The Bears will take their second exhibition test Thursday night at Soldier Field against the Jaguars, still on a mission to solidify their depth chart. Friday night's 34-28 victory over the Eagles provided as many questions as answers and leaves coach Marc Trestman with plenty more to assess. Here are four intriguing storylines to watch.
Jared Allen's debut: The biggest acquisition of the Bears' offseason gets his first game action with his new team. It still seems odd seeing Allen stalking around in navy and orange. But it's his new normal.
"Still got the same number," Allen said. "It's part of the business. If I allowed a uniform to dictate how I played, I'd have had a crappy career."
Allen was 0-6 at Soldier Field wearing purple with the Vikings but is now eager to create better memories. The 32-year-old defensive end was given the night off for last week's game against the Eagles, but still came away heartened because of the disruption young linemates Lamarr Houston, Stephen Paea and Willie Young created.
And it's 10th-year vet Jeremiah Ratliff who Allen gushes over the most.
"Jay's a monster," Allen said. "He's the piece of the puzzle I was most excited to come play with and play off of."
The tight ends: Martellus Bennett will be back in action after being suspended for the first exhibition. But the real intrigue comes in sorting the pecking order below Bennett.
Zach Miller was last week's standout, catching six passes for 68 yards with two touchdowns. And it wasn't just Miller's under-the-bright-lights production that opened eyes. All through training camp, he has been adept at running crisp routes and catching passes in traffic.
So guaranteed roster spot, right? Not exactly.
In the backup tight end battle, Dante Rosario has more experience and brings more as a core special teams contributor. And Matthew Mulligan is more of a mauler than Miller as a run blocker.
Ultimately general manager Phil Emery, with Trestman's help, is going to have to pick his flavor at tight end while deciding whether it's practical to keep two or three on the 53-man roster. The final three exhibition games will be a major factor.
Chris Conte's status: After offseason shoulder surgery, Conte finally returned to practice this week and the Bears are hopeful he will get medical clearance to play Thursday. If he does, he will be in action at Soldier Field for the first time since bungling coverage on a 48-yard, final-minute Aaron Rodgers-to-Randall Cobb touchdown pass in last season's finale. That fourth-and-8 blunder cost the Bears the NFC North title. If you have been counting, that was seven months and 16 days ago now. But if Conte had any hope that his high-profile mistake — which capped a rough 2013 season — would be forgiven and forgotten as time passed, that was squelched Tuesday when he slipped on a slick field at training camp and allowed a deep completion to the horror of a horde of bitter fans mocking him.
But understand this: Conte is very much in the mix to win a starting spot, a role he has had for 40 games the last three seasons. And if a strong physical recovery is a prerequisite to earning the job, so too is Conte's mental healing. The fourth-year safety needs to regain confidence while blocking out the cacophony of criticism that has smothered him for the last 10 months.
Running room: Matt Forte's three carries against the Eagles last week went for a loss of 1 yard, no gain and a loss of 4. With starting right tackle Jordan Mills and guard Kyle Long sidelined, that was a discouraging sign. Long will return to action Thursday but Mills won't.
And it wasn't just the first-unit offense that had trouble running. Rookie Ka'Deem Carey amassed 23 yards on 10 rushes with six of his carries going for 2 yards or less. The Bears averaged only 2.9 yards per rush and had only two runs for more than 10 yards, including backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen's 16-yard scamper.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun