5 Bears to Watch in Week 1
Despite already being regarded as a team poised to make a playoff run this season, there are still many question marks for the season ahead.
Here is my list of five players to watch this Sunday:
The biggest storyline for all of training camp has been the health of Brian Urlacher. Urlacher came into camp claiming to feel great and that his knee injury from last season had little to no effect on his abilities.
Urlacher came out of the gate strong, participating in a majority of the first week of camp's practices. First chalked up to veteran days off, Urlacher continued to miss more and more practices as camp went on, even going as far to being away from the team for "personal reasons."
The Chicago Tribune's Mike Mulligan stated that Urlacher underwent alternative therapy overseas prior to his knee scope during the middle stages of training camp.
Urlacher insists he will be out there this Sunday stating (via ESPN Chicago) that "I'm playing Sunday. That's a done deal."
It will be interesting to see what sort of restrictions Urlacher has on Sunday given the fact that he has not played in a game since the season finale in Minnesota last January.
Being a veteran gives Urlacher the edge over younger players who would be trying to play their first game in over a year, but not having the opportunity to go full speed on his knee in the preseason should give some fans caution for Sunday.
Urlacher may never be fully recovered but Sunday will go a long way in showing what he will be able to do this season.
For years, Jay Cutler had been longing for a weapon in his offense in Chicago and this offseason, general manager Phil Emery gave Cutler his wish with Brandon Marshall. With new weapons come higher expectations.
Never have the expectations been higher for Jay Cutler and a football team coming in to 2012. The Bears were sitting at 7-3 last season and playing some of the best football in the league before Cutler was injured and out for the season. In those remaining six games the Bears went just 1-5, proving just how important Cutler was to the offense.
The addition of Marshall offers Cutler not only a superstar wide receiver, but also a security blanket. The success the two had together in Denver gives Bears fans hope for the season.
Throughout the preseason Cutler never quite looked very sharp, often overthrowing receivers and struggling with accuracy. Some could chalk that up to a generalized offensive game plan but Cutler knows that now might be his best chance at becoming a top-tier quarterback in the league.
The Indianapolis Colts gave up the 28th most points last season and Sunday will give Cutler and the Bears a chance to unveil their new offense and to prove for the first time that their offense does not always need to rely so heavily on their defense to win games.
Aside from the Brian Urlacher story, the next biggest story this offseason has been the left tackle position. Just like years past the Bears failed to address the position, allowing the incumbent J'Marcus Webb to battle it out with former first-round pick Chris Williams.
Webb won the battle of futility and will start at left tackle this Sunday against the Colts. Webb has long been a favorite of offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Tice fell in love with Webb's size and athleticism, but for whatever reason, it has never really clicked for Webb.
Sunday will be a tough task for Webb as he will be taking on Dwight Freeney. The Colts have switched to a 3-4 defense and Freeney will be playing outside linebacker but is expected to still rush the passer. Freeney does his best work with his speed and spin move and allowing Freeney to start his pass rush without his hand in the ground will be a huge benefit for him.
Webb will be strongly contested on Sunday with the Colts knowing he is a major weakness along their offensive line. If he can maintain his footwork and limit his mistakes he could start to build a rhythm that could carry his play all throughout the season.
2011 was one of the best seasons of Charles Tillman's career, garnering him his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Tillman has always been known as a cornerback who has an uncanny ability to force fumbles and plays very well in zone coverage in the Lovie Smith's base Cover-2 defense.
Many believed coming in to the season that if there was one spot to not worry about, it was going to be Tillman at cornerback one. Tillman had a less than stellar preseason, struggling mightily against the New York Giants and their big and physical receivers.
The biggest benefit to Tillman this offseason was the acquisition of Brandon Marshall. I was lucky enough during my handful of visits to Bears training camp to watch Tillman and Marshall go against each other one-on-one. The constant daily battles between the two will only serve to make each one a better player.
On Sunday in Chicago, Tillman will likely be matched up against the Colts' Reggie Wayne. Even without Peyton Manning, Wayne is still an extremely productive wide receiver, and Tillman will have his hands full trying to contain him.
The safety position for the Bears has been a revolving door ever since Mike Brown left the Bears after the 2009 season. The Bears drafted Chris Conte in the 2011 draft hoping to groom him into the team's next starting free safety. Conte got on the field earlier than expected after the Bears released Chris Harris during the middle of the season. Conte was never given big responsibilities in the passing game but played his part well.
The Bears were expecting Conte to expand on his abilities in the secondary this season until he was injured during the preseason game against the Washington Redskins. Conte did not participate in the remaining two preseason games but is expected to be on the field this Sunday.
Look for the Colts to try and attack Conte early and often. Conte will need to be able show the skills that led him to getting the position last year and he will be expected to expand his role with more responsibilities.
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 onBleacherreport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.
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