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Arkush: Plenty of questions heading into first game; which Bears will answer?

Joe AndersJonathan Bostic BrandHardin

Joe Anderson, Jonathan Bostic, Brandon Hardin

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Updated: September 10, 2013 6:37AM



Generally, the only thing that matters in the first preseason game is how quickly we get to the final whistle and the health of all involved when it arrives. But this Bears team is different in a number of ways, and it’s possible the preseason opener in Charlotte, N.C., will be, too.

It will be Marc Trestman’s first time in the driver’s seat on an NFL sideline, and I’m sure we’ll form certain impressions that will stick with us for a while. Nothing is worth the ridiculous ticket prices NFL teams charge for these exhibitions, but it will be well worth our time to observe how the new sheriff in town runs the show.

More than that, though, what fascinates me about this team is that I can’t remember the last time the Bears entered the preseason opener with so many starting positions up for grabs. Both guard spots, right tackle, third wide receiver, left defensive end, middle linebacker (because of D.J. Williams’ injury) and nickel back all appear to be open.

Perhaps you have Earl Bennett penciled in as the third wideout and Williams as the middle linebacker, but my gut and my eyes tell me the powers-that-be don’t. Clearly, the three offensive-line spots are being hotly contested, and while Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin will share time at left end, as well as in a three-man rotation with Julius Peppers on both sides, one of the two will emerge as the starter on the left.

The majority of these battles will take the entire preseason to play out, but it’s possible the right-tackle, third-wideout and nickel-back jobs will be claimed against the Carolina Panthers.

How many times have we seen players make surprise showings early in training camp that stick with us and gain momentum? Right now, Eben Britton, Joe Anderson and Isaiah Frey are clearly the flavors of the month in Bourbonnais.

I could be in the minority, but I’m not even sure the third-wideout spot is a competition. Bennett is out with a concussion, and Anderson has been gaining ground all offseason. With Brandon Marshall rehabbing the hip he had surgery on, Anderson got a ton of work in OTAs and minicamp with the first and second teams and played well consistently.

There are few veterans who can be replaced by equal or better talents and provide significant salary-cap relief by leaving, but Bennett is one. I’m not saying he’s gone, but a big game against the Panthers for Anderson could be too much for Bennett to overcome.

Nobody saw Britton coming. He was just a guy the Bears added to compete somewhere on the O-line, and they had him at guard during the offseason. But he clearly was more comfortable at right tackle in Jacksonville. When Jermon Bushrod and backup Jonathan Scott went down in practice, Britton was the next man up, and he performed well.

That earned him a chance to compete with J’Marcus Webb on the right side when Bushrod came back, and Webb is clearly perceived as the weak link on this line. In successive post-practice media sessions this week, Trestman gave a lukewarm review of Webb, then some excited observations of Britton, indicating that a big game for Britton against Carolina could be the beginning of the end for Webb.

The only cornerbacks on the roster with NFL experience other than starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings after Kelvin Hayden went down are Zack Bowman and Sherrick McManus. Bowman already has been cut and re-signed once, and both are valued most for special teams. If Frey performs well at the nickel, the job will be his. If he stumbles, you can expect to see some new faces in Bourbonnais next week.

Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.



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