Don't be surprised if you also see them make a move for a defensive end.
The backup spot behind starters Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije is wide open, particularly with Corey Wootton sidelined until around the start of the regular season following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Wootton had some minor cartilage damage in the same knee he suffered a torn ACL playing in the Alamo Bowl following his junior season at Northwestern.
"Right now, there is a concern," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We're going to get Corey back, that's the good news, and hopefully we're going to get him back like he was looking prior to the injury, or close to it anyway. I thought for the first time we really saw what he looked like pre-injury in college and he said it too, that's the best he felt.
"It's a concern so hopefully we will see some guys step up. We'll keep looking as well. We tried to do something with a couple of claims and it didn't work out. We're just looking for potential guys who can come in here and help."
Angelo tapped the brakes on some of the buzz for Mario Addison, the undrafted free agent from Troy who has gotten reps as the No. 3 end along with Vernon Gholston since Wootton was injured in the first preseason game vs. the Buffalo Bills. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli praised Gholston for having a terrific practice right before training camp, but the former Jets' first-round pick showed off little more than a chiseled physique during three weeks at Olivet Nazarene University. The first player off the bench as the third end Monday night against the New York Giants was Nick Reed, who Tim Ruskell drafted in the seventh round in 2009 in Seattle from Oregon. Reed set a school record for the Ducks with 29 1/2 career sacks, fourth in Pac-10 history.
No Bears defensive players had a sack in the game.
"College free agent," Angelo said when asked about Addison. "He's done some nice things. Nick Reed's done some nice things."
Angelo knows better than anyone the Bears' track record with college free agents isn't very good, something that doesn't bode real well for wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher -- or any of the other remaining 25 UDFA's signed when the lockout ended. More on Sanzenbacher and his role with the first team a little later on. He could still have a future on the 53-man roster.
Another possibility for the Bears already has some experience as a situational pass rusher.
"Henry (Melton) has played out there at end," Angelo said. "So we have some options."
Melton started Monday's game against the New York Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium as the under tackle, the position he's been slated to play since before Tommie Harris was released. The Bears have solid depth on the interior but moving a starter isn't the way they want to plug a gap, especially when you consider the third end played just 33 percent of the time last season as Peppers (87.9 percent) and Idonije (80.2 percent) rarely came off the field. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Bears desire the third end to play more this season, especially if they can find someone productive who can keep the others fresher.
But consider Melton has bulked up to 292 pounds for the move inside, and is that the way the Bears want to fill a hole?
"If it is what it is, we've got to have a quality third end," Angelo said. "We're not going to keep a guy if we don't feel like he can contribute. Maybe we could (move Melton). We'll see."
The best-case scenario is if Wootton comes back in early September with the same burst and explosion he had at the start of camp after a dedicated offseason.
2. Those clamoring for change on the offensive line are unlikely to see it -- not this week with the Bears traveling to Tennessee to face the Titans on Saturday. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said he expected significant improvement and if you just go off the numbers -- not the tape -- they went from four sacks vs. the starting unit a week ago to one. Thing is, Jay Cutler could have thrown the ball away on the one sack too.
"Yeah, upright?" Cutler joked when asked if it felt better to leave the stadium this way as opposed to 10 months ago when he was sacked nine times in one half and left with a concussion. "A little bit different guys right now up front but I think they wanted to come out and have a good showing. After we started a little shaky, those guys evened out and I thought they played a really solid half."
So, those making a plea for Chris Spencer to take over at center will have to wait. The Bears have a plan and the guess here is they're sticking to it. There will be some game planning involved this week, too, because it is the third preseason game.
3. After a rough go of it against Buffalo, backup quarterback Caleb Hanie was given the entire second half against the Giants. I'd expect Mike Martz to throw platitudes at him this week if asked about the performance, but surely just one touchdown drive -- with help of a pass interference penalty on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line -- isn't what the Bears were hoping for against the New York reserves.
Hanie completed 17 of 28 passes for 166 yards. That comes out to 5.93 yards per attempt. He was intercepted by linebacker Mark Herzlich, the former Boston College star. A full half for Hanie meant rookie fifth-round draft pick Nathan Enderle remained on the bench. There will be plenty of time for Enderle in the preseason finale.
Martz was pretty clear Hanie is the No. 2 but the hunch here is he wanted more from the quarterback in this outing.
4. If you were watching the game you saw Sanzenbacher, the undrafted free agent from Ohio State, get on the field in the first half, something Johnny Knox didn't do on offense. But they play different positions so it can't be judged that way. Sanzenbacher is a slot player in the four-wide package and when Earl Bennett needed to catch a break, it was his turn.
On first down at the Giants' 44-yard line with 15 seconds until halftime, Sanzenbacher caught his first pass in a Bears uniform, a short Cutler throw along the sideline. Instead of turning out of bounds, he tried to get upfield and was quickly tackled for a seven-yard gain forcing the team to use a timeout.
"This was my first catch and I was battling in my mind, do I want to go out or do I want to make a play with it?" Sanzenbacher said. "I obviously was wrong. They gave me some grief and I know I've got to get out of bounds on that but first catch, I couldn't make myself do it."
