Thursday night at Soldier Field, the Bears will be taking the field against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Although most starters on both sides of the ball will be seeing limited playing time, it gives the backups an opportunity to move up the depth chart and offers rookies and others the opportunity to stick around for another week of evaluations.
Here is my list of five Bears players to watch in Thursday night’s game:
All eyes will be on the Bears first round pick Shea McClellin on Thursday night. McClellin is currently listed on the depth chart as second string at both left and right defensive end along with veterans Corey Wootton and Chauncey Davis. McClellin’s struggles have been widely documented during training camp, but many believe he is starting to take steps in the right direction. McClellin will likely see a lot of playing time on Thursday and the Bears will be looking to see what sort of pressure he can get from the edge as well as what he can do to help stop the run.
With reports indicating that Brian Urlacher will not play in Thursday night’s preseason opener, Nick Roach is expected to get the start at middle linebacker. Roach has had previous experience starting at middle linebacker in 2009 when Urlacher went down with a wrist in jury and is now entering his sixth season in this defensive system. There has been no immediate indication that Urlacher will not be ready for the start of the season but having Roach start at middle linebacker on Thursday will help give the Bears some added insurance if Urlacher cannot get on the field to start the season.
With the abrupt retirement of wide receiver Devin Thomas and the re-signing of veteran Rashied Davis, Dane Sanzenbacher still finds himself fighting for a position on the Bears roster. Sanzenbacher, who was signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2011 season, made a decent contribution last year finishing with 27 catches for 276 yards and 3 touchdowns. Quarterback Jay Cutler has publicly lobbied for Sanzenbacher but understands special teams contributions will factor in any decision to keep him.
You watch film on Dane and you have to keep him, from a quarterback’s perspective, Cutler said via ChicagoTribune.com. I know there are numbers and he’s got to contribute with Dave (Toub) and the special teams group. But every single day he’s coming out here, he’s catching balls. … He’s going to be hard to let go, if we have to.
Sanzenbacher is going to have to prove his abilities not only as a wide receiver but as a special teams contributor. Special team’s coach Dave Toub has stated that Sanzenbacher will be a four phase special team’s guy for Thursday’s game and he will have to prove his effectiveness if he wants to make the roster.
Despite tendering running back Kahlil Bell for $1.26 million this offseason, Bell is still fighting for a spot as the Bears third running back against change of pace backs Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker. Bell had a nice end to the 2011 season filling in for injured Matt Forte, rushing for 240 yards on 55 attempts in the team’s last 3 games. The biggest knock on Bell thus far has been his lack of speed. Forte portrays the quintessential all-around running back who combines good speed with great hands and Michael Bush is known as the powerful bruising running back, leaving Bell as a back too similar to what the Bears already have. Bell has nice hands but lacks the speed to get himself in to the open field but can run effectively in between the tackles. Bell will have to prove his set of skills outweighs those of Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker and prove his worth as a contributor on special teams.
The Bears final selection of the 2012 draft was the nation’s second leading kick returner for TCU, cornerback Greg McCoy. With a lot of veteran depth at the cornerback position, McCoy’s best chance of making the team is as a returner. With the greatest returner of all-time, Devin Hester, and a former pro bowl returner in Eric Weems ahead of him on the depth chart, it will be an uphill battle for McCoy to make the team. With Hester not expected to play Thursday because of an illness and Weems mending an ankle injury, McCoy will get an opportunity to show the Bears just what he can do as a return man. If McCoy has a solid outing returning kicks and plays well at cornerback, he has a shot at making the Bears roster.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on Bleacherreport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.