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Top 5 things to watch for in Bears’ preseason opener

Updated: September 10, 2013 6:26AM



Finally, let the games begin.

After a couple weeks of training camp in Bourbonnais, Bears coach Marc Trestman’s inaugural season begins exhibition play Friday against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.

Will his fast-paced practices equate to fast-moving success in a game? Have his quarterback guru ways made a difference already with Jay Cutler, Josh McCown and Matt Blanchard? How different is his offense? How similar will the defense be?

Not everything will be answered in one preseason game. But there still is plenty to keep an eye on, even if starters on both sides are limited — or don’t play at all.

Staff reporters Adam L. Jahns and Mark Potash offer their top-five things to watch in the preseason opener:

JAY CUTLER, QB: The first preseason game usually doesn’t mean much for the starting quarterback, but Cutler’s comfort level with Marc Trestman’s offense in this game could be an early sign of just how much of a ‘‘work-in-progress’’ this is going to be. Cutler will play, but how long will be determined by his immediate success and Trestman’s discretion.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Bears don’t appear to be in any hurry to establish a starting five, so this could be a mess in the early going. James Brown figures to start at right guard, but rookie Kyle Long will be the player to watch. This will be an early indication just how far he’s come, or how far he has to go. Veteran lineman Eben Britton also has an opportunity to build on a solid few days of camp.

TIGHT ENDS: Trestman’s offense is supposed to create the kind of ‘‘conflict-of-assignment’’ that often leaves tight ends open downfield. That’s standard in most efficient NFL offenses, but a novelty in Chicago. Fendi Onobun, Steve Maneri, Kyle Adams, Gabe Miller and Leonard Pope are fighting for roster spots.

ISAIAH FREY, CB: With Kelvin Hayden out for the season with a hamstring injury, the nickelback job is Frey’s to lose. He can’t lose it here, but the second-year cornerback from Nevada can solidify his spot by proving that his training camp progress is for real.

SPECIAL TEAMS: With all sorts of players trying to find a way to make the team, special teams are always interesting in the preseason. Will high draft picks Kyle Long and Jon Bostic be factors long term? Even Devin Hester, in a dedicated kick-return role, bears watching.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash

MARC TRESTMAN: Welcome back, Marc. Trestman will be coaching his first NFL game in nearly a decadde. What will his play-calling look like? How innovative will this offense be? How will he handle things on the sideline? Where will his assistant coaches be positioned? Everything merits attention.

SHEA McCLELLIN, DE: There’s been some days at training camp where it looks like the 2012 first-round pick should have three or four sacks of quarterback Jay Cutler. Now, McClellin, who looks faster and has added some moves to his arsenal, will get to finish plays. A lot is expected from him this season and he should see more time than other regulars.

RUNNING BACKS: Matt Forte probably won’t play much – or even at all – but the running back position is a vital clog of Marc Trestman’s West Coast scheme. It will be interesting to see where Michael Bush, Armando Allen and Michael Ford line up, how they read the zone blocking in front of them and how many passes are thrown their way.

JON BOSTIC, LB: The rookie middle linebacker from Florida should get ample snaps, playing with the first- and second-team defenses. He’s been a star throughout training camp, but how he handles the defensive calls against an opponent he’s not familiar with will be a true test.

BACKUP DL: With the starters sitting or playing just a few snaps, defensive ends Cheta Ozougwu, Kyle Moore and rookie Cornelius Washington and defensive tackles Nate Collins, Corvey Irvin and undrafted rookie Zach Minter all have a chance to improve their standing. There definitely are spots to be had.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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