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10 Bears worth watching in first preseason game

Updated: September 9, 2014 6:33AM



The first NFL preseason game is a boring, perfunctory exercise for many — the cost-inefficiency for season-ticket holders is exceeded only by the last preseason game.

Not that it’s unwatchable. But nobody knows if what they’re seeing is real. In the Bears’ preseason opener at Carolina last year, Jon Bostic intercepted Cam Newton and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. Matt Blanchard threw a 58-yard pass to Marquess Wilson. Josh McCown had a 47.4 passer rating in an uninspiring performance. As it turned out, McCown was a lot more productive throwing to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett in the regular season than to Joe Anderson, Terrence Toliver and Fendi Onobun against the Panthers. Who knew?

But for Bears coaches evaluating a roster that includes 43 new players and 40 players with two years or fewer of NFL experience, it’s a must-see event. After two weeks of training-camp practices, this is where they often get the first real indication who can play. They know what they’re looking for.

“Who has play-making ability under the lights,” Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. “When you go against your same opponent over and over, there is a tendency to have a comfort level. And then when you go under the lights and play a game, some guys get stage fright. And some can produce and show maturity.

“So that’s what we’re looking for — who can perform under the lights when everybody’s watching. Who can tackle and make plays and execute the defense under a real game situation.”

Herring has several young and inexperienced linebackers he’ll be watching in the Bears’ preseason opener Friday night against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field (7 p.m., Fox-32) — perhaps nobody in the spotlight more than Shea McClellin, the former first-round draft pick who will be playing his first game as a strong side linebacker after playing defensive end his first two seasons.

What will Herring be looking for from McClellin?

“No. 1 — does he play fast and trigger fast,” Herring said. “Does he react and respond the way he has in practice. How does he respond under the lights with everybody watching, against a different opponent? That’s going to be the key — is he going to hesitate because of his inexperience? Or is he going to trigger fast? His reaction overall is what we’ll be watching.”

McClellin can’t wait for the opportunity.

“I feel comfortable,” McClellin said. “I don’t feel in the dark at all. I feel like this is where I should be. I’m just eager to get out there and show what I’ve got and how I’ve improved. I’m definitely excited. I’m feeling good.”

Herring said McClellin likely will play in the base defense, but also as a middle linebacker in the nickel package. They know he can rush the passer, but this will give him a chance to prove he can cover downfield — arguably his biggest challenge in the transition. So far, Herring likes what he has seen.

“He has a broad tool-set,” Herring said. “He has range, quickness, some long speed. He has long arms and instinct. He can change direction. His coverage, which he hadn’t done in a few years, has been pretty good consistently — not great, but he’ll improve. But it’s been enough to where it gives you hope and gets you excited.”

Hope and excitement is what the preseason is all about — from McClellin to rookies such as Kyle Fuller and Will Sutton to unproven or lesser-known veterans such as Jimmy Clausen and Trevor Scott. After 11 training-camp practices, here’s a look at a few others players of intrigue in the Bears’ preseason opener:

KYLE FULLER, CB

The first-round draft pick from Virginia Tech already has gotten a high-level baptism vs. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in practice.

““We want to see him consistent with his technique on the field,” secondary coach Jon Hoke said. “Guys tend to revert back to what they know the most — what they’ve done in college. As long as he working at it and focusing on it … just trying to get some consistency with it.”

JIMMY CLAUSEN, QB

It’ll be unfair to make too much of a judgment because Clausen didn’t sign with the Bears until June 7. But the former Panthers starter might provide an indication of whether he eventually will slingshot past Jordan Palmer as many expect.

“[The offense is] not second-nature,” Clausen said. “But I feel comfortable with it and there’s a lot more I need to keep studying. The more reps I get, the easier it’ll get with the more looks.”

PATRICK O’DONNELL, P

A big hit in training camp, the sixth-round pick from Miami can boom it with the best of them. The challenge is adapting to the Bears’ directional punting game.

“It’s definitely a transition,” he said. “In college we did have some middle calls. But here we’re definitely a directional team. You just can’t bang it down the field.”

SHAUN DRAUGHN, RB

In a crowded, wide-open field battling for the No. 2 running back spot behind Matt Forte, Draughn, who played for the Chiefs (2011-12) and Ravens (2013), has been getting most of the prime reps in practice.

“He understands the game,” coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s played in a system similar to ours. And he’s been very effective in the mental part of his game and learning his assignments.”

CHRIS WILLIAMS, WR

The 5-8, 175-pound former CFL star made an impression in camp even before Marquess Wilson was injured. Now he’ll get an even better look at the No. 3 wide receivers spot. Despite his diminutive size, he has impressive skills.

“Speed and shiftiness for sure,” he said. “Being able to stretch the field laterally and vertically definitely helps. I have a decent set of hands. I’ve got to be more consistent on that end.”

TREVOR SCOTT, DE

He led the Raiders in sacks as a rookie in 2008 (five) and again in 2009 (seven) before a knee injury in 2010 de-railed his career. This is his fourth team in the last four years, but he’s made an impact in practices.

“I feel like I can do it all,” said Scott, who knows he’ll have to contribute on special teams to make the roster. “I feel like if I were to get put in a situation, I could do my job with the best of them. That’s what I plan to do.”

ADRIAN WILSON, SS

The five-time Pro Bowl safety will be playing in his first game since the final preseason game of last season with the Patriots. He’s a total wild card at this point.

“You can definitely tell he’s coming on for sure. He’s starting to show flashes,” teammate Ryan Mundy said. “He has a knack for being around the ball. He has a knack for play-making. So I think once he gets going, he’s definitely going to be out there.”

CHRISTIAN JONES, LB

The 6-3, 240-pound undrafted free agent from Florida State’s national championship team looks like he should be somewhere on an NFL field eventually, but it’s hard to tell exactly where right now. He’s got a long way to go, but when you notice him, you really notice him.

“He’s a work in progress,” Trestman said. “You can see what he looks like out there. He’s a big, strong man who can run all day. He’s in great condition. He continues to learn and grow and he’s certainly in the hunt each and every day to make the football team. He’s showing he deserves opportunity to work and to practice. And it’s fun to see. Because he’s coming from a long ways to put himself in this position.”

JOSH MORGAN, WR

Morgan, who has 199 receptions for 2,488 yards and 11 touchdowns in six NFL seasons, is the most accomplished wide receiver on the roster after Pro Bowlers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. With Marquess Wilson out indefinitely, somebody is going to have to step into the No. 3 receiver role. Can he earn Jay Cutler’s trust? After a slow start, Morgan is getting a grasp of the Bears’ offense.

“I’m very, very close,” said Morgan, who had 20 receptions for 214 yards and no touchdowns with the Redskins last season. “I learn something new every day — a new technique, just a lot of things from me being new here that the guys already know, they’re already on the same page with Jay about. So … it’s frustrating at times but it’s also a learning process. I’m excited about this opportunity.”



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