The starters for both teams will play most of the first half, with the second half dedicated to backups and bubble players. These teams are very familiar with each other, as they conducted two joint practices this week in Indianapolis. Amazingly, it was a two-day session without fisticuffs, which is a rarity in today’s NFL.
The following Bears players are unlikely to play: CB Tracy Porter, WR Alshon Jeffery, OL Jason Weaver, RB Daniel Thomas, S Ryan Mundy and TE Chris Pantale. Players who did not finish Thursday’s practice, and who are questionable to play, are OLB Pernell McPhee (knee), DL Brandon Dunn (quad) and OT Jordan Mills (calf).
As such, it wouldn’t be prudent to put too much stock into the performance of the starters tonight. A better gauge of their potential comes next week, when the starters will play three quarters and we’ll have more clarity on some of these injuries. Until then, exercise patience.
Matchups to Watch
Hilton finished sixth in the NFL last season in receiving yards (1,345) and is one of the best deep threats in the game. He’ll provide another good test for Fuller, who is still struggling in man coverage. A strong performance against a player of Hilton’s caliber may give Fuller the confidence boost he needs.
Jordan Mills is unlikely to play, so Leno will get the start at right tackle. The former seventh rounder has a huge opportunity tonight to put himself in the mix for that starting gig. If Leno performs well, he could put serious pressure on Mills.
Fifth-round rookie Amos gets his first start at safety and will be tested by the tight end duo of Allen and Coby Fleener. Amos needs to show well in sun support but also in coverage. If he can handle the Colts tight ends in man-to-man sets, it will go a long way toward him retaining his position on the depth chart.
ILB John Timu
Jon Bostic looks like he’s playing in Lance Briggs’ 33-year-old body. His lack of field speed is noticeable, yet Timu has shown good quickness and had an interception in the first preseason contest. Another good outing by Timu will bring him one step closer to the practice squad, as well as a potential roster spot.
Mitchell, a 2013 undrafted free agent, has played very well the entire off-season and had a quality pass breakup in the first preseason contest. The Bears are banged up and underperforming at cornerback, which has left the door wide open for Mitchell to claim a spot on the final 53. If he makes more plays tonight, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the roster.
Washington was hot and cold at 5-technique during training camp but he played well last week, racking up two QB hits, a tackle for loss and a special teams tackle. Washington is as athletic as they come but must continue to show value on defense if he’s to keep his hold on a roster spot.
Meredith led all Bears receivers in the preseason opener with four catches for 47 yards. With Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery out, Meredith will get another chance to prove he deserves the final receiver spot. If the former Illinois State product with good size (6-3, 207) continues to shine as a receiver, he could puncture the roster bubble.
Players to Watch
-The Bears are banged up at wide receiver, which will put the onus of the passing attack on Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson. Royal is a known commodity but the Bears would rather he work almost exclusively out of the slot. So it will be interesting to see if he’ll again be forced to take snaps out wide, which happened last week, or if offensive coordinator Adam Gase keeps him inside.
Wilson is currently the No. 1 flanker on the team. He didn’t do much in the first contest against the Dolphins (one catch, 6 yards) and needs to get his feet wet with the first team in live action. The Bears are counting on Wilson to step up and fill the void at wide receiver, so building on a strong performance tonight would be helpful.
-The back end of the receiver position is wide open, so expect a heavy rotation of Marc Mariani, Josh Bellamy and possibly Meredith or A.J. Cruz with the first team. Someone needs to step up and claim the No. 4 wideout role.
-C Hroniss Grasu got smacked in the face his first NFL game last week and was consistently manhandled by Miami’s second-team defensive line. That’s not great for Grasu, the club’s third-round pick, and doesn’t bode well for his chances of competing for a starting spot as a rookie. At this point, Grasu just needs a solid outing upon which he can build.
-The backup running back battle is still ongoing. Almost every candidate looked good last week, with Senorise Perry (10 rushes, 89 yards, 1 TD) leading the way. Perry also has good special teams value and could solidify a roster spot with another good outing.
Daniel Thomas is unlikely to play and will slip further out of contention, which leaves Ka’Deem Carey as the back with the most to prove. Carey averaged nearly five yards per carry last week and scored on a nifty goal-line run. He’s still on the outside looking in, so Carey must continue to shine if he wants to keep his job.
-The Bears have a solid four-man defensive-line rotation: Ego Ferguson, Jeremiah Ratliff, Jarvis Jenkins and Eddie Goldman. Yet there’s room for at least one more D-lineman on the team. Will Sutton is the frontrunner, as he provides versatility and pass-rush potential, but don’t rule out undrafted nose tackle Terry Williams (6-0, 329). Chicago’s defense can never have enough space-eating interior defenders, so if Williams can stay stout at nose tackle, he could slip onto the final 53.
-Also along the defensive line, don’t rule out David Carter (6-5, 300) who was very solid in training camp. The third year player is still in the mix and would benefit greatly from a strong performance tonight.
-With Ryan Mundy unlikely to play, undrafted rookie safety Anthony Jefferson will likely see the most reps with the second team. The Bears are not high on Mundy, while Jefferson has size and age on his side. Showing well with the backups will definitely put Jefferson on the roster bubble.
-The Bears traded Ryan Groy last week to the Patriots for Matthew Wells, who has been practicing at inside linebacker. Wells will get mostly third-team reps tonight but it will be our first chance to see what the Bears got in the trade.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.