Game Time

CANTON, Ohio - Bears coach Lovie Smith is vague on how long he'll play starters in tonight's preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins.

He does say the game carries significance in several different ways for a team trying to rebound from an injury-marred year.

"We definitely expect them (Miami) to make a statement," Smith said. "We are too. We were 5-11 last year. We can't wait to get that bad taste out of our mouths.

"Every time you're competing you're trying to make a statement. We'll definitely be trying to do that and I'm sure they will, too."

Coaches are a little more specific on what they hope to see from starters and reserves while they actually are in the game.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner identified several specific objectives in mind for quarterback Rex Grossman while operating the team's new West Coast offense.

"I just want to see him run the offense, make good decisions, get rid of the ball quickly," Turner said. "I know the physical part will be there, the accuracy, everything else. I know he'll do that.

"But I just want to make sure he's focused in and running the offense."

Quarterback is only one aspect of the retooled offense which requires close scrutiny. The offensive line of tackles John Tait and Fred Miller, guards Terrence Metcalf and Ruben Brown and center Olin Kreutz is hoping to rebound from a season when the team set a record for sacks allowed (66).

"I think they're coming together as a group," Smith said. "They're a tight-knit group, to say the least. We still have to see them in a game situation."

Gauging a sack in practice is difficult since tackling the quarterback isn't allowed.

"Right now (in practice) every play it's: 'is it a sack or is it not?' " Smith said. " You get to arguing about that.

"But now, with officials and live, with Rex under the gun, we'll see exactly where our offensive line is."

Turner will also get a better idea on who is ahead in the battle for the second wide receiver spot. Justin Gage has held that position through training camp with Bernard Berrian and rookie Mark Bradley in pursuit.

In assessing the reserve talent vying for roster spots on the offensive line, backfield, and the crowded tight end position (injured Desmond Clark, John Gilmore (starting), Dustin Lyman, John Owens, Darnell Sanders, Gabe Reid and Ron Johnson), Turner will be looking at overall execution.

"Just to see who's going to go out and not have penalties, not jump offsides, all that kind of stuff,'' Turner said. ""Be able to execute that part of it. And then see once the ball is snapped assignment-wise, doing the right things.

"Sometimes you get in the games and people get caught up assignment-wise doing the right things and sometimes you get in the game and people get caught up doing things they're not supposed to do, and some guys try to do too much.''

Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera would like to see improved pass rush from his front four on Miami quarterbacks A.J. Feeley, Sage Rosenfels, Gus Frerotte and Brock Berlin. They're trying to make blitzing become a luxury and not a necessity.

"If these guys become the pass rushers I think they can, then the need to bring an extra guy is eliminated,'' Rivera said.

Much of that revolves around former Dolphin Adewale Ogunleye.

"Based on what I've seen in the past, he has the ability to be like a Richard Dent-type player,'' Rivera said. "He's got a ways to go, obviously, because he's got to continue to learn our system and get back into the shape he was a couple years ago, but he most certainly does have the potential.''

Linebackers Leon Joe, Marcus Reese, LeVar Woods, Jeremy Cain, Joe Odom, Derrick Ballard, Rod Wilson and Stephen Larsen will be trying to show whether they can stop running backs Sammy Morris, Ricky Williams and Travis Minor while fighting for roster spots.

For the secondary, it's largely going to be a study in depth.

The Bears know who their starters are; they need to find out what else they have. Young cornerbacks Rashied Davis, Leroy Smith, Talib Wise and Jerrell Pippens, and safeties Brandon McGowan and Chris Harris have to show an understanding of the scheme without getting beat deep for big plays, Rivera said.

Safety Mike Brown described the situation best.

"Preseason games, I think it's mainly evaluation for the younger guys," Brown said. "You want to see who steps up in the limelight, who kind of disappears a little bit. So the games definitely are different than practice, of course.''

To the young and inexperienced players, the preseason carries stakes as high as the regular season brings to starters.

"There's going to be people in the stands, TV cameras, John Madden, all that,'' Brown said. "So it's a little bit different for some of the young guys, maybe the guys that came from a small school. We just want to see how they react in that type of atmosphere."


Bear Report Top Stories