He played more in the second half and finished with four receptions for 34 yards. He's making a bid to be a sixth receiver if the Bears go with that many.
"I think in games like this you want to get opportunities wherever you can," he said. "When it's with the ones, it's even better if you can squeeze some reps in there. It was encouraging.
"When you've been working all the through and putting everything you can out there on the field, you hope it is a legitimate shot."
5. Roy Williams was targeted with three passes in the game, none more catchable than the ball he dropped on the third-and-10 three plays into the Bears' first possession. Williams hopped up and signaled first down as he's been known to do in his career. It would have been that and more -- a 16-yard-gain -- had he kept the ball with Aaron Ross on him to make a play.
"I was trying to sell it," said Williams, who had his catch overturned by a replay challenge.
He's got to start selling more than that for the offense soon. He's yet to have a reception and although coaches say he's been practicing better, we never saw Cutler really lock onto him in training camp.
"We've got 20 days," Williams said. "We'll be good, man."
6. Ugly night for special teams and Dave Toub. Not only was Spencer Lanning's punt blocked by Greg Jones to set up an easy touchdown just before halftime, the Giants had 173 yards in the return game -- 73 on a kickoff return by Devin Thomas.
The entire first team was in for the blocked punt with Lanning just subbing for Adam Podlesh.
"It's not what we want to see and we've built a reputation around the league for years with Dave that we're a top-notch team and we pride ourselves in not making big mistakes and tonight was not a good night for us at all," long snapper Pat Mannelly said. Fortunately, it's only the second preseason game and we'll get to go back and watch a lot of teaching tape and fix our mistakes."
Is there a chance a teaching tape is a good thing to have in August?
"For a teaching tape, sure," Mannelly said. "But you'd rather show someone else's mistakes than your own."
Rookie linebacker Dom DeCicco owned up to the error on the block. Jones was holding him up on the previous punts.
"One-hundred percent my fault," DeCicco said. "He was holding me up the whole time and then I assumed, which was really dumb of me, and I just tried getting downfield because I figured he was holding me up and he happened to be coming on that one.
"It definitely hurt and it hurt the team a lot. I've got to learn from the mistake."
DeCicco got praise for his efforts against the Bills and has been in position to be the sixth linebacker. That's a tenuous spot right now.
7. Raise your hand if you remember the last time you heard Lovie Smith criticize his team. I can't raise mine. It doesn't happen very often. But he was clearly put off by the defensive effort, which had some sloppy errors by the starters, particularly free safety Major Wright, and then some plain bad play from the backups, who allowed 28 points in the 41-13 loss.
Smith was remarking about his team's good health when he ripped off this rare zinger.
"You've got to tackle a little bit better before you start talking about injuries and things like that," he said.
Store that one in the memory bank.
Wright knows he has to play with more poise than he did on the 18-yard touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs. He rushed up to make the play and was totally out of control, failing to get even a reasonable dive at the bruising back.
"That's a play I've got to make," Wright said. "I've got to come down in control of myself. I was not in control. If I control myself I make that play. I've got to let it come to me."
Is he feeling pressure to perform in a veteran defense?
"It's not so much pressure," he said. "It's playing within this defense and doing whatever that is, Cover-2, Cover-3, Cover-4."
8. And talk about some good fortune with the injuries. The Giants won the game and the Bears won the war. At least four New York players were taken in for evaluation and it was announced Terrell Thomas, maybe the team's best cornerback, suffered a torn ACL. Consider first-round draft pick Prince Amukamara is already sidelined more than a month with a foot injury and the Giants have some mending to do. The Bears simply have had real good fortune and continue to remain healthy.
9. The first round of cuts must be made by Aug. 30, next Tuesday, giving all 32 teams a chance to play three preseason games with a 90-man roster. The first cuts only force teams to reduce their rosters to 80. Considering the Bears have 86 players on their roster right now, getting to 80 after Saturday's game at Tennessee will be simple. The cuts can be done blindfolded. Final cuts to 53 are due Saturday, Sept. 3, two days after the preseason finale at Soldier Field against the Cleveland Browns. I've already gotten emails from fans wondering about what surprise cuts could be on the way. None from my vantage point. Fact is, you don't really see surprises at final cuts. Any veteran who gets released at that time probably saw the writing on the wall or at least had an indication the club could be considering a younger alternative.
The question pops up every year right before the final preseason game: How tough will cuts be this year. The answer given is the same every year: It's always difficult. No, it's not. The coaches and the front office are playing the roster game all along. They have a 53-man roster in mind when the team arrives in training camp. Players rise, players falls. Occasionally, a decision needs to be made about keeping an extra player at one position or another. That's it. Nothing too dramatic about it. We'll get a better idea how the 53 will shape up as this week goes on and we see what happens in Tennessee.
Keep an eye on what happens at final cuts because that is where the Bears could move to add a linebacker to the mix or the defensive end Angelo talked about. The team already tried to put in a claim for linebacker Thaddeus Gibson when he was released by the San Francisco 49ers but lost out in the waiver process to the Washington Redskins. Someone else's trash could be the Bears' fifth linebacker.
