Five things to watch for in Bears’ preseason opener — from a coaching debut to WR battle
The pressure is on Dax Raymond and Ian Bunting, two undrafted free agents, to provide cover for the Bears’ tight end issues.
Someone asked coach Matt Nagy which player he was most excited to watch Thursday night.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna say,” Nagy said Tuesday. “Because if I say it and then they do well, then other teams can . . . so I’m not going to.”
Nagy is worried about teams eyeing Bears players before cutdown day.
We’re not. Here are five (non-kicking) things to watch during the preseason opener against the Panthers at Soldier Field:
Because it’s the preseason, Chuck Pagano won’t show the Panthers a single complicated look. In that sense, there will be more intrigue about, say, whether the Bears bring back the air-raid siren Thursday.
This will be Pagano’s first official game as the Bears’ defensive coordinator. He figures to be more aggressive than the blitz-averse and zone coverage-loving Vic Fangio, but he knows he’d be foolish to make drastic changes.
“If we slow them down, and they’re out there thinking, and they can’t play fast, then that’s on me,” he said. “We can’t do that. We’ve got too good of players to do that. So it’s a fine line there.”
Undrafted tight ends
Cracks in the tight-end depth chart started when camp began. Trey Burton hasn’t practiced in a week as he works his way back from offseason groin surgery and Adam Shaheen has battled a sore back.
The pressure is on Dax Raymond and Ian Bunting, two undrafted free agents, to provide cover. Raymond is a Russian-speaking 24-year-old former Mormon missionary from Utah State, while Bunting attended Hinsdale Central, Michigan and Cal.
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Tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said they’ve shown that nasty attitude in practice. Live action, though, is the best way to find out.
“As of right now, there’s a lot of question marks in a lot of different areas,” Gilbride said. “I’m not too worried about the depth; I just want everybody to be healthy coming into the season.”
Duke Shelley knew the scouting report when his Kansas State team played running back David Montgomery’s Iowa State Cyclones.
“Make sure you wrap up and make sure you move your feet,” the rookie cornerback said, “because he’s not going down easily with the first man.”
Thursday marks Montgomery’s first opportunity to show that toughness. He might be the most relevant Bears player to see meaningful snaps.
Fighting to catch on
Muhsin Muhammad once said Chicago is where “receivers go to die.” Not this year. Receivers coach Mike Furrey thinks almost every receiver on the roster — and there are 13 — can stick in the NFL.
Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Cordarrelle Patterson are locks to make the team, while rookie Riley Ridley’s fourth-round draft status makes him likely. Second-year receiver Javon Wims has been dominant during training camp.
That leaves likely one roster spot open to either Marvin Hall, Emanuel Hall, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Tanner Gentry, Taquan Mizzell, Thomas Ives or Joe Walker.
“I’m anxious to see some of that play out in the preseason, with those wide receivers . . .” Nagy said. “With the depth at our wide receiver position, we’re in a good spot.”
The Bears can’t find out about their receivers, tight ends or pass-catching running backs without an efficient showing by the man throwing them the ball.
That will mostly be third-stringer Tyler Bray. Last year, he threw 97 preseason passes, while Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel combined for 92.
“Being a [third-stringer], in practice you don’t always get the reps,” Bray said. “In the preseason game, you’re always excited to get more.”
The Bears liked the chemistry of their quarterback room last year, and could keep it the same this year. Bray has practice-squad eligibility.
“The first couple games last year, everyone’s trying to feel each other out, get to know each other,” Bray said. “Now we get to hang out all the time. We understand each other. It’s a great room.”