ARKUSH: First preseason games, what are they good for?

Kyle Grillot -
Runningback Harvey Unga runs a drill on the sixth day of practice at the Chicago Bear training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais Ill. on Thursday, August 1, 2013.
Kyle Grillot - Runningback Harvey Unga runs a drill on the sixth day of practice at the Chicago Bear training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais Ill. on Thursday, August 1, 2013.
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BOURBONNAIS – In 1970, when one-hit wonder Edwin Starr famously asked the question, “War, what is it good for?” his emphatic response was, “Absolutely nothing!”

If we asked Bears coach Marc Trestman a similar question – such as, “First exhibition games, what are they good for?” – would he have the same response?

Trestman was asked the question and he responded: “Practice is really important, but we’ll go out Friday night and give them a chance to see what they do against an opponent at a different level because it’s under the lights with an audience.”

In other words, Friday night’s opening preseason game against the Carolina Panthers will be a glorified practice with contact, at full speed, in which most of the guys who will make the final 53-man roster will see little or no playing time. It’s a chance to start to identify who might be the 40th to 53rd players on the roster, and the next group that makes the practice squad. It will have little to do with the outcome of the 2013 season.

Asked for his opinion of the value of this game, quarterback Jay Cutler replied: “Just get the calls in the huddle, get everyone lined up, have no pre-snap penalties, execute the plays and get out.”

If typical NFL form holds, the starters will have eight to 12 plays to make that happen and then be left to wonder if the trip to Charlotte really was just about finding some good barbecue.

But that’s the starters and sure-fire backups. For the roughly 50 players battling for the last 13 or so spots on the roster, these games can be life-changing. And for a new coaching staff racing to install a brand new system, there is value to be found as well.

Armando Allen has a leg up on the No. 3 running back spot, but he will be pushed by Michael Ford and Harvey Unga. And Allen knows this game gives him a chance to put a stranglehold on that job.

“Of course, every preseason game is important, always especially important when you’ve got new coaches you want to impress,” Allen said. “When that opportunity comes along, I’ve got to do what I do best.”

One of those new coaches is offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who explained his role in this game as: “You’re trying to design plays to feature guys to let them play and give them the reps they need to make the team. There’s a lot of mechanics to that. They might be covered, but we’ll do everything we can to get everybody on offense a chance to make the team and become a contributor.”

Asked about the added ingredient of trying to install the new system, Kromer said: “There are guys stepping up and fitting into the system, and the system is fitting around them. So it’s a great opportunity in this game to show what each guy can do.”

In addition to the running backs, who might the Carolina game matter to the most?

Keep an eye on tight ends Steve Maneri, Kyle Adams and Fendi Onobun, who all appear to be battling for one spot behind Martellus Bennett and Leonard Pope. The starting five on the offensive line might not be set for a while, but it appears only Eben Britton and Jordan Mills might be battling for roster spots behind likely backups Jonathan Scott, Kyle Long and Edwin Williams.

On defense, this game could be huge for Corvey Irvin and Zach Minter at tackle, Kyle Moore, Cheta Ozougwu, Jamaal Anderson and Cornelius Washington at end (assuming any of them are healthy enough to go), linebackers Patrick Trahan and J.T. Thomas, and defensive backs Isaiah Frey, Sherrick McManis, Anthony Walters, Brandon Hardin and Tom Zbikowski.

For dozens of other players, it’s no more than a chance to get on tape for other clubs to see after they are cut by the Bears.

Harsh, I know, but certainly better than “absolutely nothing!”

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and Write to him at

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