Here is a look at the list of scouts at the Bills game in Week 1 of preseason: 19 scouts from 18 teams were at Soldier Field -- two scouts from the Chiefs and one from the Eagles, Packers, Jets, Ravens, Dolphins, Saints, Jaguars, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Raiders, Steelers, Vikings, Cowboys, Falcons, Chargers, Redskins and Patriots.
10 a. Valued Twitter follower David Bass points out Saturday's game will be the first time Cutler has played in Tennessee since he was at Vanderbilt. The Broncos played the Titans in preseason and regular season but always in Denver. Bass works at Vanderbilt.
10 b. In a short week, the Bears will practice Wednesday and Thursday at Halas Hall and have a walk-through Friday before departing for Nashville.
10 c. Former Bears third-round draft pick Jarron Gilbert, who spent most of last season on the New York Jets practice squad, played in the stadium Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Gilbert made one nice play in the running game but looks unlikely to stick this season.
10 d. Interesting that undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Adams, a tight end at Purdue who has been shifted to fullback, was on the kickoff team to open the game. He could push Eddie Williams for a roster spot. Williams was also on that kickoff team.
10 e. Adisa Bakari, the agent for running back Matt Forte, attended the game. Whether or not he met with Angelo and front office types is unknown. Big contracts are starting to go down around the league with Larry Fitzgerald and Joe Thomas receiving deals in recent days. We'll see if these sides can bridge the gap some time soon.
1) Definitely need more depth at LB, especially someone who can play both MLB and SLB. DeCicco is a poor man's Hunter Hillenmeyer not a poor man's Brian Urlacher and his play Monday was more flat broke than poor!
Glad to hear JA quieting all the talk about Addison and Gholston has shown nothing except his physique and the fact that he can run a fast 10 yard dash getting all the way past the pocket untouched. Of course nobody is gonna touch you unless you actually make a play on the QB. On Monday he didn't. Nick Reed is the guy who has played better than the others by far. The guy looks like he's been shot out of a cannon when he comes off the ball and he does challenge the pocket on every rush. Nice set of moves too which is something neither of the other two have shown.
Based on what I've seen so far I cut Gholston, put Addison on the PS and Reed on the final roster strictly as a situational pass rusher. He's too small for an every down DE but I like having a shorter faster guy with a quick burst in the mold of a guy like the Broncos Elvis Dumervil. LB size DE's with his kind of burst are very hard for big OT's to block and I'm hoping that Reed can be that type of player. His college pedigree is excellent.
2) The Oline was better but Webb is still struggling and we have no depth other than OMG at OT if either he or Carimi get hurt. Cull the waiver wire, make a trade, do whatever you have to but don't go into the season this thin at OT. On a brighter note Louis' play was much improved over the week before but I still see him trying to over power guys and getting himself off balance although not as bad as Webb.
3) Hanie played fairly well up until that pick. He just stared his target down and gave Herzlich every opportunity for the pick. Still it was a great play on Herzlich's part. Oh how I wish we had him at MLB instead of Dom DeCicco. Other than that Hanie moved the team pretty well but got victimized by Martz crappy goaline play calling. I'll attribute at least half our red zone problems to him.
4/5) Cut Roy Williams and let him and Moose write a book about pass catching techniques. Let's not wait as long as we did with Moose to find out the RWill is no #1 WR either. Start Knox at split end again and use Hurd more as the bigger target guy. Whatever you do find a place for Sanzenbacher. That kid is gonna be good.....real good. Hester looks great on the long ball but don't use him on the goaline!!!!! That's what the big guys are for Martz.
6) Coverage teams need some real work and Robbie Gould needs to find out why he's pushing his kicks to the right. Is it the hold or is it his aim? His ball isn't drawing back in right to left as it usually does. The next time a guy lets his man come untouched up the middle on a punt that guy should be on a bus the next AM. Halas would have cut the guys ass before he dried off from his postgame shower. Way too many mistakes on the ST so far.
7) OK so you know what you did wrong and how to correct it Major Wright. Just don't let it happen again! This defense doesn't give up TD runs like that on blown tackles.
8) So far so good except for Wootton and I just hope he comes back to where he left off. We need his pass rush. Hopefully that experience will teach Toub not to use an important rotation player at a position we're thin at on kick coverage in a preseason game. Not when you have so much other camp fodder hoping to make it based on ST play. That was dumb!
9) We could probably all come within a half dozen players or less of predicting the final 53 right now. We should be watching other teams cuts more than our own and hopefully Jerry will too. We need an OT, a LB (Tatupu still out there?), and/or a LB/DE. I wouldn't pass on a good zone CB or a tall WR either. Any excuse to rid ourselves of RWill is good enough for me. Hell, I might even keep Fantuz rather than "the mouth".
10) I think the abundance of scouts tells me they expect the Bears will have to cut some good football players. Guys who you'd keep around if you were a second division team in the process of rebuilding. But......we're not so out they go with a chance to hook on elsewhere. Just hoping we don't get stupid and give teams a shot at the really promising guys.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap.
Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.