Five Things to Watch Thursday

If you really want to see if Drisan James can field a punt or if Andrew Shanle can get the job done in run support, the fourth preseason game is right up your alley. But even though the starters will only play about a quarter, this is still an important evening for the Bears. 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. Will having the entire offensive line intact make a difference?
While Cedric Benson had a pretty good training camp down in Bourbonnais, he's averaging less than three yards per carry during the preseason. But for the first time tonight, he should have all five starters along the offensive line suited up and ready to go. Left tackle John Tait missed the first two exhibition contests as he makes his way back from offseason ankle surgery, and then left guard Ruben Brown was in street clothes last Saturday with general soreness.

If Benson has some holes to run through tonight and gets to the second level of the defense a few times, Bears fans will feel better about a running game that got off to a painfully slow start in 2006 and has done zilch in three preseason contests.

2. Is Harris finally going to get some reps against another team?
It's starting to look like Tommie Harris' hamstring injury last season was much more severe than he or the organization led us to believe. Head coach Lovie Smith told the media on Tuesday that Harris would be available and should play against the Browns, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will. Smith has taken it very slowly with his prized defensive tackle ever since training camp, however, the only way he'll truly be ready for the start of the regular season is if he gets a chance to knock heads against somebody besides his own teammates in practice at half speed.

Fortunately for the Bears, both Dusty Dvoracek and Darwin Walker have played pretty well in the trenches thus far and should be able to hold down the fort should Harris need more time to recover.

3. Can Berrian continue his ascent to primary-receiver status?
Veteran Muhsin Muhammad has led the team in both receptions and receiving yards each of his two seasons in Chicago, yet odds are that those two streaks will come to an end in 2007. Bernard Berrian was on the verge of a breakout season a year ago before being slowed by an injury in Week 9 against Miami, but he's been sensational so far and simply can't be covered in practice. Berrian has caught 8 passes for 138 yards and 2 touchdowns in roughly a full game's worth of action so far in the preseason, and quarterback Rex Grossman is unquestionably looking his way first most every time he drops back in the pocket.

 WR Bernard Berrian (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Muhammad is clearly on the back nine of his career but will still play a big role in this offense, and look for Berrian to put up 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career should he stay healthy.

4. Can the defense deflate Quinn like it did Smith?
San Francisco's Alex Smith was having a wonderful preseason throwing the football for the 49ers, but he couldn't get anything going against the Bears last Saturday night. Cleveland's Brady Quinn has been better than both Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson despite his late arrival after a lengthy holdout, and he should get the majority of the playing time for the Browns once again this evening. Since Chicago is loaded with depth and has several backups that could start for many teams, Quinn will be tested at Soldier Field before a crowd that always has a fair share of Notre Dame supporters.

The taboo surrounding blitzing in preseason games appears to have disappeared, so it will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Bob Babich releases the hounds against Quinn a few times.

5. Who will shine tonight and force his way onto the 53-man roster?
The starters are only going to play a series or two this evening, so prepare yourself for a heavy dose of second- and third-teamers from the second quarter through the final gun. There are several players on the bubble to make this team, including Mike Hass, who must prove to the coaching staff that they need to keep six wide receivers. Young linebackers like Rod Wilson and Darrell McClover rested a little easier Monday night after veteran Leon Joe was pink-slipped, but they must continue to be valuable on special teams since draft picks Jamar Williams and Michael Okwo aren't going anywhere.

The starting lineup on both sides of the ball was pretty much determined before the team even traveled to Bourbonnais, and while the majority of the final 53-man roster is already set in stone, there is still a little room left for some tweaking after tonight.

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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