After a wait of over seven months, the Chicago Bears will finally be on the field against an opponent on Thursday night when they take on the Denver Broncos in the preseason opener for both teams.
The Bears, who are looking to bounce back after a 6-10 season under head coach John Fox, have had plenty of questions pop up during mini-camp and training camp, and those queries will begin to be answered as they put on pads and hit an opponent in anger for the first time since the 2015 season wrapped up.
The most pressing of those questions will come on their offensive line as they look to replace Hroniss Grasu at center. The second-year player tore his ACL during the team’s workout at Soldier Field on Saturday, and he will miss the entire 2016 campaign. Ted Larsen appears that he will be the starter at center, at least for now, and rookie Cody Whitehair will play at left guard as the Bears look to reconfigure their offensive line on the fly.
The health of the team’s wide receivers will also be put to the test beginning on Thursday, with Alshon Jeffery looking to play in a preseason game after missing the entire four-game exhibition slate last season. He did return to practice on Monday in Bourbonnais, and head coach John Fox has indicated that the team wants Jeffery to be on the field when the preseason begins this week.
Wide receiver Kevin White also will be looking to make an impact during the preseason, as he’s yet to appear in any type of game with the Bears. He missed his entire rookie season with a shin injury last year, and if he can make the lineup for Thursday night, it will mark the very first time that he’s actually donned the team’s uniform.
The Bears’ new look defense is going to be on display as well, with a reconstructed front seven looking to make an immediate impact. Pernell McPhee likely won’t be on the field for Chicago, but guys like Akiem Hicks, Jerrell Freeman, and Danny Trevathan will all hit the field for the first time as Bears as Vic Fangio’s squad looks to prove that their years of being a punching bag for opponents are behind them.
As for the Broncos, they too have some serious questions that will need to be answered. The defending Super Bowl champions still have a very good defense, led by linebacker Von Miller, but their offense is going to have an entirely new look as quarterback Peyton Manning will no longer be under center. That job has gone to Mark Sanchez in the short-term, and the Broncos also drafted quarterback Paxton Lynch out of Memphis this season to give themselves a better future outlook at the position.
Both quarterbacks should see time on Thursday night, and Trevor Siemian should as well. The Northwestern product will return to the Chicago-area for the game, and he is listed as the co-starter on the depth chart alongside Sanchez for the Broncos.
As for that Denver defense, they too have suffered some losses in the offseason. Losing Trevathan to the Bears stings, and the team also lost Malik Jackson to a big-money deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That constitutes a big chunk missing from the interior of their defense and the loss of one of the team’s best pass rushers, and it will be interesting to see how the Broncos respond to those losses as the season nears.
Kick-off for Thursday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m., with the contest airing on Fox.