When Bears head coach Marc Trestman said that starters will play minimally in Friday’s preseason opener — if they play at all — that opened the opportunity door for the players trying to make the squad.
Here’s a look at the players on offense to keep an eye on, position-by-position, when the Bears take on the Panthers on Friday night.
Third-string quarterback Matt Blanchard gets his opportunity to shine, with Jay Cutler expected to be limited to one series. “He’s going to be heavily involved in managing the game, which is not easy to do in those times,” Marc Trestman said Wednesday. “It can get a little chaotic. We want to see him keep his poise, be efficient, and take his time with the football.” A great preseason for Blanchard could make the Bears seriously consider keeping three quarterbacks, it could also garner him some attention from other teams in need of another option under center after final cuts.
Undrafted rookie Michael Ford should get plenty of touches, and maybe a kick return or two, to show what he can do. There hasn’t been much of a competition between Ford and Armando Allen as the No. 3 back, so the former LSU Tiger will need a heck of a preseason showing to make things interesting. He could be a practice-squad candidate, as he is ahead of some of the other rookies thanks to his abilities on special teams.
This may be the most intriguing position to watch on Friday night. Earl Bennett (concussion) is out, and don’t expect much from Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who were both limited in the spring with injuries. Joe Anderson has been one of the stars of camp, and he has the edge to make the roster. Veterans Eric Weems and Devin Aromashodu, along with rookie Marquess Wilson and first-year wideout Terrence Toliver — who has found quite the connection with Josh McCown in practice — are all fighting for that No. 5/6 wide receiver spots. Also keep an eye on undrafted rookie Josh Lenz, who should be the punt returner after Devin Hester.
The Bears’ search for Marellus Bennett’s backup should get some answers on Friday night. Steve Maneri and Leonard Pope are battling to be the Bears’ blocking tight end, while Fendi Onobun is searching for his role on the team. His camp has been up and down, but we’ve seen enough highlights to be curious about his potential in the passing game.
Kyle Long, Kyle Long and Kyle Long. No player may get as much attention — and potential scrutiny — for the way he plays than Long, the Bears’ first-round pick. Long is raw and didn’t have many starts at Oregon, so this preseason game should show us plenty about how ready Long could be for Week One, as he battles James Brown to be the starting right guard. As far as those trying to make the team, Taylor Boggs has been impressive in camp and could be the No. 2 center over Edwin Williams with a good preseason.