With Peyton Manning and the Broncos coming to Soldier Field, here is what I am looking for in Thursday night's matchup.
-- The expectations should be realistic with first-round pick Shea McClellin. The rookie defensive end has shown speed off the edge and the ability to turn the corner in practice, but he needs to develop counter moves at the point of attack and learn how to set up a pro offensive tackle. McClellin should see plenty of reps against the Broncos and each snap provides an opportunity for him to advance his development.
-- J'Marcus Webb has consistently run with the first unit at left tackle during camp, but he can't take that for granted. His technique will be tested along with his ability to kick back off the ball against the edge speed of the Broncos defense. Webb should be graded hard and expected to show signs he can handle the position.
-- Any time a key player misses practice for an extended period of time, there should be some concern. The Bears are dealing with that due to Brian Urlacher's knee injury. Against the Broncos, this means valuable reps for Nick Roach at the Mike backer position. And you always need a backup plan in this league.
-- Time to watch some live action in the run game with Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen. There has been an enormous amount of hype in camp surrounding the wide receivers, but don't let that discount how important it is to establish and control the line of scrimmage. Look for two-back power runs (Power O, Lead, Counter OF) and the one-back stretch/zone game.
-- I've been extremely impressed with wide receiver Brandon Marshall in Bourbonnais. He's a top-five talent at the position from my perspective because of his ability to run the entire route tree, win versus press coverage and make plays down the field. I wouldn't expect Marshall to see that many plays, but throwing a basic slant, curl or 9 (fade) route is still good work for the veteran and quarterback Jay Cutler.
-- Keep an eye on the tight end in Mike Tice's offense. The Bears have shown a lot of Ace personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends, one back) in camp and that leads to options in the passing game. With the tight ends involved, you can create some matchups in the middle of the field, use boot action and target soft spots in zone coverage.
-- I love special teams in the preseason as it provides a true opportunity for rookies and veteran bubble players to show something on tape. Who can make a play on kickoff team, block on the front line of kickoff return or stand out at the "gunner" position on punt? If you aren't a starter on offense or defense, you had better find a role on special teams to make this team.
-- Rookie Alshon Jeffery is the type of wide receiver that will go up and get the football, but the preseason is about facing good competition at the line of scrimmage. The Bears need to see if he can win on the release and create some separation coming back to the ball.
-- Are these rookies ready for an increased workload Thursday? When the veterans shut it down for the night and grab some sunflower seeds, the rookies will play every snap plus all four core special teams. Their conditioning will be tested. And when your legs get heavy, technique can suffer.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com