What to Watch for in the Chicago Bears' Final Preseason Game
The Chicago Bears won their first two preseason games against the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts before dropping the third preseason game of the year against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.
Chicago's starters played deep into the third quarter against Cincinnati, but many of the starters will not play in the finale against the Cleveland Browns this Thursday night. The Bears and Browns have met in the preseason every year since 2004, and the Browns own a 19-11 all-time record over Chicago in the preseason.
Thursday night will be the final opportunity for the bottom half of Chicago's roster to impress the coaching staff before the roster gets trimmed down from 75 players to 53 players by September 5.
Just ahead, we take a look at the five things to watch when the Bears take on the Browns in the final preseason game of the year.
The Battle for the Starting Right Tackle Spot
Jordan Mills and Charles Leno have both made starts at right tackle for the Bears in the preseason, but neither has been impressive.
According to Pro Football Focus, Leno has played 120 total snaps and has registered a minus-4.5 overall grade. He has been called for three penalties and has given up one sack, one quarterback hit and two quarterback hurries. He started the last two preseason games after Mills struggled in the opener against the Dolphins.
According to Pro Football Focus, Mills has played 67 snaps and has registered a minus-0.5 overall grade. He also has been called for three penalties but has not allowed a sack, quarterback hit or a quarterback hurry.
Statistically, Mills looks like the better option, but neither tackle has played particularly well in the preseason. Head coach John Fox has not announced who the team's starting right tackle will be in the regular season.
"We'll end up with whoever ends up proving they're worthy," Fox said, per Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. "I don't know that you ever really get comfortable because you know it's very fluid. And it's been like that every season I've been in the league."
Mills has started 29 games at right tackle for the Bears over the course of the last two seasons, but he has struggled mightily in pass protection. Per Pro Football Focus, he has given up nine sacks, 19 quarterback hits and 93 quarterback hurries in 1,861 regular-season snaps.
Leno is an above-average athlete for the position, but he needs to improve his technique. He tends to lunge at defenders instead of engaging with them, and he has looked overmatched at times in the preseason against strong edge-rushers.
Fox has not said how much either lineman will play on Thursday against the Browns, but it could be both Mills and Leno's last chance to impress the coaching staff.
Can QB David Fales Secure a Roster Spot?
Quarterback David Fales missed the majority of training camp because of an undisclosed illness, but he dressed for the team's second preseason game.
He completed one of his two passing attempts against the Colts for five yards and completed his only passing attempt against the Bengals for seven yards. According to Pro Football Focus, he has only played eight snaps in two games this preseason.
He looked like a long shot to make the roster since most NFL teams only carry two quarterbacks, but he could make a push for a spot following an injury to backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
In Chicago's third preseason game against Cincinnati, Clausen left in the fourth quarter following a hit by linebacker P.J. Dawson, and Fox announced on Monday the veteran quarterback suffered a concussion, per BearReport.com's Jeremy Stoltz.
There was no guarantee Clausen would even play against the Browns before he suffered his concussion, but his absence means Fales will get an extended look in the preseason finale.
The Bears drafted Fales in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and he dressed for the final three games of the regular season after spending the first 13 games on the team's practice squad.
He has good size (6'2", 212 lbs) for the position and displays good mechanics, but he struggles with deep throws. He was a better fit in former head coach Marc Trestman's West Coast offense because of his accuracy in the short passing game, but he has enough functional arm strength to be effective in offensive coordinator Adam Gase's scheme.
In addition to Fales getting snaps on Thursday night, undrafted rookie Shane Carden could also get a look against the Browns. A three-year contributor at East Carolina, Carden threw for nearly 12,000 yards and tossed 86 touchdowns to just 30 interceptions. Carden flashed his strong arm and accuracy during his collegiate career, but he went undrafted in large part because of his poor mechanics.
Per Pro Football Focus, Carden played six snaps against the Dolphins in the preseason opener, but he did not attempt a pass.
The Bears could always look to the free-agent market to find a quarterback for the short term if Clausen has to miss some time, but a strong performance from Fales on Thursday night could help the young quarterback earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
The Backup Running Back Spot
Matt Forte's spot atop the depth chart at running back is set in stone, but a couple of spots behind him may be open.
The Bears relied heavily on the passing game under Trestman, but Fox explained why he likes running the football, per WGNRadio.com's Adam Hoge:
My feeling has been that sometimes, when you’re drop-back passing a lot, (that) might be the biggest mismatch in football: the difference in athleticism between D-linemen and O-linemen. The great equalizer is sometimes you’re 320 [pounds on the offense line] and the guy they’re running against is 240. So it’s that effect when linemen get to go forward and you get the positive matchup instead of the negative one. Not to say you pass the ball every play or run the ball every play. But it does offset some of those mismatches.
