A game against the Buffalo Bills may not look that menacing on paper, but for the Chicago Bears on Sunday, getting their season off to a good start is going to be key as they attempt to give a rude welcome to their AFC East guests at Soldier Field.
Which players will be the ones leading the welcoming party on Sunday as the Bears try to go 1-0? We have three of them to watch as the regular season gets underway.
OT Jordan Mills
While the Bears’ line has stalwarts like Kyle Long and Matt Slauson, the right tackle position will be a key one on Sunday. Mills missed time in the preseason with a foot injury, and with Mario Williams lining up against him on Sunday, he’s going to have a big test on his hands as he tries to keep Jay Cutler upright in the pocket to begin his sophomore campaign with the Bears.
If Mills shows the kind of talent he did to start last season, then the Bears should fare well in this one, but if he continues to show the regression that he did (especially in pass blocking) late in the 2013 campaign, then it could be a long afternoon for Cutler and the rest of the team.
S Ryan Mundy
After suffering a nasty gash on his head during the preseason, Mundy will be playing with a new helmet and potentially a new partner in the secondary when the Bears take the field Sunday. He will likely start with Danny McCray at the free safety spot, but Chris Conte is going to see some serious work at the spot as well, so it will be interesting to see the chemistry between the safeties as they rotate in and out.
As for Mundy, he was arguably the team’s best safety in the preseason, but considering the poor play at the position last year between Conte and Major Wright, just about anybody would have been an improvement. Mundy has to show that he isn’t just a practice field phenomenon, and that his skill set translates into game action.
P Pat O’Donnell
As weird as this sounds, O’Donnell might be the most important rookie on the field for the Bears on Sunday. Yes, guys like Ka’Deem Carey will be crucial for the running game to get going, and Kyle Fuller will likely slot in at the cornerback position with Tim Jennings kicking inside to the nickel spot, but O’Donnell holds the key to the Bears’ success.
The reason? Two words: field position.
During the season last year Adam Podlesh struggled at directional punting, meaning that the Bears’ defense was consistently given short fields and not much room to work with. O’Donnell has a big leg and can destroy the ball when he hits it square, but his directional punting has been a question mark ever since he was drafted. If he can show that the doubters are wrong and that he can pin teams consistently inside the 20-yard line, then the Bears will be in good shape. If he struggles, then the defense will start behind the 8-ball on a regular basis, and that isn’t a place that they want to be.