The Bears’ coaching staff scripted everything into their preseason game Wednesday night — goal line, red zone and short yardage plays, but also fumbles and interceptions. The defense would sit down, thinking their job was done, and then have to head back onto the field.
“Now, all of a sudden they’ve got to run back out and do an eight-play drive,” head coach Matt Nagy said. “You cannot guarantee that in a preseason game.”
For a coach, the unpredictability of a preseason game is maddening. For fans, it’s fun.
While Nagy will continue to limit the playing time of his relevant players Friday night, here are five things to watch against the Giants in East Rutherford, New Jersey:
It’s the kickers, stupid
The Bears got outbid for Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik on Sunday, when the Vikings agreed to give up a fifth-round pick.
Friday marks the first in-game opportunity the Bears’ kickers have to prove general manager Ryan Pace right for holding off on, at least, that one deal. In the eight days since the preseason opener — in which Eddy Pineiro went 1-for-2 and Elliott Fry 1-for-1 — neither kicker has emerged as the leader for the starting job.
Nagy has been preaching the importance of preseason games the past two weeks, and it’s fair to wonder if he’s merely deflecting from their inconsistent practices. Regardless, it’s clear the Bears aren’t wholly satisfied with their kicking situation.
Had Alex Bars not tore ligaments in his left knee in October, the Notre Dame offensive lineman likely would have been drafted.
After he wasn’t, it made perfect sense for the Bears to pick him up — their offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand, coached Bars in college.
Both Bars and fellow Fighting Irish alum Sam Mustipher, another undrafted rookie offensive lineman, know what their new boss expects from them.
“We understand his expectations,” Bars said. “So if we can help the other rookies . . . help them reach his expectations, we’re gonna do that.”
The Bears will keep an eye on Bars on Friday night, knowing that he is competing with veteran Ted Larsen to be a backup. Bars and Larsen both participated during most of Wednesday night’s practice game after replacing Cody Whitehair, who hurt his hand, and Kyle Long, who was benched after fighting.
Ridley, believe it or not
Riley Ridley figures to make his NFL debut against the Giants. He was held out of the opener after returning from a hamstring injury earlier in training camp.
He wants to show the Bears what they got when they drafted him in the fourth round.
“Just to build an identity for myself, for a place in this organization, on this team and on this roster. And on this offense,” he said. “To be a physical receiver and give my all each and every play.”
The Bears drafted the 6-1, 200-pound Ridley because they appreciated the subtlety of his game — the precise route-running, soft hands and ability to catch the ball away from his body.
His draft status all but guarantees him a spot on the 53-man roster. The younger brother of Falcons star Calvin Ridley figures to be the Bears’ fifth or sixth receiver.
“I’m working on my routes each and every day,” he said. “Just keeping my head in the playbook, and being a student of the game.”
Whyte vs. Nall
Kerrith Whyte and Ryan Nall combined for 11 of the Bears’ 19 carries and 43 of their 82 yards against the Panthers.
With David Montgomery making a good impression — and perhaps earning the luxury of the preseason bench — the two running backs figure to handle most of the workload for the rest of the preseason.
Nall was second in the league with 223 rushing yards last preseason but missed the cut. He stuck around on the practice squad.
Whyte, a seventh-round pick this year, hurt his hamstring and foot a week into camp, but looked healthy in the first preseason game.
“He was injured there for a little bit, but you saw he has some speed,” Nagy said. “He bounces off to the edge. He can go ahead and make some plays. He’s going to get more and more reps in the offseason to see what he can do, but mentally he’s done well.”
Tight ends, again
Ian Bunting led the Bears with 77 receiving yards last week, and his 45-yard reception was the Bears’ longest play of the game. Nagy was quick to defend the tight end’s mistakes in other areas, saying his missed block on a sack of Chase Daniel was the quarterback’s fault. Daniel was supposed to keep running on a naked bootleg. Bunting also was flagged for a false start.
“I think with him, it’s the penalties, the mental part of it,” Nagy said. “He did make some good catches. Run game-wise, can you hold up there? There are some things he can learn from but the pass-protection part with him.”
He’ll get ample opportunity, alongside fellow undrafted free agent Dax Raymond. Each played 43 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in last week’s game.