Posted by Matt Clapp | 8/14/2014 05:20:00 PM | Adrian Wilson, Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Eric Weems, Jared Allen, Jimmy Clausen, Jon Bostic, Josh Morgan, Ka'Deem Carey, Michael Ford, Pat O'Donnell, Ryan Mundy, Shaun Draughn, Shea McClellin, Tress Way
The Chicago Bears host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night at Soldier Field (and on national TV, ESPN), for their second preseason game of 2014.
Here are seven things to focus on with the Bears during the game:
The Bears' special teams play was brutal across the board in the team's preseason opener. The kick coverage unit allowed a 102-yard touchdown return. Michael Spurlock muffed a punt and nobody stood out in the return game. Robbie Gould had a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked (we're obviously not worried about him, though). Pat O'Donnell and Tress Way are battling for the punter job, and were each inconsistent. There were three special teams penalties, one of which nullified a 63-yard punt from Way (the one good punt).
The special teams play must improve, and there are many jobs to be won on the special teams units. Pay attention to what players are standing out (or at least executing their jobs) on special teams against the Jaguars.
I simply have "Jimmy Clausen" here instead of "Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer", because if Clausen keeps playing well, the No. 2 quarterback job should be is. Even though Marc Trestman will keep telling you that this is an even competition between Clausen and Palmer that will go down to the last minute, it seems like the job is Clausen's to lose.
So, another strong showing for Clausen on Thursday night and it would be hard to see him not being Jay Cutler's primary backup come week one (unless the team were to sign Kyle Orton, of course).
Jon Bostic & Shea McClellin
Shea McClellin played in his first game at outside linebacker in the Bears' preseason opener, after the 2012 first-round pick disappointing at the defensive end position the previous two seasons. But, things didn't look much better for McClellin in his linebacking debut, as he struggled vs the run and pass with some of the same issues that have seen in the past, frequently taking himself out of the play.
And then there's Jon Bostic, in his second season for the Bears after being a second-round pick out of Florida in 2013. Bostic is in a battle with veteran D.J. Willliams for the starting middle linebacker position, and is working with the first-team nickel defense. But, he too looked bad in the preseason opener, after the team was expecting him to make big strides in his second NFL season (and with new linebackers coach Reggie Herring).
The Bears were counting on Bostic and McClellin to be key contributors at linebacker for 2014 and for one of them to be a starter entering the season (realistically at strong-side linebacker with D.J. Williams at middle and Lance Briggs on the weak-side), so they really need to start showing improvements.
This is a wide-open competition, with Chris Conte joining the mix after returning to practice in the last week following shoulder surgery that kept him out of on-field activities all offseason. It appears that Conte will not play on Thursday night, but Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen, Adrian Wilson, and Danny McCray should all be out there fighting for jobs.
Mundy made an interception in the preseason opener, but it was giftwrapped to him thanks to pressure from defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young on Nick Foles. The improved pass-rush is why the Bears should get much better safety play in 2014 even if the safety talent level isn't necessarily better; the deficiencies at safety can be masked as we saw in 2012 with the same safety tandem that looked awful in 2013.
But, you'd like to see a safety or two start to stand out from the rest of the group, and not feel like you are basically starting backup-level players at the position.
No. 2 Running Back Battle
Coming into camp, it was assumed that the No. 2 running back duties would go to rookie fourth-rounder Ka'Deem Carey or second-year player Michael Ford (impressed last preseason). But, the No. 2 running back against the Eagles was veteran back Shaun Draughn, who averaged 3.9 yards per rushing attempt over 59 carries with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012.
Marc Trestman has made it clear all offseason that pass-blocking is of significant importance when it comes to Matt Forte's backup, and Draughn has impressed in that regard during camp. So, pay attention to how these backs look when blocking.
Josh Morgan & Eric Weems
Marquess Wilson appeared to be a near lock for the No.3 wide receiver in the Bears' offense, before suffering a fractured clavicle that is expected to keep him out of action for 1-2 months. It's even possible the Bears put Wilson on the short-term IR (designated-to-return), which would mean that he would not be eligible to play until week 9. It's something the Bears certainly don't want to do, but they may feel it's the best course of action if Wilson is going to miss a lot of time anyway. They don't want to waste a 53-man roster spot on a guy that is going to miss several games.
So, for at least a while, the Bears are in need of a third receiver after Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The most likely candidates are Josh Morgan, Eric Weems, and Chris Williams.
Williams showed off his ridiculous speed with a 73-yard touchdown reception against the Eagles, but he also pulled his hamstring on the play and will not play against the Jaguars. Keep an eye on Morgan and Weems, both in terms of their production and how many snaps they play (particularly with the first-team offense).
We know what he can do and that he's going to be a starting defensive end... but Jared Allen playing football in a Bears uniform for the first time? This will be fun (and weird) to see.
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