The Bears’ offensive line was one of the few “knowns” heading into the John Fox era. With four starters returning and newcomer Will Montgomery a “plug-and-play” replacement for center Roberto Garza, the offensive line was low on the worry list as training camp opened last month.
But heading into the third preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium, uncertainty at both tackle spots has put the offensive line on the watch list. Charles Leno, Jr. will get a second start at right tackle in place of deposed starter Jordan Mills. And Jermon Bushrod’s balky back and shaky performance against the Colts last week makes that a position that bears watching as well.
With the new-look Bears undefined virtually from top to bottom, you could probably come up with a list of 22 players to watch against the Bengals. Here are five that should be at or near the top of that list:
Charles Leno, RT
The seventh-round pick (2014) from Boise State didn’t look like an upgrade from Mills in his first start. He was called for an egregious hold against Erik Walden on the Bears’ third offensive play. He also was late off the ball and beaten badly by backup nose tackle Montori Hughes, who tackled Jacquizz Rodgers for a two-year loss inside the 10-yard line.
He figures to improve in his second start. But if he doesn’t, the Bears likely will turn back to Mills when the regular season begins Sept. 13 against the Packers.
Jermon Bushrod, LT
While most of the attention on the offensive line has been on Mills and Leno, Bushrod hasn’t exactly been the anchor the Bears are counting on from the former Pro Bowl player. Bushrod has been in and out of practice at times with a back issue. For what it’s worth, he was the Bears lowest-rated player by Pro Football Focus (minus-4.3) in 29 snaps against the Colts.
Eddie Goldman, NT
The second-round pick from Florida State (39th overall) is in line to start at nose tackle in the season opener with Jeremiah Ratliff suspended for three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Ratliff still is practicing and figures to start against the Bengals. But Goldman should get plenty of snaps against the Bengals, if for any reason to see just how ready he is for the job. So far, the 6-4, 336-pound Goldman has shown his unique athleticism for a player his size — his mobility is impressive — but he’s got a lot to learn about playing the position at the NFL level before he becomes an impact player. Early returns indicate he learns well on the fly.
Marc Mariani, et. al, WRs
With Kevin White out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture and Alshon Jeffery (calf), Marquess Wilson (hamstring) and maybe even Eddie Royal (hip) unlikely to play because of injuries, Mariani is part of an unheralded group of wide receivers with the first-team offense that also includes Joshua Bellamy and Rashad Lawrence. If Jeffery and Royal are ready to go against the Packers, you can call off the alarm bells. But the way Jeffery’s injury has lingered — he’s been “day-to-day” for two weeks —his return is no sure thing.
Jon Bostic, LB
It could be make-or-break time for the former second-round draft pick (2013) from Florida who led the Bears in tackles last season. Bostic has been hampered by injuries and has yet to be able to turn it loose. Though he has the speed and athleticism to succeed in the NFL, it remains to be seen just how patient the Bears will be with a player who was not drafted by this regime or for this defense.