Larry Mayer and Eli Kaberon of ChicagoBears.com discuss the Bears players they'll be watching on both sides of the ball in Sunday's road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Offense: Right tackle Kyle Long
The third-year pro from Oregon is determined to rebound Sunday in Tampa after getting beaten for strip/sacks that resulted in turnovers each of the last two weeks in losses to the Redskins and Vikings. The miscues have spawned a debate outside of Halas Hall about whether Long should remain at right tackle, move to left tackle or return to right guard, where he earned Pro Bowl berths in each of his first two NFL seasons. That decision, however, will not be made until sometime in 2016.
Long will stay at right tackle for the final two games this season and he'll be focused on finishing strong and helping an offensive line that has struggled in recent weeks get back its mojo. Long and his fellow linemates have committed a slew of penalties of late that have wiped out big plays, put the Bears in predictable passing situations and stalled drives.
Defense: Inside linebacker John Timu
Making his first NFL start—and playing on defense for the first time at the pro level—undrafted rookie John Timu showed excellent instincts in leading the Bears with nine tackles in last Sunday's loss to the Vikings. After playing on special teams in the first four games of the season and then spending 10 weeks on the practice squad, Timu was promoted to the active roster last week and started in place of Christian Jones, who was a healthy scratch.
Timu hopes to build on last week's performance Sunday against the Buccaneers, especially when it comes to containing running back Doug Martin, who ranks second in the NFL in rushing with 1,305 yards. The only player with more rushing yards is the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who Timu and his teammates held to 63 yards on 18 carries last week in Minnesota.
Offense: Center Hroniss Grasu
Set to start his seventh game of the season, rookie center Hroniss Grasu is still in the learning stage of his career. Some weeks he looks like he belongs anchoring an NFL offensive line, other times he seems out of place. There is no doubt he is athletic and can make the blocks needed to be a solid player at the position, but Bears coaches are looking for him to do that on a more consistent basis.
Versus Tampa, Grasu will have his hands full. The Buccaneers have one of the NFL's top interior defensive linemen in Gerald McCoy. Get past him and it's a terrific weakside linebacker in Lavonte David. Both players demand attention from blockers, or else McCoy will be in the backfield sacking Jay Cutler and David will be chasing down Chicago running backs. Grasu has had his ups and downs in his first pro season, but this would be a good time to have his best game of 2015.
Defense: Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins
A week after chasing around Adrian Peterson, the Bears defensive line is in for another challenge on Sunday. Tampa's Doug Martin is second in the NFL in rushing yards—trailing only Peterson—thanks to a rare mix of explosion and toughness. Martin leads the NFL with 13 runs of 20-plus yards and 555 yards after contact.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston can also run a bit, meaning the edge of the Chicago 3-4 defense will need to have strong containment so that Martin and Winston don't run wild. Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins—the only Bears lineman to start each of the first 14 games this season—has been solid against the run. He has six tackles-for-loss this year, and will look to add to that total against the Bucs.