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.

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

Eddie Goldman is entering the final year of his contract this season and in order to cash in on a big payday, he'll need to stay healthy and make good on his top-tier potential. 

If he does, he'll become a very wealthy man and the Bears defense will have an even better year than its top-10 finish a season ago.

Goldman, 24, came to Chicago via the second round of the 2015 NFL draft and quickly became a household name among Bears fans. He started 12 games that season and finished with a surprising 4 1/2 sacks, a total that was more productive than his college scouting report predicted. He was pegged as a breakout star for 2016, but injuries ultimately derailed his second season. He played only six games that year (started five) but still flashed a surprisingly productive set of pass-rush traits; he finished 2016 with 2 1/2 sacks.

This past season represented something of a mixed bag for Goldman. He started 15 games and quieted some of the injury concerns that started bubbling around him, but his production dipped. He managed only 1 1/2 sacks. That said, he set a career-high with 27 tackles, nearly doubling his output as a rookie.

Still, Goldman wasn't a dominant force in 2017. He finished the year ranked 69th among interior defenders with a 76.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Despite being healthy and available, it was the lowest season grade of his career from PFF.

Nose tackle is arguably the most critical position for any defense running a 3-4 scheme. It's no exception in Chicago. Goldman will set the table for linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and the more bodies he can consume or attention he can draw from offensive lines, the more room second-level defenders will have to work. It's not just about filling up the stat sheet for Goldman. If he clogs running lanes and collapses the pocket consistently, he'll be worth every penny of a big contract extension despite lacking numbers.

The Bears need Goldman to bring his A-game in 2018, especially as a pass rusher. Chicago resides in arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL and for the defense to make those quarterbacks uncomfortable, Goldman has to apply pressure up the middle. He's proven he can do it, as evidenced by his rookie year production. But he's been on a steady decline in this area of his game since then and there's no room for more regression in 2018.

Players entering contract years tend to bring extra motivation to the field and there's no reason to expect anything less from Goldman. If he can combine his rookie year production with last season's availability, he could end up with the most well-rounded year of his career en route to leading the Bears' defensive line on a late-season playoff push.