Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals: Five Things to Watch For

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Aug 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Chicago Bears running back Jeremy Langford (36) is tackled by Indianapolis Colts safety Clayton Geathers (42) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Who has the leg up at contested positions?

Earlier this year, the Bears looked littered with questions at positions along the offensive and defensive lines, the linebacking corps and the secondary, depth at tight end and running back and more. The situation was unnerving, as it seemed that either side of the ball offered more unknown than known entities.

The coaching staff has done a good job of whittling down the positional battles, but they aren’t all settled. Let’s start on offense.

Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end George Johnson (93) rushes Chicago Bears tackle Jordan Mills (67) at Soldier Field. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-14. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

I’d hoped Jermon Bushrod would be set adrift this offseason, but he’s still around, and rookie Hroniss Grasu has struggled so far at center, leaving that position for Will Montgomery. That leaves the primary positional battle on offense at right tackle, where Jordan Mills started the first game and struggled and Charles Leno Jr. started the second game and struggled, leaving the position murky.

The Bears don’t seem likely to move beastly right guard Kyle Long to right tackle, thereby creating more uncertainty at his former position. And unless they let Michael Ola into the fight, it’s a two-horse race between Mills and Leno. While Mills struggles in pass protection, he’s the better option in the run game, while Leno seems to struggle in both and offers more flexibility as a swing tackle if needed. I haven’t seen reports of who Fox will start, but I think the better option is to go with Mills at this point and offer him help in pass protection.

We’ve already addressed the wide receiver situation, so let’s shift to the backup battles at tight end and running back. At tight end, no one has really distinguished themselves behind Martellus Bennett. Bear Pascoe, Dante Rosario and Zach Miller are the presumed top three behind Bennett, but none of the three have made much of an impact yet in the preseason.

Pascoe and Rosario are more blocking tight ends, while Miller offers an intriguing if injury-prone option as a receiver. I’d look for all three to see more playing time this week and next, but one thing to keep in mind is that if the Bears’ receiving corps is still a mess, the coaching staff could keep Miller to help in the passing game instead of keeping the two blocking tight ends.

There’s more to say about the running back situation. Ka’Deem Carey starred in the first game against Miami. Jeremy Langford was the king in the second game against the Colts. Jacquizz Rodgers pounded out yards in both games. While the coaching staff needs to determine the definite backup for Matt Forte, I think Rodgers has secured a roster spot, and therefore may not see as many carries this week, helping him avoid injury.

Look for Langford and Carey to get more touches in this week’s game. If Langford can come close to duplicating his 80-yard performance from last week, the Bears could cut ties with Carey or put him on the trading block, possibly picking up a late-round draft pick. If Carey shines, then the Bears will have a dilemma; they won’t cut a fourth-round pick in his first year, so Langford’s making the roster, along with Forte and Rodgers. Do they want to keep four backs, plus special teams ace Senorise Perry? Or do they cut Perry and hope someone else picks up the slack there, possibly Carey?

I like Carey’s aggressive running style, but I think he’s likely on his way out of Chicago.

Aug 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen (83) blocks Chicago Bears linebacker Jared Allen (69) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As for the defense, let’s look at the linebackers and secondary, as we touched on the defensive line earlier. The outside linebacker situation is getting complicated. Pernell McPhee is going to start at one spot. But Jared Allen has looked decent so far, and Lamarr Houston will likely get better as he continues his return from an ACL tear. But Sam Acho has also looked stellar, with an interception and a pair of sacks. And David Bass has looked decent, too, and offers some pass rushing options.

Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive end Willie Young (97) against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-14. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

That leaves Willie Young, who I think is destined to leave Chicago to return somewhere to a 4-3 system. The Bears would be smart to trade him – he’s coming off a 10-sack season, even if he tore his Achilles tendon – so that they get some return value, rather than cut him.

At inside linebacker, Christian Jones and Shea McClellin have looked solid, as has Mason Foster. Jon Bostic has looked old and slow, and is only in his third season, depressingly enough. He’s battled back injuries, and maybe they’re still hampering him, but he hasn’t looked good so far in Fangio’s system. I’m hoping Saturday brings a different result, because the athleticism he showed in his first two seasons provides options for the defense. Rookie John Timu has also looked solid, and could push Bostic for the fourth inside linebacker spot.

In the secondary, the Bears need to give Alan Ball an extended look at cornerback to determine if he can play outside in the nickel while Jennings slides inside to the slot corner spot. If Ball struggles, then the Bears need to give extended looks to Sherrick McManis and Terrance Mitchell, both of whom have played well in the preseason, to determine the third cornerback on the team.

Free safety is the final competition, but rookie Adrian Amos played well enough against the Colts to demonstrate he should start the rest of the preseason. Barring any catastrophes in terms of injuries or poor play, Amos should get the nod over former starter Brock Vereen, giving the Bears two starting rookies (Goldman) on defense.

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