CHICAGO -- Typically evasive regarding the game plan, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith made it clear that the club’s frontline players won’t see much action Thursday when the team opens the preseason at Soldier Field against the Denver Broncos.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gleaned from the contest with so many of the final roster spots likely to be determined by performances on special teams.
“Our frontline guys won’t play a lot. I can tell you that,” Smith said. “We’ll get a look at some of those second and third players.”
While it’s likely the offense won’t show much of the new playbook in the preseason because of competitive reasons, the club definitely wants to see how the offensive line performs against Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who in 2011 combined for 21 sacks.
Given the struggles of left tackle J’Marcus Webb last season, and the fact second-year right tackle Gabe Carimi returns to the starting lineup after missing all but two games in 2011 with a knee issue, it’s safe to say the offensive line remains arguably the club’s most pressing concern. Webb and Carimi might not see significant action because they’re working with the starters. But Chris Williams -- Webb’s main competition for the starting left tackle job -- will likely see the bulk of the reps at the position, thus more opportunities to win over the staff.
“You don’t get a chance to finish a lot of plays (during practices at training camp),” Smith said. “It’ll be important for a lot of the guys that have looked good to show us some of those early signs of exactly what they are. J’Marcus is making progress. For what we’ve done, everybody is about where we wanted them to be. Of course, Denver has a couple of good defensive rushers. So this will be a good challenge for not only J’Marcus, but all of our offensive linemen.”
"You want to be crisp, in and out of the huddle, limit the penalties," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "I’m not sure how much we’re gonna game plan. So (getting) guys in and out of the huddle and just doing what they’re supposed to do (is important)."
Several on-the-bubble prospects receive their first real opportunities against the Broncos to kick off the process of securing roster spots. Players in contention for final spots at their positions such as receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and linebacker J.T. Thomas need to make an impression on special teams to separate themselves from other players at the same position.
Toub ran down an extensive list of players whose futures are likely tied to performances on special teams.
“I want to see (rookie cornerback Isaiah) Frey,” Toub said. “He’s not gonna be a returner, but I want to see him tackle people on kickoff. (I want to see) mostly the young guys. I know what (linebacker) Blake Costanzo can do. Weems, we know what he can do. I want to see J.T. Thomas. He’s establishing himself as a linebacker now. Now we want to see him do something on special teams. Geno Hayes is another guy (I want to see). We saw a little bit at Tampa last year, but we need him to take another level to get to our level of special teams.”
So in a sense the training camp workouts at Olivet Nazarene University serve as pop quizzes, while kickoff at Soldier Field on Thursday comes as the first of four exams for many of the players.
“We just want to keep the evaluation going,” Smith said. “We’ve got some tough decisions to make on the 53-man roster.”