Panthers vs. Bears: 5 Players to Watch - NBC Chicago
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Panthers vs. Bears: 5 Players to Watch

The Bears will open their preseason on Thursday night against the Panthers at Soldier Field

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    Panthers vs. Bears: 5 Players to Watch
    NurPhoto via Getty Images
    Chicago Bears tight end Ben Braunecker (84) looks on from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Michigan USA, on Thursday, November 22, 2018. (Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

    It’s been seven months since the last time the Chicago Bears played a game at Soldier Field, and although Thursday’s exhibition against the Carolina Panthers will have significantly lower stakes than the last game on the lakefront, there are still plenty of intriguing storylines to keep an eye on.

    The Bears, looking for a strong follow-up season to a division-winning campaign in 2018, likely won’t be playing their starters much, if at all, in the game, and instead will rely primarily on reserve players looking to make a big impact in an effort to reach the 53-man roster at the end of the preseason.

    There will also be players looking to make jumps up the depth chart, even if they are already assured spots on that 53-man roster.

    With those separate battles in mind, we’re keeping an eye on five different players heading into the Bears’ first preseason game:

    Ben Braunecker

    With Adam Shaheen unable to stay healthy and with Trey Burton seemingly not over the sports hernia that forced him to have offseason surgery, Braunecker has a great opportunity to seize some significant playing time if he can showcase his development as a player during the preseason.

    In his NFL career, the 6-foot-4 tight end has seven career catches for 83 yards, but the timing could be perfect for him to make a big entry onto the scene beginning Thursday night, and fans should keep their eyes locked on him throughout his time on the field.

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    Emanuel Hall

    The competition in the bottom portion of the Bears’ wide receiver corps will be intense, and Hall could have an opportunity to seize a roster spot with a strong preseason performance. The undrafted free agent out of Missouri has already shown in practice that he’s capable of playing either in the slot or on the outside, and that versatility could be helpful as the Bears look for a player capable of being a deep threat for Mitchell Trubisky.  

    David Montgomery

    Tarik Cohen likely won’t get a lot of action in the Bears’ first preseason game, but we could get a good look at Montgomery, the team’s top draft pick in 2019.

    Capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, Montgomery’s primary ability is his alluring mix of elusiveness and power when he runs, and if he can harness both of those traits early on, he could easily become the Bears’ primary running threat in their offense.

    Bilal Nichols

    The Bears’ defensive line has got some good depth, but among the starters, Nichols is most likely to get more than just a handful of snaps in preseason action. The talented pass rusher really started to find his groove during the 2018 season, and the Bears are hopeful that he can make even greater gains in the coming season under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

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    Eddy Pineiro/Elliott Fry

    Okay, we’ve put it off for as long as we can, but we can’t put it off any longer. The Bears have said that both of their kickers will see action in the preseason, and we’ll get our first in-game look at the skillsets of two unproven commodities looking to replace Cody Parkey.

    While one missed field goal certainly isn’t going to be enough to knock either player out of the competition, a confident approach and several made kicks could help turn the tide, and there’s little doubt that Bears fans both at Soldier Field and watching on TV will be hanging on every single attempt in all four preseason games.

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