Things to Watch for Tonight vs Bills..............
Things to watch in Bears' exhibition opener
After starters leave, early, roster battles will begin in earnest
http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...8/63942003.jpg New Bears receiver Roy Williams. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune / August 4, 2011)
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter 7:47 p.m. CDT, August 12, 2011
A lost offseason likely won't be enough to encourage the Bears to give starters substantially more playing time in their first exhibition against the Bills on Saturday night at Soldier Field.
Everyone will want to check out the controversial playing surface, but it will be ripped up and re-sodded after the Sept. 1 exhibition finale against the Browns. There is football to focus on and here are five things to watch:
1. The Bears won't advance further than they did a year ago if the offensive line isn't improved. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he's looking for some rhythm from the group that has only one starter where he finished 2010 — Chris Williams at left guard. Communication is key, and it's a challenging first step for center Roberto Garza.
When the starters are out: Look for guards Edwin Williams and Levi Horn, who have had impressive camps. They could be battling for one roster spot between them.
2. If one free-agent addition hits it big, the Bears hope it's Roy Williams. They put a bigger emphasis on wide receivers when tight end Greg Olsen was traded, and they're counting on Williams to be the big-time playmaker he wasn't with the Cowboys. Can Williams establish the chemistry with Jay Cutler that the quarterback hasn't found in two seasons here?
When the starters are out: Maybe Dane Sanzenbacher didn't dazzle during the first two weeks of camp, but he made nearly every play that came his way. He could continue to make a push for the 53-man roster with strong exhibitions.
3. There is so much depth on the defensive line that after the starters depart, the Bears still will be stout up front. Amobi Okoye was eager for a fresh start and put together some solid practices this week. The coaching staff has been enthusiastic about strides Corey Wootton has made. There is some big-time competition here.
When the starters are out: Former third-round pick Marcus Harrison has some serious ground to make up after showing up for camp out of shape. He must perform well in exhibitions.
4. The Bears talked about a real competition at left cornerback between Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman, but we haven't seen Bowman work much with the first team. Was it just a way to motivate Jennings? Is there a job at stake here? With the emphasis coach Lovie Smith places on takeaways, some big plays could go a long way toward shaping opinions.
When the starters are out: Antareis Bryan and Ryan Jones are undrafted cornerbacks who could make a push for a roster spot considering the team didn't draft a cornerback. But 2010 draft pick Josh Moore might be the most improved player from this time a year ago.
5. Sure, it will be interesting to see if Matt Forte gets any carries considering his contract situation. But how will Marion Barber adapt to the offense? He has run hard in practice, but the game is a different beast.
When the starters are out: Harvey Unga, a supplemental draft pick a year ago, has a few opportunities remaining to prove his worth.
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