It’s been over eight months since Bears fans have had a chance to watch the Monsters of the Midway, and they’ll (finally!) get their fix tonight when Chicago heads to San Diego to face the Chargers in their first preseason game of 2010.
There are plenty of storylines for the Bears entering this contest, so let’s get right to them:
The all-new offense - Today will be the first chance for Bears fans to catch a glimpse of the wide-open offense they’ve been hearing about for the last six months. Mike Martz hands the keys over to Jay Cutler tonight, letting Cutler steer the Chicago offense against a San Diego defense that is missing a few players due to contract disputes. You can’t expect to see every wrinkle, but Saturday night should be a taste of what’s to come: the most explosive offense to ever come through Chicago.
Cutler’s renewal? – Every one of his 26 interceptions turned the knife a bit deeper into the soul of Chicago last season, but Cutler could give everyone a case of amnesia if he shines tonight. With six months of work with Martz under his belt, Cutler needs to have enough of an understanding of the offense to begin avoiding the critical mistakes that plagued him in 2009. While most fans are looking for Cutler to throw up some huge numbers against San Diego, right now, my biggest concern is zero, as in the number of interceptions I want from Cutler.
Also, remember that, while Cutler was in Denver, he and San Diego QB Phillip Rivers developed an intense rivalry during their divisional contests. It’s hard to believe that either player has forgotten about the animosity, but has their time in different conferences negated some of the two’s disgust for each other?
Who’s No. 1? – Every offense needs a receiver to assert themselves as the go-to guy in clutch situations. He may not always be the most talented player on the squad, but he’s the guy your QB looks to on third down. For the Bears, that player is still a large unknown. Will it be Devin Hester, who’s now the veteran of the group? Will Devin Aromashodu pick up right where he left off in 2009? Will Johnny Knox continue to ignite the Bears with his incredible speed? Can Rashied Davis make enough of an impact to stay with the team? Earl Bennett is out of action in the preseason opener, allowing the other WRs a chance to get a head start. One receiver needs to step up from this group, and I don’t think anyone cares who makes that move, as long as someone does.
Offensive line – Earlier this week, Mike Martz announced the Bears starting offensive line would be (from LT to RT) Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, Olin Kreutz, Lance Louis, and Frank Omiyale. Making the decision this early will allow the group a chance to develop some chemistry, something that’s been sorely missing due to the Chicago OLine shuffle of the last few years. Shifting Garza from right to left shouldn’t be a huge distraction for the veteran, whose been a consistent performer during his stint in Chicago.
But the right side of the line, featuring the unproven Louis and the questionable-at-best Omiyale could raise some red flags during the preseason. Omiyale is especially under the microscope, given his struggles at guard last season. Believing a lineman who struggled at guard also contains the agility necessary to play at tackle could be a stretch, but could ultimately be a pleasant surprise if it pans out. Williams needs to continue to shine the way he did down the stretch in 2009, and Kreutz, healthier now than in 2009, needs to return to his old form as the anchor of this unit.
Urlacher’s back – Probably the best thing we’ll see Saturday night will be No. 54 back in uniform for the Bears. It’s been a long road for Urlacher, dealing with a freak wrist injury that kept him out of 15-and-a-half of the regular season. While rehabbing the wrist, the rest of Urlacher’s body got something it desperately needed—rest. Urlacher looked like his old self in that first half against Green Bay last year, flying all over the field and making big hits. That extra rest time can only help, and Urlacher could be poised for a revival in 2010—provided his age doesn’t start to catch up with him.
Harris is, too, we hope – There’s been a lot of talk about Tommie Harris’ health this training camp, and it’s time for him to prove it’s more than words. Many reports have claimed that No. 91 appears to have returned to being a dominant defensive tackle, something vital to the Cover-2 defense. Remember the way Harris destroyed the interior of the San Diego line in the 2007 season opener, when the Bears held LaDainian Tomlinson under 10 yards in the first half? We’d love to see that again Saturday, just to remind us.
Peppers’ debut – It’s pretty simple for Julius Peppers. There’s no better way for him to endear himself to teammates and Bears fans than to drop Phillip Rivers to the turf tomorrow night.
Other stories to watch:
Is Matt Forte back to health?
The battle for free safety, featuring third-round pick Major Wright
How will Zack Bowman fare as the No. 1 CB?
Will the TEs be forgotten in this offense?