Arkush: Positional battles ratchet up in preseason opener
Generally, the only thing that matters in a first preseason game is how quickly we get to the final whistle and the health of all involved when it arrives. But this Bears team is different in a number of ways and it’s possible the preseason opener in Carolina will be, too.
Regardless of which players they are coaching, it will be Marc Trestman’s first time in the driver’s seat on an NFL sideline and I’m sure we’ll form certain impressions that will stick with us for a while. Nothing is worth the ridiculous ticket prices NFL teams charge for these exhibitions, but it will be well worth our time to observe how the new sheriff in town runs the show.
More than that, what fascinates me about this Bears team is I can’t remember the last time the Bears entered the preseason opener with so many starting positions up for grabs? Both guard positions, right tackle, the No. 3 receiver spot, left defensive end, middle linebacker (because of D.J. Williams’ injury) and the nickelback spot all appear to be open.
Perhaps you have Earl Bennett and Williams penciled in as the third wideout and middle linebacker, but my gut and my eyes tell me the powers-that-be don’t.
Clearly, the three offensive line spots are being hotly contested, and while Corey Wootton and Shea McClellan will share time at left end, as well as in a three-man rotation with Peppers on both sides, one of the two will emerge as the starter on the left.
The majority of these battles will take the entire preseason to play out, but it is possible the right tackle, No. 3 receiver and nickel back jobs will be claimed in Carolina.
How many times have we seen it early in training camps when players make surprise showings that stick with us and gain momentum regardless of what’s going on around them? Right now, Eben Britton, Joe Anderson and Isaiah Frey clearly are the flavors of the month in Bourbonnais.
I could be the minority in this, but I’m not even sure the third wideout spot is a competition right now. Earl Bennett is out with a concussion and Anderson has been gaining ground all offseason. With Brandon Marshall rehabbing the hip he had surgery on, Anderson got a ton of work in OTA’s and minicamp with the first and second teams and played consistently well.
There are few veterans on this roster who can be replaced by equal or better talents and provide significant salary cap relief by leaving, but Bennett is one. I’m not saying he’s gone, but a big game in Carolina for Anderson could be too much for Bennett to overcome.
Nobody saw Britton coming. He was just a guy the Bears added to compete somewhere on the offensive line and, in fact, they had him at guard during the offseason. But he clearly was more comfortable at right tackle in Jacksonville. When both Jermon Bushrod and backup Jonathan Scott went down in practice, Britton was the next man up and performed well.
That earned him a chance to compete with J’Marcus Webb on the right side when Bushrod came back, and Webb clearly is perceived as the weak link on this line. In successive post-practice media sessions this week, Trestman gave a lukewarm review of Webb and then some excited observations of Britton, indicating to me a big game for Britton in Carolina could be the beginning of the end for Webb.
The only cornerbacks on the roster with NFL experience other than starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings after Kelvin Hayden went down are Zack Bowman and Sherrick McManis. Bowman already has been cut and re-signed once, and both are valued most for special teams. If Frey performs well at the nickel in Carolina, the job will be his. If he stumbles, you can expect to see some new faces in Bourbonnais next week.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.