The question overhanging every preseason game is what exactly will it mean at individual positions for individual players and in the overall – what does it show about the level of the 2013 Bears, in this case.
To aid in that evaluation process, CSNChicago.com has prepared this handy “Viewers Guide” for preseason game No. 1 of the Marc Trestman era in Chicago:
[VIEWER'S GUIDE: Bears defense vs. Carolina offense]
Quarterback: Despite the need for the offense to gain traction and cohesion around its single most important player, Jay Cutler will play little, according to comments by Trestman. And for his part, in spite of production that regressed alarmingly in 2012, to 28th in yardage, Cutler doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of urgency or high bars to hit.
“Just get the calls, get everyone lined up, no pre-snap penalties, execute the plays and get out quickly,” Cutler said of the objectives.
[RELATED: Trestman not on radical change in preseason]
Josh McCown is firmly ensconced as the No. 2 quarterback. Matt Blanchard is the No. 3 and playing to convince coaches that he is worth a spot on the 53-man roster, and failing that, convincing the Panthers or someone in the NFL that he is a worthy pickup after roster cutdowns.
Running back: Matt Forte and Michael Bush have been set as 1-2 for two seasons now. At issue is whether Armando Allen, who has struggled with putting footballs on the ground through training camp, can hold off Michael Ford, an undrafted rookie former backup at LSU. Ford only started five games in college but scored 14 touchdowns and could create a buzz for himself with some impact plays on special teams.
Wide receiver: Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are the starters. After that? That’s what Friday is all about.
Earl Bennett was the lock No. 3 receiver. But a concussion from last Friday’s practice has him sidelined, and concussions by definition place careers in question. Bennett’s future is uncertain until this second concussion in eight months is safely past.
Joe Anderson has turned heads throughout camp. But the Bears used a seventh round pick on Marquess Wilson from Washington State, and Wilson at 6-4 totaled 3,207 receiving yards in less than three full seasons in the Pac-12. They are the leaders in the competition for spots No. 4 and 5, but special teams and games change depth charts.
“I think for receivers, and the guys that are playing the perimeter positions, I think the preseason games do bring an added value,” Trestman said. “See the guys who can win the contested battles thrown into games.”
Tight end: Martellus Bennett is the lock at starter and it is difficult to see recently signed Leonard Pope not working up to No. 2. The Bears signed Steve Maneri to a two-year deal after he started eight games last season as primarily a blocking tight end.
The competition behind those three is intense, with special teams the usual tipping point. Fendi Onobun flashed early but has leveled off, and Kyle Adams has proved he can play multiple positions as well as special teams.
Offensive line: Center (Roberto Garza). Left guard (Matt Slauson) is set. Left tackle (Jermon Bushrod) is set. Right tackle (J’Marcus Webb) should be set, although Webb’s consistency remains an issue.
Three players warrant special looks on Friday: James Brown, who will start at right guard; Kyle Long, the first-round pick with the physical skill set but not the experience; and Eben Britton, former starter at right tackle with Jacksonville but who has stepped in at left tackle when Bushrod lost time to a calf injury.
Long has flashed but also has committed too many rookie gaffes. “He’s way behind,” said offensive coordinator and line coach Aaron Kromer. “But he’s really a smart guy. He’s smart, strong and fast. And that’s what you’re looking for in an offensive lineman. So I don’t think it’s going to take him long to figure it out.”
Backup tackle Jonathan Scott’s nagging knee injury has created an opportunity for Britton and also for rookie fifth-rounder Jordan Mills. With limited snaps going to starters, Britton and Mills can solidify the OL depth chart.