Don't expect to see much from Bears' starters in Thursday's preseason opener
BOURBONNAIS -- Bears fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the starters when the Carolina Panthers visit Soldier Field Thursday night to kick off the preseason are likely to be disappointed.
Head coach Matt Nagy hasn't said definitively that he'll hold out the majority of his first-teamers for the second consecutive preseason. But Tuesday, following the team's tenth practice overall and final exhibition tune-up, he continued to drop hints that last year's approach will carry over.
"I think for all these guys, I think it's important -- whether they play a little bit, play a lot, or don't play at all -- mentally they go through the whole process, and I think that's good," Nagy said. "For [quarterback Mitch Trubisky], we'll go through all that. We'll put a nice little plan together, and I think that whatever we do will be for the best of the team."
Nagy's team doesn't have an extra week of camp practices prior to playing a fifth preseason game, like last year. But his then-unconventional decision -- widely scrutinized at the time -- to have Trubisky attempt only 18 combined preseason passes despite it being his first year in the system clearly didn't impede the Bears' regular-season path toward 12 wins and the playoffs, while having among the NFL's fewest key injuries.
So when Nagy, who has repeatedly in camp mentioned the need to get his players to Week 1 -- meaning Sept. 5, not Aug. 8 -- surmises, "I think you guys know where I stand a little bit, big-picture," it's pretty clear that basically anyone who not only went to a Pro Bowl last season but earned a regular role on the division championship squad will do plenty of spectating Thursday.
OK, but what about the rookies and some of the veteran newcomers fighting for roster spots? Nagy said top pick RB David Montgomery is "really fired up. He's ready to put the pads on, do some thumping and play a real game," while fourth-rounder WR Riley Ridley is "probably 50-50" after showing well Tuesday in his second day of work since departing his first NFL camp practice early with a right hamstring injury.
We'd also expect veteran receivers Marvin Hall and TE Bradley Sowell -- who is new to the spot after spending last season as the Bears' swing tackle -- to get some work at competitive roster positions. Nagy said specifically with regard to the wide receiver battle, which is as fierce as any in camp, that the Bears are "in a good spot" as far as depth there and he's "anxious" to let that competition sort itself out in the preseason.
"We're going to do some good things and we're going to do some things that it's going to be nice to see where some of our other guys are at depth-wise to see some competition -- which will be nice," he said.
Of course, the most discussed competition in Bourbonnais remains the one between place kickers Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry. After a disappointing Monday, when the two alternated in practice for the first time, neither attempted a field goal Tuesday -- another first in this year's camp.
"So this is what [special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor] does where, yesterday he combined them, today take a little breather," Nagy explained. "The guys in general have dead legs, their legs right now, they've kicked a lot, so let's get them ready for that preseason game."
Although both kickers will obviously get work Thursday, it's a virtual certainty that TE Trey Burton -- who missed his fourth consecutive practice Tuesday -- will be held out.
"Just making sure he's there for the other guys," Nagy explained of what he wants Burton doing behind the scenes. "You know Bradley's learning a new position, Sowell, so he can help him out in a lot of different ways, watch a lot of tape, and then when he's in there continuing to rehab back and get everything right, just keep working at it. Mentally, I'm not worried about him at all. Timing, he had all year last year with Mitch, so we just want to make sure he's really good come Week 1."