10:40 PM CDT, August 15, 2013
It has been a jam-packed eight-plus months for the Bears since the departure of coach Lovie Smith and most of his staff. We're learning about new boss Marc Trestman and his lieutenants, several big free-agent acquisitions and a fresh crop of rookies.
For many observers, the exercise already has become tired. Now that we have seen the Bears go through their second dress rehearsal with a 33-28 victory over the Chargers, many are up to their ears in preseason blather and glorified scrimmages. They hunger for the Sept. 8 opener against the Bengals at Soldier Field.
But I'm not eager to be done with August. The Bears have not been this compelling in years and the subplots that will unfold in the next several weeks should be juicy.
The big uglies: It's nothing new that the Bears have uncertainty on their offensive line, but optimism over several newcomers is a refreshing departure. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson both look like legitimate NFL beef, something the Bears haven't possessed since the Super Bowl season of 2006.
First-rounder Kyle Long, who started a mere handful of games at Oregon, is worth watching on every snap. I'm always content to spend time with the remote, examining the technique and toughness of offensive linemen. That Long is projected as the Game 1 starter at right guard has boosted my interest level even more.
I'm pleased Bears coaches have intimated they might not make their final decisions on the starting front five until the week of the Bengals game. It's consistent with the "show me on the field" mantra general manager Phil Emery laid down on the first day in training camp at Olivet Nazarene University when he announced no contracts would be negotiated during the season.
If J'Marcus Webb is going to make the team, he's going to have to earn it. As a line junkie, evaluating who the club's best eight linemen are is as good as this month gets.
The rookie class: Long isn't the only first-year player capable of making a significant contribution. Second-round linebacker Jon Bostic has impressed and, because he's the future, will have an opportunity to take the starting job from free agent D.J. Williams, who has been out for almost three weeks with a nagging calf injury.
At the minimum, fourth-round linebacker Khaseem Greene looks worthy of a role on special teams. Greene's coaches at Rutgers raved about his smarts, maturity and leadership qualities and, so far, Bears coaches are saying similar things.
Wide receiver Marquess Wilson, a projected middle-round draft pick before sullying his pro stock when he quit the team at Washington State, is a wild card. Wilson desperately needs to find the weight room to put some muscle on his 6-foot-4 frame, but the seventh-rounder has shown flashes and rubbed me as anything but a head case when I sat down with him in camp earlier this week.
The defensive line: When I watch the Bears-Chargers game a second time, I'm going to isolate on defensive tackle Stephen Paea on every snap. Paea has not been the impact player Jerry Angelo thought he would be when the former GM made Paea a second-round pick in 2011. He needs to go to the next level.
End Corey Wootton has been given positive reviews and has the edge on 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin.
McClellin has to prove he can be stout against the run. Admittedly overwhelmed by the big stage in rookie camp last summer, the Boise State product stands to benefit from every snap he takes before the regular season.
They each had an impressive sack in the first quarter Thursday night.
Depth: There's a nice battle developing between running backs Armando Allen and Michael Ford for a roster spot. Allen has the upper hand because of protection skills and special teams experience. But Ford has shown good burst and ran a kickoff back 100 yards to the Chargers 4 in the third quarter.
Who's going to be emerge as Martellus Bennett's backup at tight end? Fendi Onobun is a former college basketball player, now on his sixth NFL team, looks terribly raw but is going to get more chances to prove he's NFL-ready.
The secondary has ample bodies and recognizable names, but I'm not sure if there are any difference makers besides Pro Bowl corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Is the wispy Isaiah Frey as good as some are telling you?
That's just one more reason to keep watching August football. I'm most willing to park the debate over Jay Cutler's contract year until next month.
Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.
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