Of the 16 quarters played in the preseason, about four of them allow us to glean something about the first-team units on both sides of the ball. Two of those four will come Friday night, when the Bears head to Oakland to face the Raiders.
While our preseason previews of the “5 players to watch” have generally focused on the fringe roster players, Friday night will be all about the players we’ll see most often when the Bears start the regular season.
This will also feature two starters who we spotlighted before the preseason opener, Kyle Long and Jon Bostic, but their expectations are much different now than they were two weeks ago.
QB Jay Cutler: Through two preseason games, Cutler has thrown only three incomplete passes out of 13 attempts. The problem is that two of those are interceptions, and what everyone’s been talking about. We still haven’t gotten a good gauge on how Cutler will fare in Marc Trestman’s new system, and if it will really help elevate his game. Not a lot looked different last week when Cutler threw all five targets in the direction of Brandon Marshall. Everyone has been downplaying that, but with plenty of reps against a Raiders defense that features nine new starters, this is a big game for Cutler to get the offense going.
DE Julius Peppers: Marc Trestman is not concerned about Peppers, who has yet to play in a preseason game after being a late scratch before Aug. 15’s game against the Chargers. Still, with a veteran like Peppers, who has had some nicks and bruises during his time with the Bears, it’d be nice to see how he fares with some important reps. Peppers will also be rushing against Raiders left tackle Alex Barron, who is far from a standout at the position.
TE Martellus Bennett: The big free-agent signing has yet to be targeted this preseason, a fact significantly downplayed by everyone involved (Cutler, Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Bennett). We saw what Bennett could do in training camp, now it’s time to see it in a live game before the meaningful ones count. Plus, for the sake of Bennett, Cutler and Trestman, the more targets Bennett can see against a questionable Raiders defense, the fewer questions we’ll all have about it next week.
RG Kyle Long: After putting together a much-discussed standout performance against the Chargers, Long needs to show he can be consistent and do it again in Oakland. Same goes for Jordan Mills, who has the edge to start at right tackle, but would put everyone at ease with another solid outing.
LB Jon Bostic: We’ve gotten a nice glimpse of what Bostic can do on the field, but, like Long, it’s important to see consistency from the rookies, especially if Bostic is going to start at middle linebacker Sept. 8 against the Bengals. The other thing to monitor with Bostic is how he reacts in the open field after his first fine. Bostic was docked $21,000 for his hit last week, and the Bears don’t want to see any change in his play, but something like that – the financial hit and the attention – could affect a young player.