Three key watch-points as Bears open preseason against Broncos

Three key watch-points as Bears open preseason against Broncos

Every player is evaluated on every snap of every practice. Consider those as daily quizzes, the little tests that went into your grade but didn’t count as much as bigger tests.

The most significant of those tests to date in 2016 begins 7 p.m. Thursday against the Denver Broncos for most of the Bears roster, from rookie to veteran — at least the ones dressing for the game, which for the Bears this offseason is nothing short of problematic given the spate of injuries that limited practice time as well as the accompanying evaluations.

“We’ve been in pads the whole camp,” head coach John Fox said. “(Tuesday was) our last padded practice in preparation. But’s all about that exam. Those exams are those preseason games, and I can’t think of a better test than the defending world champs Thursday night.”

The usual playing-time template will be in place: “Typically, and it won't be exact, but in the first game, our (No. 1s) will play the first quarter, (No. 2s) will be second and third (quarters), (No. 3s) will be the fourth (quarter),” Fox said.

“We graduate in preseason (Game) 2, with a half (for the No. 1s), seconds get most of the third (quarter). The third preseason game will be the most extensive we get (for the No. 1s), and the fourth preseason game will be the most minimal work we'll get (for the starters).”

But beyond the player rotation, three primary focus points stand out going into Thursday’s game:

1. The franchise rookies

Veterans will play sparingly, meaning Jay Cutler, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan and Willie Young might play a quarter, more like a series or two. The next two preseason games are the spotlights on them, when actual scheming and game-planning begin.

Meanwhile, all rookies, draft choices or not, are critical to the organization’s present and future. They are less expensive, the youth of the roster, and drafting successfully will be axiomatic to the Bears’ success under general manager Ryan Pace.

Some are more pivotal than others. The Bears project to start, from 2015’s draft, No. 1 Kevin White at wide receiver, No. 2 Eddie Goldman at nose tackle, No. 4 Jeremy Langford at tailback and No. 5 Adrian Amos at safety.

From 2016: No. 1 Leonard Floyd at outside linebacker (based on practice reps), No. 2 Cody Whitehair at left guard and No. 3, defensive end Jonathan Bullard will see significant time.

“I’m very excited,” Floyd said. “After the scrimmage (Saturday in Soldier Field), it felt good being out there in front of the fans. I’m looking forward to playing Thursday.”

All but Goldman, who impressed with 4.5 sacks as a rookie, come in with major questions. White didn’t play at all last season because of a stress fracture and is still learning NFL route trees.

“I know it’s a huge difference,” White said, “but just getting more reps, more experience under my belt, I think that will come naturally."

Langford is being tasked with replacing Matt Forte. Amos started 16 games last year but failed to intercept a pass and broke up only four. The Class of ’16 has never lined up opposite anything but teammates.

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2. Thinking in-depth

The season-ending knee injury to center Hroniss Grasu not only took down a projected starter, it also necessarily pushed Ted Larsen from being the ideal swing-interior guy for all three positions into being the starter. The Bears signed former Carolina guard Amini Silatolu before camp — and he has passed his physical and practiced — and former Pittsburgh tackle Mike Adams, who missed all of last season with a back injury.

At wide receiver, neither Alshon Jeffery nor Eddie Royal are expected to play, Jeffery perhaps a little with his recovering hamstring, meaning that the Bears are likely to be where they were in 2015, missing two of their top three receivers. Tight ends Zach Miller and Greg Scruggs are both out with injuries.

All of which places an immediate and heavy load on backups, who normally and ideally would be facing No. 2s on opponents’ depth charts but now are closer to seeing time with starters and against starters. The Bears were found wanting when backups were needed last year. What they show on Thursday will be for more than simple evaluation purposes.

3. Fast start?

While the No. 1 offense and defense will play just briefly, the Bears still need to be about establishing various elements of their identity. They led after one quarter in just one game last season, at Oakland, and won that game. All 10 of their defeats came when they failed to jump on an opponent with a lead after the first quarter.

Fox last year treated preseason games with more than a little push to win them, regardless of who played when, all part of changing a losing culture. To change the identity of the Bears from slow- to fast-starting, Thursday would be a logical place to start.

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is quickly becoming an icon in American sports. The two-time American League MVP is enjoying another dominant season batting .335 with 23 home runs and 48 RBI.

On Tuesday, he took a swing at what Bears fans may consider a shocking NFL prediction.

“I’ve got the Browns having a better record than the Bears,” Trout told a radio reporter, according to the Los Angeles Times. Trout's comments were made in response the reporter "talking up" Chicago.

Both the Browns and Bears have had productive offseasons that involved headline-grabbing acquisitions on offense. Cleveland drafted QB Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, traded for WR Jarvis Landry, signed RB Carlos Hyde and drafted a backfield mate for him in Georgia's Nick Chubb. They added potential lockdown corner Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick, too. Add all that to a motivated Josh Gordon ready to contribute for a full season, and there's good reason to be excited in Cleveland.

Still, it's hard imagining Trout can be that confident in a team that's won only one game over the last two seasons. And let's not forget what GM Ryan Pace has done this offseason, one that's been praised by analysts from all corners of the NFL universe. From new coach Matt Nagy to free-agent WR Allen Robinson and all the skill players in between, the Bears are ready to make a legitimate run in the NFC North.

Trout doesn't strike out much in the major leagues, but this prediction feels like it could be a back-straining whiff.

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is former Bears star Matt Forte going to be the team’s new running backs coach?

For now, that’s Charles London’s job, who was hired to head coach Matt Nagy’s staff earlier this year.

But on Tuesday night, Forte tweeted that he would like a coaching spot with Chicago sometime in the near future.

Serving as evidence, the now-retired running back responded to a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which announced the Broncos’ hiring of former linebacker Demarcus Ware as a “pass-rush consultant on a part-time basis.” Forte tweeted at the Bears, saying that he is “available” to take on a similar role to Ware’s new Denver gig.

Forte’s tweet was relatively cryptic, and he never specified exactly what type of job he would want with the Bears. After finishing up a storied career this past season and solidifying his name as a Bears legend, Forte has proven that he could easily coach young running backs or even wide receivers at some point.

But isn’t this all just a joke?

Forte silenced the doubters by tweeting “I wasn’t joking” as a response to an article saying that his desire for a new occupation with the Bears was simply a gag. The former workhorse was also intrigued by a fan’s tweet asking “Coach Forte??”

The mere thought of having Forte back in Chicago with the Bears’ coaching staff sent fans on Twitter into a frenzy. In April, Forte came back to Halas Hall to ink his name on a one-day contract, successfully allowing him to retire as a Bear. Now, Forte wants a lengthier stay in the Windy City.

Ware’s role with Denver is not extensive by any means and, according to Schefter, he will work a pretty scattered schedule with Broncos players. What Forte’s role would look like with the Bears is completely unknown if his plan to coach becomes a reality.

Forte has the running back credentials to take on a coaching position. In eight seasons with the Bears, Forte racked up a combined 8,602 rushing yards, second to only the great Walter Payton. Forte’s 4,116 receiving yards as a running back, 12,718 yards from scrimmage, 24 games with 100 rushing yards and 25 games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage also ranks second behind Payton.

Maybe this will be a new development in Chicago’s offseason plans, but there is no real talk of bringing one of the team’s all-time leading rushers back to the team as of right now.

Last month, NBC Sports Chicago announced Forte will be joining the network as a Bears game day studio analyst for the upcoming 2018 NFL season. And we're not joking about that.