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.