5 Exciting Chicago Bears Prospects To Watch in 2011 NFL Preseason
The defending NFC North champion Chicago Bears were one game away from an appearance in Super Bowl XLV last season, and will look to contend again in 2011.
The Bears retooled through the draft last April, and made some solid additions to one of the league's best defensive squads.
Chicago took Gabe Carimi late in the first round to shore up the offensive line, and added a run-stopper to the defensive line with Oregon State's Stephen Paea.
The Bears will kick off their preseason schedule against the Buffalo Bills on August 13. They'll then take to the road to visit the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans before returning home to conclude the preseason against the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field.
Before this weekend's preseason opener, join Bleacher Report as we give you five Bears prospects to watch this preseason.
Caleb Hanie (Quarterback)
Fourth-year quarterback Caleb Hanie was put on the NFL radar last postseason when he was called on to lead the Bears in the NFC Championship game after Jay Cutler and Todd Collins both suffered injuries.
Hanie threw 13 completions on 20 attempts in the title game, finishing the game with one touchdown pass and two interceptions, including the game-clinching pick-six thrown to Green Bay defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
Hanie likely won't see much of the field in 2011 as Jay Cutler will start in Chicago, but this preseason he will get the opportunity to prove he can be a starter to the Bears coaching staff and the rest of the league.
Dane Sanzenbacher (Wide Receiver)
Dane Sanzenbacher, a rookie out of Ohio State, improved in every season with the Buckeyes, finally catching 55 passes for 948 yards and six touchdowns in his senior season.
The Bears are slim at wide receiver this preseason.
Although they did sign eight-year veteran Roy Williams during the offseason, Williams is hardly a game-changer and has had problems holding on to balls in recent seasons.
Sanzenbacher will get his shot in the preseason and could be a great role player for the Bears for years to come as a dependable possession receiver.
Desmond Clark (Tight End)
Desmond Clark, a Bears veteran, will be a curious situation this preseason for Chicago.
Clark only played in five games in 2010 for the Bears and failed to play a single snap in the playoffs, catching just one pass for 12 yards the entire regular season.
Clark spent most of 2010 on Chicago's inactive list, but surprisingly re-signed with the team in early-August.
Clark played a limited role in the Mike Martz offensive scheme last season, so watch to see how the 13-year veteran responds in the preseason.
Stephen Paea (Defensive Tackle)
Chicago drafted Oregon State's Stephen Paea in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, supplying head coach Lovie Smith with another dominant talent to shut down opposing offenses.
The 300-pound tackle will get plenty of notice in the preseason as he attempts to capture a starting spot in the Bears' 4-3 defense, which he will likely earn by the start of the regular season.
Paea will be competing against fellow teammates Amobi Okoye and Anthony Adams for a starting position (both are NFL veterans with at least four seasons of experience).
Vernon Gholston (Defensive End)
Now, Gholston will have a chance to prove he belongs in the NFL with a new team, the Bears.
Gholston has been a major disappointment in his first three professional seasons, tallying just 42 career tackles in 45 regular-season appearances.
Gholston will have to compete against rookies and veterans alike this preseason and isn't a sure thing to make Chicago's 53-man roster in September.
Patrick Clarke is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @_Pat_Clarke.