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Chicago Bears: Things to Watch in Their Preseason Debut

Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears

We'll get our first look at the Bears under new head coach Matt Eberflus on Saturday.

And just like that, the unofficial start to the 2022 NFL season is here. The Chicago Bears will play their only preseason home game on Saturday afternoon against the Kansas City Chiefs. While a matchup between Justin Fields and Patrick Mahomes sounds exciting, that won't exactly be the case this weekend. Eberflus said earlier this week he was planning on using the starters for 15-20 plays, although that range will differ depending on the player.

Related: Chicago Bears 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

This game will mostly be about getting a look at those who will back up the projected starters, and seeing how the rookies will acclimate to the nuances of the NFL. And in the case of the Bears, there are plenty of players who fall under this criteria. We should get to know these players a little better after this game, but here is what we should specifically be looking for when the Bears take the field for their first dress rehearsal of the year.

Offense

We already know what to expect from Justin Fields, David Montgomery, Darnell Mooney, and Cole Kmet. But that's not the case with the rest of this offense. Backup QB Trevor Siemian will need to show that he can adjust to what's now the sixth different offense of his professional career. Nathan Peterman, the No. 3 signal-caller, will need to convince the coaching staff to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster come September. At this point in his career, he's no longer eligible for the practice squad.

Related: 6 Chicago Bears to Watch During Training Camp

We'll also get a good look at the running backs behind Montgomery on the depth chart. All eyes will be on Khalil Herbert to see how he has improved since his rookie year, and I'm excited to watch rookie Trestan Ebner in action. Youngsters De'Montre Tuggle and Darrynton Evans also are in the mix to back up Montgomery. It'll also be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Luke Getsy uses fullback Khari Blasingame. He's the first true fullback the Bears have had since 2018, and he's proven throughout his career that fullback is still a vital position in this game.

The offensive line will be under intense scrutiny at Soldier Field, especially after giving up a league-high 58 sacks last year. Offensive tackle Teven Jenkins finally practiced this week, but it's likely the second-round pick won't suit up after such a long layoff. Free-agent signee Lucas Patrick was expected to be the starting center, but he's out indefinitely after undergoing surgery for a broken thumb. His absence could carry over to the start of the regular season, so a new starting pivot will need to be identified between proven veteran Cody Whitehair, third-year player Sam Mustipher, or rookie Doug Kramer. The coaching staff also could opt to go with a rotation.

Whitehair will start at center or guard, along with Michael Schofield, a Chicago-area native who was signed right before the start of training camp. Outside of that, the rest of the spots are up for grabs with fifth-round pick Braxton Jones already opening some eyes at left tackle. Veteran Riley Reiff, another pre-training camp pickup, will likely start at right tackle if the Bears choose to go with Jones on the left side. Others fighting for spots on the depth chart include Larry Borom, Lachavious Simmons, and rookies Ja'Tyre Carter and Zachary Thomas.

With Kmet likely not to play as he's been dealing with a recent injury, the other tight ends will get their chances to lay a claim to the backup job. Chase Allen, Ryan Griffin, Rysen John, James O'Shaughnessy, and Jake Tonges are currently in the mix for roster spots. Injuries could be a factor in this competition, as Griffin and O'Shaughnessy, the two most experienced options, are both listed as questionable heading into Saturday's game.

Then there's wide receiver. There are 13 players at the position in training camp with much to be determined, The only sure things right now are that Mooney is the No. 1 target and free-agent signee Byron Pringle and third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. will figure into the rotation somewhere. The problem is that both Pringle (quad) and Jones (unspecified) are injured. Pringle is definitely out for Saturday's game and probably longer, while it's unlikely that Jones will play either.

N'Keal Harry, whom the Bears acquired from New England in mid-July, will be out even longer. After getting off to a strong start with his new team, Harry suffered a severe ankle injury and this week had surgery to repair the damage. He's expected to be out 6-8 weeks, meaning he'll miss at least the first month of the regular season. Additionally, David Moore was carted off the field earlier this week after he suffered an apparent leg injury, while Dante Pettis, another veteran fighting for a job, also got hurt, further depleting the receiver inventory.

There have been some bright spots, however, as former Green Bay Packer Equanimeous St. Brown has made the most of his opportunities and been one of the early stars in training camp. Tajae Sharpe also has made some impressive catches. They should get their chances on Saturday along with Dazz Newsome, Isaiah Coulter, Nsimba Webster, Chris Finke, and Kevin Shaa.

Defense

Robert Quinn is the anchor up front for Eberfus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams, provided he's not traded before Week 1. But the rest of the defensive line rotation needs to be sorted out, especially with the Bears shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 alignment. Free-agent signee Justin Jones will start at one of the tackle spots and former Colt Al-Quadin Muhammad will play a big role given his experience in Eberflus' system. The team also has high hopes for third-year pro Trevis Gipson as a pass-rushing end with Angelo Blackson, Mario Edwards Jr., Khyiris Tonga, and Mike Pennel Jr. the other veterans in the mix along with rookies Dominique Robinson and Micah Dew-Treadway. 

Several players will have an opportunity to impress at linebacker because Roquan Smith isn't participating in training camp due to a contract dispute. Former Raider Nicholas Morrow is locked into one of the spots, with Joe Thomas and Matt Adams likely battling for the other starting spot, assuming Smith doesn't get traded. Adams could have the edge because he played under Eberflus and Williams in Indianapolis, and he has looked good in camp thus far. 

Similar to wide receiver, the cornerback position has been beset by injuries in the early going. Second-round pick Kyler Gordon has been held out for more than a week with what the team is calling a minor, unspecified injury. It remains to be seen how this will impact his chances of winning the starting spot opposite Jaylon Johnson. In the meantime, this opens up an opportunity for Kindle Vildor, Tavon Young, Duke Shelley, Lamar Jackson, Greg Stroman Jr., and BoPete Keyes to shine. Vildor and Young, along with the currently injured Thomas Graham, are likely the top candidates for the critical nickelback spot as well.

The safety spot seems a little more settled at this point, especially with all the buzz coming out of camp about how much Eddie Jackson has enjoyed practicing alongside rookie Jaquan Brisker. Those two will likely be the Week 1 starting duo, but that doesn't mean the entire rotation is set, making this an important game for DeAndre Houston-Carson, Dane Cruikshank, Michael Joseph, and Elijah Hicks.

Special Teams

Although it's often overlooked, special teams are one of the three phases of the game and the Bears have some changes here as well. One of them is not at kicker where Cairo Santos, who has connected on 56 of 62 field goal attempts and 63 of 65 extra points since taking the kicking job from Eddy Piñeiro back in 2020, is secure. But for the first time since 2014, there will be a new punter as rookie Trenton Gill out of NC State was taken with the team's last pick in the seventh round (255th overall) and is set to replace longtime Bear Pat O'Donnell. Long snapper Patrick Scales will return in his role for the eighth straight season. And speaking of returns, the kickoff and punt return duties are up for grabs with Velus Jones Jr., Herbert, and Newsome all in the mix, although Jones is likely to miss Saturday's game.

— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.