And while we’ve already given you four Bears-centric reasons to tune in, we figured we’d offer you a little intelligence on the Jags as well.
You should know that …
Blake Bortles is worth watching.
The Jaguars’ rookie was not only the top quarterback selected in May’s draft at No. 3 overall, he was also a pre-draft pupil of Bears quarterback Jordan Palmer, who helped oversee Bortles’ preparation for the combine while also helping script plays for the young quarterback’s March pro day. Both student and teacher will be eager to impress one another at Soldier Field. Bortles’ exhibition debut was a 7-for-11, 117-yard showing against the Bucs last week. But you’ll likely have to wait until after halftime Thursday night to see his arm in action. Chad Henne, in line to be the Jags’ opening day starter, has been promised the first half action. The hope is to allow Bortles to develop as a rookie, learning behind Henne out of the gates. But it’ll be interesting to see how long head coach Gus Bradley can go with that plan if Bortles’ growth continues ahead of schedule.
Toby Gerhart could be poised for a breakout season.
Consider this our obligatory sleeper alert for fantasy football fanatics. Gerhart signed with Jacksonville in March, grabbing a three-year deal reportedly worth up to $10.5 million. And while his four-year career totals (276 carries, 1,305 yards, five TDs, 77 receptions, 600 yards, three TDs) essentially line up with what Bears’ running back Matt Forte did last season alone, you have to remember Gerhart spent his first four NFL seasons with the Vikings as the understudy to a guy named Adrian Peterson. Two years ago at this time, Gerhart seemed to be in line to grab a leading role as Peterson was making his way back from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. But then Peterson defied the odds, returned to the Vikings’ starting lineup by opening day, ran for 2,097 yards and won league MVP honors. So much for that golden opportunity. Tonight, Gerhart gets his Jaguars debut. And he’s eager to show a little something after having his training camp hindered by a strained hip flexor.
The Jaguars defense could offer a tough test for the Bears’ high-powered offense.
Last week against Tampa Bay, the Jaguars’ defense allowed only 106 yards, five first downs and a field goal in the first half and also delivered a 68-yard Winston Guy interception return touchdown off Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown. The Bears have done no game-planning for Thursday night’s contest and will at least get a pretty fair challenge against an improving Jacksonville defense. Important footnote: Middle linebacker and defensive leader Paul Posluszny will take Thursday night off to rest a bruised biceps.