The Bears' exhibition opener Friday night against the Eagles at Soldier Field will be their first true test to help them begin settling an uncertain depth chart. The starting units aren't expected to play long. But there are still several notable storylines to keep tabs on. Here are four to watch.
--First-round pick: Cornerback Kyle Fuller, drafted with the 14th overall pick in May, has created his fair share of fireworks during his first NFL training camp. In his first camp practice, he delivered two impressive interceptions. Ten days later, his aggressive strip attempt on Martellus Bennett led to a skirmish and the tight end's suspension.
But through it all Fuller has remained even-keeled. He has earned the respect of veteran teammates quickly on both sides of the ball with his instincts and toughness. Cornerback Tim Jennings has lauded Fuller's eagerness to learn. Quarterback Jay Cutler has noticed the rookie's maturity.
And with Jennings sidelined for large chunks of camp so far to rest a quadriceps injury, Fuller has gotten extended reps with the first-team defense. That has meant challenging Pro Bowl playmakers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on a regular basis.
Said coordinator Mel Tucker: "That's a benefit to him. There won't be any surprises in terms of what this league is all about."
--Quarterback competition: Cutler likely will take the first series only, then get a ball cap and settle in to help guide the candidates for the Bears' backup role. Coaches have lauded Jordan Palmer for his decision making. But there's a fine line between being smart with the football and being hesitant to take chances. And these exhibition games will show how Palmer is progressing on that front.
Jimmy Clausen, meanwhile, must show he has enough confidence to win the job. He still is playing catch-up after signing late in the offseason and needing urgent cram sessions to learn the offense.
Both quarterbacks also need to remember the job description, coordinator Aaron Kromer summarized this week: "By no means are we looking for a superstar. We're looking for a guy who can read a coverage and throw it to the correct guy."
Sounds easy enough.
--Defensive line depth: For the defense to make significant improvement this season, this is the X-factor. The front crumbled last year when injuries mounted and overmatched players such as Landon Cohen, Christian Tupou and Cheta Ozougwu were forced into significant action and couldn't hold up.
Now the belief is that the depth is fortified with general manager Phil Emery leaning toward keeping 10 linemen after final cuts. Friday's action will put rookie defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson under the microscope. Promising and versatile end Willie Young, who could be in line to start Friday in place of Jared Allen, also should get an extended look. (Allen, who at least will attend Friday's game, has been away from the team this week after the birth of his second daughter.) Also keep an eye on Nate Collins, who's returning to game action after an ACL tear ended his 2013 season.
--The underdogs: Somehow, some way, a player buried down the depth chart will get his moment in the spotlight. Might it be the smallest of the underdogs, Chris Williams, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound firecracker auditioning for Devin Hester's old return jobs while also trying to prove his worth as a receiver?
Will it be Chicago native Jordan Lynch, a stud college quarterback who's now a green pro running back facing a steep climb to earn a roster spot?
What about rookie quarterback David Fales or athletic defensive end David Bass? Or the flock of eager receivers hoping to step up after Marquess Wilson broke his clavicle Monday? That list includes Eric Weems, Josh Bellamy, Josh Morgan, Armanti Edwards, Micheal Spurlock and Dale Moss. The stage is now open.
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