A lot to watch as Chicago Bears offense gets its first test
That's what preseason openers are about, especially for a team like the Bears, with so many question marks and personnel decisions still to be answered.
That's especially true for the Bears offense, which will have three new starters on the line and must replace the production of running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett.
Although the starters might not play a full quarter against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night at Soldier Field, there are some goals.
"We need to run the ball efficiently," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "We need to (pass) protect. Guys just need to do their jobs. We're not asking them to do any more than that. Just line up and be where you're supposed to be. If we just run the offense efficiently, we'll be OK."
The Bears were 20th last season in average gain per rush, and are counting on some combination of veterans Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers, along with rookie Jordan Howard, to boost last year's 4.0-yard average per carry.
Langford is first on the depth chart, but he probably has to play better than he did as a rookie (3.6-yard average per carry) to keep the job.
"He's progressed and gotten better as camp has gone on," Cutler said. "I think he actually does better in live scenarios than he does out here at practice. I'm excited for him. He's done a good job for us."
The run-pass decisions will be made by new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who was the quarterbacks coach last season, but was promoted when coordinator Adam Gase left to take the Miami Dolphins' head-coaching position.
"We didn't miss a beat," Cutler said. "I've known Dowell for a long time, and him coming from quarterbacks coach he knows how I play. So him stepping into that role was kind of nice.
"He's strong in his conviction of what this offense is going to be, how he sees it in his mind. He shows it to us in meetings, and he holds guys accountable. That's all you want from an offensive coordinator and play callers, holding everyone accountable so that on Sundays everyone is doing their job."
Incorporating talented 2015 first-round wide receiver Kevin White into the mix was a priority during training camp practices in Bourbonnais. But that process is in its infancy since he missed his entire rookie season after shin surgery.
"He's getting there. ," Cutler said. "We've just got to keep getting him reps and experience. I think preseason is going to be big for him, just playing football again because it's been a while. You can only re-create so much at practice. So just going through the (game day) motions -- the pregame, the fans, the jitters -- just feeling that out three or four times (will help in) getting him ready."
The battle for roster spots at tight end behind starter Zach Miller is one of the most interesting this season. Miller is not expected to play because of a concussion, and converted defensive end Greg Scruggs (bruised lung) and rookie Ben Braunecker (ankle) also will be out. So there will be plenty of opportunities for Gannon Sinclair, Tony Moeaki, Khari Lee and Rob Housler.
"We need guys to step up," Cutler said. "We're kind of forcing some guys into some situations that we wouldn't be otherwise, so it's not a bad thing for us. Just try to get a peek at these guys and see what they do."
Oh, by the way, Cutler will be taking his first game snaps from Ted Larsen, who has replaced injured Hroniss Grasu (torn ACL, right knee). Cutler will also be playing behind rookie left guard Cody Whitehair and unrestricted free agent right tackle Bobby Massie for the first time in a game.
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