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Chicago's Defensive Line vs. Johnny Manziel
One area Bears general manager Phil Emery wanted to improve this offseason was his defensive line. He added Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency, re-signed veteran Jeremiah Ratliff and drafted Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, all with the hope they could revitalize a defense that struggled to get after the quarterback last season.
Against the Seahawks on Friday night, the defensive line did a nice job of getting pressure on quarterback Russell Wilson but struggled to maintain rush lanes, giving Wilson opportunities to make plays outside the pocket.
"We definitely have to work on rush lanes, as far as pass rush," Ratliff told Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. "It was exposed with the good quarterback who had great poise, great feet and able to buy time with his feet."
With regular-season matchups looming against mobile quarterbacks like Buffalo's E.J. Manuel, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and New York's Geno Smith in the first three weeks, the defensive line will get a final tune-up against Cleveland's Johnny Manziel, who is expected to play Thursday night, via the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich:
While many members of the first-team defense will likely not be playing, guys like Ferguson, Sutton, David Bass, Trevor Scott and Cornelius Washington will all get an opportunity to try and slow down Manziel.
Manziel has had his struggles this preseason, but there is no denying he can be electric when he gets outside the pocket.
If guys like Bass and Washington want to make this team, a strong showing against a mobile quarterback like Manziel could help get them on the final 53-man roster.
Chris Conte vs. Danny McCray
While these matchups are typically reserved for opposing teams, the Bears' free safety battle remains wide open heading into the final preseason game.
After returning to the field for the first time following offseason shoulder surgery, Chris Conte had to leave Friday's game against the Seahawks with an apparent concussion, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Before the concussion, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker liked what he saw from Conte. He said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com:
I thought Chris played fast. He was aggressive. He made a nice play in the end zone. He was excited to be out there. There was no hesitation with Chris in his reads and his progressions, and I thought that was positive. With the amount of evaluation time available, we felt like that was enough time to make a clean evaluation on him, and we don't feel differently.
There has been no timetable set for his return, and head coach Marc Trestman has only stated, via Wright, that "it is a day-to-day thing" with Conte.
In Conte's absence, veteran Danny McCray has been getting most of the first-team reps at free safety for much of training camp and the preseason.
Known mostly as a special teams contributor, McCray started the first three preseason games at free safety alongside Ryan Mundy. He wasn't initially viewed as someone who could push for a starting job, but he knew he would have the opportunity when he signed this past March.
“I had been in Dallas for four years, and I had primarily been a special teams guy," McCray said, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. "I wanted to try something new, so I took a chance.
Bears' X-Factor of the Week: David Fales
After being picked in the sixth round of this past draft, David Fales has only had limited reps during training camp and the preseason.
Fales went 5-of-7 in the team's preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles but did not get any snaps against the Jacksonville Jaguars or Seattle Seahawks. All of that will change on Thursday night as he is expected to play the whole game against the Cleveland Browns, via Campbell:
There is not a specific area that Fales wants to work on Thursday, but he does want to show improvement.
"I’m just trying to improve," Fales said, via Campbell. "I don’t have my focus on just one thing, what I need to show. I’m just going to go out there, go through the reads and have fun competing, take care of the ball, (eliminate) turnovers and just have fun."
After the release of Jordan Palmer earlier this week, Fales will get one final opportunity to prove what he can do on the field. While it is not a given he will start the season on the team's 53-man roster, a strong showing on Thursday night may force the team to keep him on the roster instead of subjecting him to other teams when he is put on the practice squad.