While the dog days of training camp have been spent on the practice fields and in the classrooms of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois, the Chicago Bears will finally have a chance to square off against some different faces this Friday night.
The team will welcome head coach Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles to Soldier Field in the preseason opener for both teams.
Friday will mark the 25th time the Bears and Eagles have faced each other in the preseason, and the first since 1994.
Despite the fact that they will be squaring off against the Eagles, the real goal of Friday night's game will be for the coaching staff and front office to evaluate their roster in real-game action.
General manager Phil Emery made a multitude of additions to the roster this offseason to try and improve a team that went 8-8 last year. Many of those additions will be battling against each other to solidify their spot on the 2014 roster.
As exciting as it can be to just have football back on TV, there are plenty of things to keep an eye on in the Bears' preseason opener.
After losing 2013 backup Josh McCown in free agency, the Bears appeared content heading into the 2014 season with Jordan Palmer as their No. 2 quarterback.
After Palmer missed time in minicamp because of a strained right pectoral muscle, the team opted to bring in former Carolina Panthers signal-caller Jimmy Clausen for a workout and ultimately signed him:
Despite the Bears listing Palmer as the No. 2 QB on the team's unofficial depth chart, Clausen has gotten his fair share of reps with the second team during the early portion of training camp.
According to ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright, it appears Clausen has been the more impressive of the two so far:
At this point, Palmer holds the upper hand in terms of familiarity with the system, and Clausen knows he needs to improve on that.
“The biggest thing is the terminology,” he said to the media, via Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. “The concepts are the same concepts we’ve been learning since high school, but the terminology is totally different."
The team hasn't officially announced who will be the first off of the bench on Friday night, but if the unofficial depth chart is any indication, Palmer will likely get the first crack at it.
Despite battling each other for the job, the two have been more than supportive of one another.
“They work well together, they like each other, they’re encouraging to each other," quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said to Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. "They know there’s competition, but when it’s all said and done, I’m hoping they get equal reps."
While they may be rooting for each other now, their competition will officially begin on Friday night.
Backup Running Backs
There is no debate that Matt Forte will once again be the team's starter at running back, but who will back him up this season remains a question.
The team drafted Ka'Deem Carey in the fourth round this past May, and he is a lock to make the roster, leaving veterans Shaun Draughn and Michael Ford to compete with undrafted free agents Senorise Perry and Jordan Lynch to vie for one remaining spot.
Despite being a certainty to land a spot on the final 53, there is no guarantee that Carey will start the season as the team's No. 2 running back.
According to the team's unofficial depth chart, Carey is listed as the team's fourth running back behind Draughn and Ford. He will likely get heavy reps during the preseason but will have to hold off Draughn and Ford, both of whom have had strong training camps. Draughn has received many reps with both the first and second team during the early portion of training camp, while Ford has split time with Draughn with the second team.
An undrafted free agent in 2011 who is now with his fifth team, Draughn understands how important it is for him to continue to work hard.
“My mentality as a player is just try and work hard,” he told ChicagoFootball.com's Arthur Arkush. “That’s how I’ve stayed in the league so long after not being drafted; working hard will keep me here.”
Draughn's style of play is more comparable to Forte because of his ability to catch the football and block, while Ford is more of a change-of-pace running back.
Ford was a patient runner who excelled at finding the hole while at LSU but has gotten limited opportunities since joining the team last season as an undrafted free agent. He has proven he can contribute on special teams, and he may need to show off his return skills in the preseason if he wants to make the roster in 2014.
With the odds stacked against them to make the roster, Perry and Lynch will have to make the most of their opportunities when they make it on the field Friday night.
Perry is a slashing, one-cut runner with good speed, but he failed to establish himself as an every-down runner at Louisville last season.
While Perry never established himself as an every-down runner, Lynch has never formally played the running back position. A highly prolific quarterback at Northern Illinois, Lynch finished third last season in the Heisman Trophy balloting but is making the transition to running back as a rookie in Chicago. He has the potential to develop into a solid third running back, but it may take more time than the Bears are willing to invest.
Expect Carey, Draughn and Ford to get the majority of the reps at running back Friday night while Marc Trestman and his staff try to determine how they will fit with the team in 2014.
There is no question the safety position for the Chicago Bears in 2013 was one of the worst in the league.
Starters Chris Conte and Major Wright struggled mightily, leaving general manager Phil Emery to try and look for better options this offseason.
Instead of spending money on a big-name free agent or drafting one early in the draft, Emery opted to sign veterans Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray at the start of free agency and select Brock Vereen in the fourth round. Then the team opted to sign former five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson at the end of minicamp, per Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
While training camp began with Mundy and Vereen starting at strong safety and free safety, respectively, the team has used a variety of safety combinations throughout the early stages of camp.
Mundy and Wilson have paired up at free and strong safety, while McCray and Wilson have also spent time together with the first team.
Despite all of the different combinations at the position, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has noted it is all about giving guys a fair opportunity.
“We're moving guys around to make sure everyone has a fair opportunity, and there's nothing set in stone right now,” Tucker said to the media, via CSNChicago.com's John Mullin. “We still have a month to go and so we'll continue to evaluate the players and watch the tape and make the corrections and then at the end of the day it'll all shake out.”
It appears Mundy and Wilson will likely get first-team reps Friday night, but the position still appears to be wide open.
McCray, Vereen and M.D. Jennings will all need to make the best of their opportunities if they want to push for starting roles.
All training camp observations obtained firsthand by the author unless otherwise noted. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Chicago Bears.
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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