Ten reasons you should watch the Bears-Broncos preseason game Thursday night

Ten reasons you should watch the Bears-Broncos preseason game Thursday night

Over the next four weeks for NFL fans, these things are certain:

1. You’ll need the latest roster handy.
2. There will be complaints about the poor level of play once first- and second-stringers are done.
3. The best players are playing too much, risking injury, or not playing enough.
4. There will be impactful injuries.
5. People will ask if we really need four of these games.

Nevertheless, most Bears and NFL fans have been starving for the game’s return at any level since the team that’s here Thursday night (or a reasonable facsimile of) raised the Lombardi Trophy six months ago. They’ll take this anytime over free agency, the draft, OTAs and minicamps. So in an expanded edition of my Wednesday morning TweetStorm, we’ll double the list from above as reasons to tune in — live or DVR’d.

1. O-line help: Sexy? Hardly. After the Hroniss Grasu injury followed pre-training camp retirements of Manny Ramirez and Nate Chandler, it’s getting pretty bare bones in the trenches. The latest flyer came with Wednesday’s signing of former Steelers second-round choice Mike Adams, who’s been idle a year from a back injury. Can the likes of John Kling, Cornelius Edison and Jason Weaver provide any glimmer of hope behind the only veteran backup who’ll play tomorrow night in Amini Silatolu? And can the ex-Panther add anything?

2. Running backs: Has Jeremy Langford improved his pass protection and pass catching? Can rookie Jordan Howard beat out Ka`Deem Carey as the main backup option, and does veteran Jacquizz Rodgers keep his name in the mix? Senorise Perry was one of this team’s best special teams contributors as a rookie a couple years ago before a season-ending exhibition injury last August.

3. Wideout competition: If Eddie Royal can find a way to keep himself on the field, there’s a backup slot role — not to mention punt-return candidates — in rookie Daniel Braverman and incumbent Marc Mariani. With Marquess Wilson probably starting the season on the PUP list, Deonte Thompson (who showed he can be a capable kickoff returner) and Cameron Meredith (who’s having another strong camp) will battle it out with Joshua Bellamy likely on the roster, barring injury.

4. Tight ends and fullbacks: Can anyone from among Khari Lee, Tony Moeaki, Gannon Sinclair, Rob Housler or converted defensive lineman Greg Scruggs show anything? Undrafted Harvard classroom wiz Ben Braunecker’s been sidelined by an ankle injury. And the tight end numbers are affected by the level of commitment to keeping a fullback between Paul Lasike and six-year veteran Darrel Young.

5. Kevin White and Leonard Floyd: Ryan Pace’s two top draft picks are making their game debuts at this level. Enough said.

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6. D-line depth: Can rookie Jonathan Bullard show capabilities of overtaking Mitch Unrein at one end? Where do Phil Emery holdovers Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton and Cornelius Washington figure in the rotation mix, if at all? And who’s capable of filling in at nose tackle if something should happen to Eddie Goldman?

7. Backup linebackers: Is Christian Jones a better outside linebacker than inside in his third year? And is he good enough to move ahead of Sam Acho, who provides special teams value? Rookie Nick Kwiatkowski’s to be groomed as the main backup inside to Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman but has been spectating with a hamstring injury. Jonathan Anderson and John Timu? You’re up.

8. Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan: Everything we hear is that the staff loves the undrafted free agent who secured the nickel spot a year ago. But they’ll allow him to push the previous regime’s last first-round pick on the outside, with a leaping ability that makes up for his height (5-foot-9). Secondary coach Ed Donatell says he usually sees players he works with take a jump in their years together.

9. The Safety Dance: The rookies from a year ago, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey, are the incumbents, but can two of this year’s draftees begin to open some eyes, in fourth-round banger Deon Bush and sixth-rounder DeAndre Houston-Carson?

10. Teams tightening: The more the revolving, unfamiliar ingredients stabilized last season, it was easy to note progress from an absolute disastrous start in almost every phase last season. With greater depth through veteran additions and a draft class that had experience and production in college, can the gashing and gnashing be kept to minimum?

Enjoy Thursday night. Or try to, as much as you can. Oh, and never mind the scoreboard, say, after the first half.

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”

Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list


Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list

Brian Urlacher played his way into the pantheon of Bears linebackers and the Hall of Fame over his 13-year career in Chicago, leaving no question he belongs among the all-time greats.

Where he stacks up with the best of the best in team history is still up for debate.

Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson ranked the top 100 players in franchise history for the team’s official site, and Urlacher fell outside of the top 10.

Urlacher came in one spot ahead of fellow legendary linebacker Mike Singletary, but the greats of pre-merger era earned many of the top spots on the list.

Dick Butkus came in second to only Walter Payton, while old school legends Bill George and Bulldog Turner ranked seventh and eighth, respectively.

It’s difficult to compare linebackers that played 50 years apart, especially when stacking them up with players at other positions.

Urlacher is still near the top of the list of the best Bears ever. They just have so many all-time greats, the likes of Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Jimbo Covert just don’t have a spot in the top 10.

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