The Bears traditionally don't play their starters in the preseason finale. But with final cuts looming Saturday, there will still be some intriguing storylines in Thursday night's contest against the Browns in Cleveland. Here are four things to watch:
(1) The competition for reserve roles at wide receiver.
Wide receiver Daniel Braverman has caught four passes for 23 yards in the first three preseason games.
The Bears are deep and talented at receiver, with starters Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White and veterans Eddie Royal and Marc Mariani. Other wideouts battling for reserve roles such as Cameron Meredith, Joshua Bellamy and rookie Daniel Braverman will have one final opportunity to prove they deserve a spot on the Bears' 53-man roster.
Meredith excelled in last Saturday's preseason loss to the Chiefs, catching four passes for a game-high 64 yards including a 16-yard touchdown. Bellamy leads the Bears in receiving in the preseason with 10 receptions for 94 yards, while Braverman hasn't made much of an impact, catching four passes for 23 yards.
Special teams will also play a key factor in determining which reserve receivers earn roster spots. Asked how the wideouts will be evaluated, coach John Fox said: "How they perform obviously at receiver, and a lot is put into what they can do on fourth down, whether they are covering kicks or returning kicks, so just how they fit in and how they're going to be utilized in all facets of the game when we get to the regular season."
(2) The continued development of a young secondary.
With veteran cornerbacks Tracy Porter, Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan all recovering from injuries, second-year pro Jacoby Glenn, rookie fourth-round draft pick Deiondre Hall and undrafted rookies De'Vante Busby, Taveze Calhoun and Kevin Peterson all figure to get plenty of reps in Cleveland.
Hall may be the most intriguing prospect of the group, given his long arms and playmaking potential. He produced the Bears' only takeaway against the Chiefs, intercepting a high pass that deflected off a Kansas City receiver. But the 6-2, 201-pounder from Northern Iowa looked shaky on a couple other plays, including one on which he allowed a 58-yard catch.
At safety, rookie sixth-round pick DeAndre Houston-Carson is expected to get a long look. The Bears like his versatility; the 6-1, 203-pounder moved to safety as a senior last year at William & Mary after playing cornerback his first three seasons and compiled a team-high 109 tackles and four interceptions, returning one 94 yards for a touchdown.
(3) Quarterback Brian Hoyer becoming more comfortable with the Bears offense.
The Bears rested second-string quarterback Jimmy Clausen in last year's preseason finale. But Fox said on his radio show this week that Hoyer will play against the Browns.
The Bears presumably want Hoyer, who signed with the team after the draft, to become more comfortable operating the offense just in case they need to turn to him during the regular season in the event of an injury to starter Jay Cutler.
In three preseason games, Hoyer has completed just 19 of 41 passes for 237 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 44.5 passer rating. The Bears are hopeful that more reps will help Hoyer revert to the form he showed last season with the Texans when he passed for 2,606 yards with 19 TDs, seven interceptions and a 91.4 rating.
(4) Bears reserves competing against Browns starters.
If Fox rests his starters like he did in last year's preseason finale, Bears reserves will get some valuable reps against Cleveland first-teamers. Browns first-year coach Hue Jackson said earlier in the week that his starters will play Thursday night, saying: "I think we need to play them. I think we need to get better as a football team."
Browns starters include quarterback Robert Griffin III, left tackle Joe Thomas and receiver Terrelle Pryor as well as cornerback Joe Haden and nose tackle Danny Shelton.