What we’ll be watching in Bears’ preseason finale vs. Bills

The preseason finale doesn’t figure to be a charade, with position battles and rookies who figure to get regular-season snaps getting a final chance to show the coaching staff they’re ready.

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Bears running back D’Onta Foreman carries the ball against the Colts.

Bears running back D’Onta Foreman carries the ball against the Colts.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

When Bears coach Matt Eberflus said he was going to mock a game week in the final week of the preseason, the actual game against the Bills didn’t figure to be included in that plan.

With 14 or more players not practicing this week because of injury or because they’re in ramp-up mode, Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles seemed more likely to prioritize getting healthy and avoiding injury over game-speed reps. There aren’t that many fringe players on the list of absentees, either. The list includes safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker, guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis, right tackle Darnell Wright and receiver Chase Claypool.

With Jenkins, Davis and Wright injured, left guard/center Cody Whitehair playing with a heavily wrapped right hand and top backup Lucas Patrick also injured, it seems a bit risky to play quarterback Justin Fields with three backup offensive linemen in center Doug Kramer, guard Ja’Tyre Carter and tackle Larry Borom (though Borom has started a combined 17 games in the previous two seasons).

Bills coach Sean McDermott said quarterback Josh Allen and his offensive starters will play into the second quarter. If that goes for the defensive starters, as well, it might be an old-school ‘‘dress rehearsal’’ for the Bears on both sides of the ball. Still, it remains to be seen which starters play and for how long.

Regardless of how long the established starters play, the preseason finale doesn’t figure to be a charade, with position battles and rookies who figure to get regular-season snaps getting a final chance to show the coaching staff they’re ready for the games that count. Here are four things to watch:

Offensive line

The Bears’ offensive line would be under the microscope even at full strength, but it’s even more so with Kramer, Carter and Borom likely to make up the right side of the line against the Bills. Only Carter has gotten significant starter reps throughout camp.

The depth of the offensive line has looked shaky from the start, so this is an opportunity for the Bears to see what they’ve got. And the way things are going, they eventually are going to need reserves to play. Alex Leatherwood, a former first-round pick who started 17 games for the Raiders in 2021, also is a key reserve to watch.

D’Onta Foreman vs. Roschon Johnson

Khalil Herbert, who didn’t play last week against the Colts, looks like the starter heading into the regular season. That leaves Foreman and Johnson to battle for what figures to be an extensive complementary role.

Foreman, who rushed for 914 yards on 203 carries for the Panthers last season, has the experience. But Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick from Texas, has gotten the better look in the preseason (12 carries for 44 yards against the Titans, seven carries for 32 yards against the Colts) and has had gains of 24, 14 and 10 yards.

At this point, pass-blocking might be a difference-maker. Any Bears running back will have to be proficient at that to play in this offense.

Tyrique Stevenson vs. Terell Smith

Both rookies have been impressive in their battle for the starting cornerback spot opposite Jaylon Johnson. But they’re still rookies, and it remains to be seen whether either is ready for regular-season competition.

Regardless, the Bears’ belief in both players as long-term solutions is strong enough that they’ll be more willing to let them take some lumps and grow into the job. This competition might not be over even after the preseason. This only might determine who gets the first shot at the job.

Stevenson’s aggressiveness is just what Eberflus is looking for. But he already has missed two interceptions and committed a personal-foul penalty against the Colts. As much as the Bears like him, his leash is shorter with Smith around.

Jack Sanborn vs. Noah Sewell

If you could merge these two players into one, you’d have an elite player. Sanborn, an undrafted free agent in 2022 who started five games last season, has the football gene and a knack for finding the ball. Sewell is a former five-star athlete who is built to be a playmaker at the position.

Sanborn is the starter and figures to win the job. But the skilled Sewell has been impressive virtually every time he has stepped on the field, and it only might be a matter of getting comfortable in Eberflus’ scheme before he forces the coaching staff’s hand.

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