To help take some of the pressure off Forte in 2015, the Bears drafted Jeremy Langford in the fourth round of this year's draft and signed veteran Jacquizz Rodgers. Both Langford and Rodgers look like locks to make the roster, but there is a chance the team could keep a fourth running back.
Second-year running backs Ka'Deem Carey and Senorise Perry are currently competing for what could be one of the team's final roster spots.
The Bears drafted Carey in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, but the former Arizona Wildcat carried the ball just 36 times for 158 yards last season as Chicago's No. 2 running back. He was pushed down the depth chart with the additions of Langford and Rodgers this offseason, but he has flashed at times in the preseason.
“I want to play football," Carey said earlier this offseason, per ChicagoFootball.com's Arthur Arkush. "I don’t want to be on a bench. I want to contribute to this team and be a part of this team. … The more reps I get, the better I’m going to get at it. I feel like I’m a pretty good athlete."
In three preseason games, Carey has carried the football 14 times for 54 yards and scored one touchdown. He is a tough runner between the tackles, but he needs to show improvement in pass protection in the final preseason game.
Chicago signed Perry as an undrafted free agent last offseason, and the former Louisville standout appeared in all 16 games last season as a special teams contributor. He returned four kicks for 88 yards and recorded nine special teams tackles.
His ability on special teams is likely why the Bears have kept him around, but he showed off his ability as a running back in the team's first preseason game. Against Miami, Perry carried the football 10 times for 89 yards and scored a 54-yard touchdown. He carried the ball four times for just one yard against the Colts and did not carry the football against the Bengals.
Carey and Perry are both facing uphill battles to make Chicago's 53-man roster, but a strong performance on Thursday night could help one of them make the team.
Who Will Stand out at Cornerback?
Over the weekend, the Bears cut former two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. With Jennings no longer on the team, some of Chicago's young defensive backs have a chance to earn a roster spot this week.
Second-year man Kyle Fuller and veteran Alan Ball are expected to start at cornerback in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, and veteran Sherrick McManis is expected to be the team's nickelback, but a handful of spots on the depth chart at the position are still wide-open.
Demontre Hurst spent the majority of last season as Chicago's nickelback, and the former Oklahoma Sooner registered 39 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in 2014. He has gotten some work at free safety in the preseason, and that versatility could help him earn a spot on the roster.
Second-year man Terrance Mitchell has shown improvement on a weekly basis during the preseason, and cornerbacks coach Ed Donatell has been impressed by the young cornerback's performance.
"He's just come really willing to work hard," said Donatell, per ChicagoBears.com's Larry Mayer. "He's learned the details of the defense and every week he seems to be improving his performance. He's been very steady and it's turned into some production while he's been playing."
Both Mitchell and Hurst could get an extended look against Cleveland on Thursday night.
In addition to Mitchell and Hurst getting reps, undrafted rookies Qumain Black, Jacoby Glenn and Bryce Callahan all have a chance to secure a roster spot with a strong performance against the Browns.
The Bears signed Tracy Porter to a one-year deal earlier this offseason, but the eight-year veteran has struggled to get on the field. Per Pro Football Focus, Porter played just six snaps against the Dolphins in the preseason opener and has not played a snap since.
According to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, Porter has been suffering from a hamstring injury this offseason, but he could earn a roster spot if he can get on the field in the preseason finale.
The Competition at Tight End
Martellus Bennett will be Chicago's starting tight end this season, but the two roster spots behind him appear to be wide-open.
Currently, Dante Rosario, Bear Pascoe, Blake Annen and Zach Miller are all competing for the final two tight end spots on the roster.
Rosario is an eight-year veteran and has hauled in 116 passes for 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns in his career. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 323 snaps for the Bears last season. Known more as a blocker than a receiver, Rosario is a good fit in Gase's system because of his versatility.
The Bears signed Pascoe to a one-year deal this offseason, and he was expected to push Rosario for playing time as the team's No. 2 tight end. He is a good run-blocker, but he has struggled in pass protection in his career.
Chicago signed Annen to the practice squad at the beginning of last season, and he made his NFL debut in late November against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Per Pro Football Focus, he has played 53 total snaps in the first three preseason games, and he even saw some time with the first-team offense against the Colts. He is still raw, but he is a sleeper to make the roster.
Miller has struggled with injuries throughout his NFL career, and he has not appeared in an NFL game since 2011. He has good hands and runs crisp routes, but he has to prove he can be an effective blocker.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.