To preview this week's Preseason matchup with the Bears -- (the third Preseason game, which is generally considered the dress rehearsal where starters play into the second half) -- I chatted with Kev H from over at Windy City Gridiron. Seahawks and Bears fans have probably had enough of each other in recent years because of the close and seemingly frequent match-ups between the two teams, but the guys at WCG are honestly really cool and funny, and they run an excellent blog over there.
Look no further to my answers to their five questions, you'll see the eloquent and apt opening, "the Seahawks absolutely pantsed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl." Anyone who still uses "pantsed" is a-okay in my book. They also have some great Xs and Os content that you should check out if you're looking to scout the enemy or learn football.
To the questions! Mine in bold, Kev's follow.
1. How is the overall health of the Bears' top contributors looking heading into the preseason?
Generally speaking, it's alright. 2nd year tackle Jordan Mills has been sidelined most of camp as he recovers from a foot injury that required surgery. He just joined the team in individual drills this week, so you're unlikely to see him in Friday's game with the Seahawks. As for other players, expected starting nickel corner Kyle Fuller, the Bears' first round pick, injured his ankle against the Jaguars, but should be ready to go for Week 1. I wouldn't expect to see him this week, either.
On the periphery, Zach Miller did that thing where he flashes some skills and then gets injured, so he's out of the TE conversation. Other than that, most of the pre-determined starters are reasonably healthy and hope to stay that way for the next couple of weeks, until Week 1 when Buffalo roams into town.
2. Have there been any surprise breakout players in training camp (non-rookies)? If so, who, and what kind of impact could they have this year?
I'm not sure there's anyone that would make you snap your head in astonishment, but newly acquire defensive linemen Lamarr Houston and Willie Young (oh, and this Allen guy), have all shown impressive flashes, much more so than the second string defensive line the Bears were fielding at the end of last year.
Houston has the ability to play outside or move in and play three-tech (particularly on passing downs), and Young continues to show what he was doing in Detroit. If the offensive line can keep putting points on the board, Houston, Young, and Allen could be scary pinning their ears back on the pass rush.
In another surprise, Shea McClellin hasn't looked 100% terrible in his conversion from defensive end to strong side linebacker. He's been getting a ton of snaps in camp and in the preseason, and showed some improvement between Week 1 and Week 2. He seems pretty locked into that spot until he loses it at some point. It's not a flashy position, but he has the athletic skill to do the things needed. It's a matter of quickly he can get the instincts. He currently seems to overthink a lot (scary for a third year player), but it's basically his second rookie season. Time should hopefully tell.
3. How is the 2014 rookie class looking so far? Any guys to keep an eye on this week?
Kyle Fuller, the first round pick, is going to be the starting nickelback barring anything weird happening. Defensive Tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton appear to be learning quickly, but are still a little raw. Brock Vereen, the fourth round safety, has had some flashes here and there, and could possibly be a starter in the future. Overall, solid. I don't know that any of them will have the "breakout" rookie year that Kyle Long did (i.e., they're not going to be pro bowl alternates or anything), but they have the physical talents to be productive rotation guys. Whether defensive coordinator Mel Tucker can get that out of them is an entirely different matter.
On offense, David Fales of San Jose State has looked alright, but very raw at the NFL level. There's a lot of talk of trying to get him onto the practice squad, and if that's the case the Bears probably won't play him a whole lot in the next two games. Ka'Deem Carey hasn't shown a ton, but I think he's solid enough (and a high enough draft pick) that he's on the roster come week 1.
Oh, and they drafted punter Pat O'Donnell in the sixth round O'Donnell was 6'4 220lbs at the combine, and benched more than Jadeveon Clowney. He won himself the punting job last week with a couple of long hangtime monsters.
4. What free agent players did the Bears add over the offseason and what will their roles be this year?
We'll cover the biggies:
Jared Allen - Plug and Play 4-3 defensive end. Get sack, do dumb lasso thing, repeat. Occasionally contain a run.
Lamarr Houston - Flexible defensive lineman, can play defensive end, or move inside and play some 3-tech. The defensive line was destroyed last season, and the remnants were blown up. GM Phil Emery seems to be trying to do the same thing with the defensive line this year that he did with the offensive line.
Willie Young - Rush the passer.
Santonio Holmes - Possible 3rd wide receiver. This spot was going to be filled by Marquess Wilson, but he broke his collarbone leaving the Bears with Eric Weems (now gone), Chris Williams (CFL), Michael Spurlock (Has played for about a quarter of the league), and some others. Holmes, if he can stay healthy (that foot is still a concern) and keep his attitude in check, could benefit greatly from the attention given to Marshall and Jeffery.
5. What players did Chicago lose and how will that impact the early part of the season?
Julius Peppers and Devin Hester are the two big names that come to mind. The departure of Hester, while completely understandable, has left a big question mark in the return game. For a unit that was already a little suspect last year, special teams, and ultimately the offense, could be affected by field position early in the season.
Peppers last year really seemed to phone it in a lot. He's off to Green Bay now, and I don't know that the Bears are going to necessarily hurt all that much from it. For a long time the story was that even if Peppers wasn't notching sacks, he was at least demanding double teams and making things easier for the rest of the line. However, last season we took a look at Peppers against the Steelers and noticed that in reality, it simply wasn't the case.
Additionally (and if you'd told me I'd be writing this last preseason I would've called you nuts) losing Josh McCown to the Buccaneers hurts. Last preseason, McCown didn't look that great, but in the regular season something really clicked for him and he put up great performances while Jay Cutler was out. This year, the Bears have Jordan Palmer and Jimmy "Pickles" Clausen battling it out for the number two job.
Trestman's gathered a little bit of a QB-whisperer legend around our parts, so hopefully what happened last year can happen again. With Cutler's injury history, it's not unreasonable to think that one of those two guys could have to see some playing time this season. While they've been alright in the preseason, neither seems quite ready to step up and steal that job from the other. The Seahawks game should be what makes that determination.
Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions!