The Chicago Bears will begin their 2019 preseason schedule on Thursday night when they host the Carolina Panthers. It is the first game at Soldier Field since the team’s playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles back in January.
A majority of the starters will either not play or see just a series, but all focus will be the kicking competition and the rookies in the first unofficial game of the 2019 season. Here is a look at three Bears to keep an eye on Thursday night against the Panthers:
Kickers Elliot Fry and Eddy Pineiro
Both kickers Elliot Fry and Eddy Pineiro will get a chance to kick in the first preseason game. The two kickers are in a surprisingly fierce competition for the Bears starting kicking position. Fry and Pineiro have gone back and forth connecting on a high percentage their kicks including many over 55-yards.
The key will be to see who responds to live in-game reps as head coach Matt Nagy will try to give them as many attempts as possible to prove themselves. Do not be surprised if the offense is conservative in field goal range opting for a field goal attempt rather than a touchdown. Any missed or long made field goal by either kicker will be the main take away from the first preseason game.
Running back David Montgomery
The Bears first pick in this year’s draft is the most anticipated offensive rookie since quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s in 2017. Montgomery replaces former starter Jordan Howard who was a Pro-Bowl running back in his rookie season of 2016. The Bears envision the former Iowa State running back as the ideal duel threat back for their offense.
Montgomery can both run and catch the ball, something that is a must in Nagy’s offense. Against the Panthers, it is important to keep an eye on how well the rookie has learned the offense to this point. Catching every pass thrown his way and making sure he is taking the running lanes given to him is all that will matter for Montgomery in his debut.
Cornerback Duke Shelley
Another rookie making his debut on Thursday night will be Kansas State cornerback Duke Shelley. Shelley has performed well in camp and may push for staring nickel back position. The starting defense is set, but Shelley and free agent Buster Skrine will compete for the slot corner position.
Many of the rookies and younger veterans will see the majority of playing time and there is a good chance Shelley could see more than a quarter’s worth of action.
There is also a chance he could see some playing time returning kickoffs and punts as he was a returner in his final year at Kansas State. The experience could prove valuable if Tarik Cohen or Corrdarelle Patterson get injured during the season.