermon Bushrod, who has given up far too much pressure the past two seasons.

Building cohesiveness up front will be critical for the success of the offense, and that effort begins anew against the Colts.

Can Shea McClellin and Christian Jones maintain their hold at inside linebacker?

The one constant through OTAs, training camp and the preseason has been the starting inside linebacker duo of Shea McClellin and Christian Jones. Once viewed as the weakest position on the team, these two have developed immediate chemistry.

McClellin has been handed “the keys to the car” in terms of play calling and his overall product on the field has been impressive, both in coverage and in run support, where he’s been very aggressive.

Jones is still the favorite at the other ILB spot. His biggest attribute is his pass-coverage skills and overall versatility. Jones saw time at multiple positions in college and his athleticism has shown up on the field so far.

Mason Foster has been very impressive as camp has moved along and carried that over into last Thursday’s game but with the consistent play of both McClellin and Jones, Foster will have to wait his turn for a shot with the first team, if that time does indeed come.

Jonathan Bostic continues to fade as the preseason progresses but could provide depth moving forward. Jonathan Anderson and John Timu have also played well and one could eventually leapfrog Bostic on the depth chart.

Other battles to watch

• Backup tight end will be a position to monitor moving forward. A few whispers have surfaced that the team could break the preseason with four at the position. If that is the case, then Bear Pascoe will be kept for his blocking abilities, leaving two spots open for Dante Rosario, Zach Miller and Blake Annen to fight over.

• The coaching staff has whittled down the competition at kick returner to a select few. Marc Mariani, Senorise Perry and A.J. Cruz saw the most time last week and that will likely be the case moving forward.

• Backup quarterback David Fales is off PUP and could see some time in this week’s game. Jimmy Clausen has the primary backup slot locked up but look for a battle between Fales and undrafted rookie Shane Carden for a spot on the practice squad.

Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.

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