When the Bears kick off the second half of their preseason schedule Sunday night the focus lands squarely on the projected starters, since the third preseason game is usually a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener.
This is especially true for quarterback Jay Cutler as he prepares to face his former team in Denver. His departure from the Broncos was less than cordial so it will be interesting to see how he handles the situation.
A hostile environment is expected from the Broncos faithful and it might provide the Bears top signal caller with an opportunity to prove his toughness and professionalism to his new teammates.
Although the players and coaches are saying all the right things regarding the homecoming game for Cutler, expect the quarterback to air it out in his final preseason tune up. The third preseason game is always highly anticipated and this one has added significance.
Besides quarterback several other key positions will be worth watching as the preseason draws to a close, perhaps none more interesting than at wide receiver.
Devin Hester is the no. 1 pass catcher according to the coaching staff but struggled during the first two preseason contests. His communication with Cutler has been shaky and several times Hester turned the wrong way coming out of his break. His performances are proof that there is more to being an NFL receiver than world-class speed.
Earl Bennett has looked sharp in contrast and could benefit from Devin’s rough start. Earl was a teammate of Cutler’s at Vanderbilt so a level of trust and communication is already in place and has been noticeable on the field at times. This relationship could make Bennett the top threat in the passing game as the season progresses.
Rashied Davis returns for his fifth season with the Bears and should maintain his steady role as the No. 3 option at wide receiver. He is never flashy but always dependable and a favorite among the coaching staff for his work ethic and professionalism.
A newcomer to keep an eye on is Devin Aromashodu. Cutler described him as a guy who can simply “go get [the football]” and he will have every opportunity to do just that in the final preseason games. After bouncing around the league for a couple years Devin may have finally found a home in the Windy City.
Brandon Rideau helps round out the receiving corps with draft picks Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox. The group is very inexperienced but if the Bears fail to find an upgrade on the waiver wire expect the trio to be on the roster or practice squad when the season kicks off. This group provides the Bears with a little bit of everything, size (Rideau), possession (Iglesias), and speed (Knox).
Bears fans already know what to expect from the tight end position with Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark primed for big years with the addition of a pro bowl quarterback.
Running backs Matt Forte and Kevin Jones provide the Bears with a nice one two punch in the backfield so come Sunday night all eyes should be on the battle for playing time at wide receiver.
The opposite side of the ball is dominated by veterans, as the usual cast of characters will look to move the Bears back to the top of the league in team defense. The only position up for grabs appears to be at one of the safety spots.
Al Afalava has caught the eye of the coaching staff and for good reason. He has a knack for finding his way to the ball on every play and is not afraid to step up and make the tackle when necessary.
A strong finish to the preseason for Afalava could convince the coaches to keep Daniel Manning at nickelback, and allow the rookie from Oregon State a spot on the first team defense when the team travels to Green Bay for its first regular season contest.