Chicago Bears: Five Things to Watch in Preseason Opener

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Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (90) against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-14. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Who will start on defense?

I miss the days when Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were in their prime; not only did it mean the Bears would have a good run defense, but there was a consistency and reliability in who would be starting (except safety, of course).

Instead, we have anarchy, and while it likely promises for sub-par play this year, it also guarantees fodder for discussion as Fangio, Fox and the other defensive coaches seek to find the right mix on defense.

Fangio has already come out and stated that the defensive line is in flux with the exception for Jeremiah Ratliff, who will start at either nose tackle or defensive end. Ratliff, aging and injury-prone, is still a good player, but other than him the starters along the defensive line are a mystery. Rookie Eddie Goldman has drawn solid reviews from Fox, according to the Chicago Sun-Times,  but I don’t think they’ll throw him into the fire in the first preseason game. Instead, I think Ratliff will start at nose tackle.

Jul 25, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson goes through a drill during training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

That leaves defensive end. With his experience in a 3-4, I think Jarvis Jenkins will get one of the starting nods. He’s not a special player who will produce; in three seasons in Washington, he notched only 75 tackles and two sacks. But he’s familiar with the position, unlike his primary competition.

The other defensive end slot is an open competition. Ego Ferguson is making the move from 4-3 tackle to 3-4 end. Cornelius Washington has seen sparse playing time over his two years in the NFL, but was projected as a 3-4 outside linebacker/defensive end coming out of college. My guess is Ferguson will get the start, but both will see plenty of time.

Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears inside linebacker Christian Jones (59) against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Pernell McPhee is a lock at one outside linebacker slot, and the coaches have already gone on record as saying Christian Jones and Shea McClellin have the inside track on starting at inside linebacker. Lamarr Houston seems likely to start in the season at outside linebacker, but coming off an ACL tear may not start right away in the preseason as the team seeks to make sure he’s healthy. The same can be said of Willie Young, who is coming of an Achilles tendon tear. With Jared Allen learning a new position, I’m looking for Sam Acho, a solid and underrated 3-4 off season signing, to start opposite McPhee.

In the secondary, Antrel Rolle will likely start at one safety position, and Kyle Fuller will start at one cornerback post. Tim Jennings and Alan Ball are competing for the other cornerback position, and I expect Jennings will start except in the nickel, when Ball will come in and Jennings will slide inside to the slot.

At the second safety position, Brock Vereen and Ryan Mundy are battling for the starting role, and I expect Vereen, with his better coverage skills and ability to play slot corner when needed, will win out over Mundy’s better run support abilities.

Next: What About the New Guys?