Five Things to Watch Saturday

The third preseason game is always the most important, especially if you are a quarterback and your name is Rex Grossman. After turning the ball over twice and fumbling the snap from center on more than one occasion, all eyes will be on the Bears' signal-caller once again. BearReport.com is covering the game at Soldier Field and comes up with the top five things to look for in tonight's game.

1. How much of an adjustment will we see in the second half?
As is usually the case in the third preseason game, the starters are expected to play the entire first half and into the third quarter. This will give the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate what's going right and what's going wrong in the locker room at intermission, and then they'll have a chance to adjust their game plan accordingly. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich in particular needs to use this exhibition as a warmup for his regular-season philosophy, specifically if he's blitzing too much or not enough.

Also, will head coach Lovie Smith make an effort to get his entire starting unit the requisite number of snaps, or does he want to make sure they finish their night on a high note and feeling good about themselves?

2. Can the offense have success against a 3-4 defensive scheme?
For the first time since Week 12 of last season when they lost to New England, the Bears will be facing a 3-4 defense. Rex Grossman & Company see a 4-3 alignment every day in practice, but the offense struggled mightily in 2006 against the Dolphins, Jets, and Patriots in a four-week span – all of them are 3-4 teams. Grossman lit up the 49ers in Week 8 a year ago for 252 yards and three touchdown passes, but San Francisco has added a lot of talent to its defense by signing free agent cornerback Nate Clements from the Bills and drafting linebacker Patrick Willis of Ole Miss.

Mike Nolan's club is on the rise and a trendy pick to make the playoffs in a wide-open NFC, so tonight's first half could be an indication as to how much they've closed the talent gap.

3. Is Harris going to play at all during the preseason?
It's understandable that the Bears want to take it easy with Tommie Harris, their all-world defensive tackle who is recovering from last season's torn hamstring. It was no surprise that Harris didn't suit up for the exhibition opener against Houston, but the fact that he was also held out last week in Indianapolis may have caught some by surprise. If he's going to get any reps at all before the regular season begins, tonight has to be the night because there's no way the organization will risk playing him in the preseason finale against Cleveland come Thursday.

 DT Tommie Harris (M. Spencer Green/AP Images)

Smith swears up and down that Harris is healthy and operating at full capacity, but it's worth noting that Darwin Walker has been working almost exclusively at Harris' three-technique position while Dusty Dvoracek is getting most of the snaps at nose tackle.

4. When will the running game start making an impact?
The Bears always have been and always will be a running football team, but once again offensive coordinator Ron Turner seems much more concerned with developing his passing game during the preseason. Cedric Benson is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry through two exhibition games, but that's still better than Adrian Peterson's 1.7 and Garrett Wolfe's 2.9. The offensive line will get a big shot in the arm tonight as left tackle John Tait makes his preseason debut after offseason ankle surgery, and remember that the rushing attack got off to a painfully slow start last season before coming on strong down the stretch.

Not only does Benson need to prove that he can be the every-down workhorse this team needs him to be, but both Peterson and Wolfe have to show that they can get the job done in a pinch.

5. Will Grossman put all this snap-from-center business behind him?
Grossman was again in the midst of a firestorm of media criticism last week, this time for fumbling the snap from center a few times against the Colts. While an optimist might think that this was a fluke occurrence and will never happen again, this is not a new problem for Grossman and Olin Kreutz. If so much as one snap gets bobbled tonight, expect a cascade of boos from the Soldier Field faithful just like we heard last preseason against Arizona.

If Grossman needs to put extra focus into simply making sure he secures the snap from center, then that's fewer brain cells he'll have available to worry about reading the defense, determining if the right play is called, and going through his progressions.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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