Bears-Panthers Primer: Storylines To Watch

(670 The Score) The preseason slate has been coached the same for years, with starters playing seldom in the opener and that third exhibition being utilized as the dress rehearsal. Then along came Bears coach Matt Nagy in 2018, his first preseason leading a team.

Nagy took his "be you" mentality and bucked convention, sitting his key players for that third preseason game despite the criticism that came his way. After that game, Nagy stood and answered every question as to why -- even dismissing a team PR representative requesting to wrap up the press conference.

At the time, it was an unusual and perhaps controversial decision by Nagy that was all forgotten when the Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North. For his part, Nagy was named AP Coach of the Year in his first season with Chicago.

Don't expect the Bears to change their preseason plan now in Nagy's second season. As the Bears prepare to host the Panthers in their preseason opener at Soldier Field on Thursday evening, Nagy has already indicated key players will rest most of the game -- if not all of the game.

"We're still going through some things with that," Nagy said. "I think you guys know where I stand (with the preseason) a little bit big picture. We'll see."

Without the starters playing key roles, what will there be to watch for? Let's take a look at some storylines.

1.) Montgomery's moment

The Bears have the running back depth to allow rookie David Montgomery to comfortably develop at this level. But the team is hoping to see its third-round pick from this past April take the starting job and run with it.

Montgomery has flashed some early signs of being an every-down back for the Bears, with his strengths being highlighted in training camp. He's an elusive runner with skills as a receiver and can be relied on in pass protection. That combination of talents -- along with the work ethic that brought Montgomery success at Iowa State -- puts him ahead of the team's other options at running back.

Montgomery can expect to see a heavy workload during the first preseason games, especially in the first half Thursday. It will allow the Bears to test him against a new defense and see how he responds in a game situation.

Montgomery has flashed plenty of potential in camp. What he can show in the preseason could set the tone for his rookie regular season.

2.) Tight end time

When asked recently about the Bears' depth at tight end, Nagy offered a simple response.

"The preseason is going to be huge," Nagy said.

Veteran tight end Trey Burton has been held out of practice lately and could well be sidelined for each of the Bears' four preseason games. The team remains confident in his connection with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and is easing Burton back after offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia. As he remains sidelined, the depth at tight end will be tested.

Adam Shaheen, the Bears' second-round pick in 2017, has now stepped in as the top tight end without Burton available. The preseason will provide Shaheen the chance to prove himself. Of course, staying healthy is the primary concern for Shaheen, who he suffered significant injury setbacks in 2017 and 2018.

Converted tackle Bradley Sowell has dropped 35 pounds in his move to tight end and has position coach Kevin Gilbride praising his improvements in body control. How Sowell can execute his job in preseason games will give the Bears a glimpse into how this position switch is going.

Behind them are rookies in Dax Raymond and Ian Bunting who will get the chance to earn a spot with the Bears. As always, the preseason will be a proving ground for youngsters.

3.) Cornering a job

The Bears' starters are mostly all set, but there are second-string and reserve spots to be earned. At cornerback, the team is sorting through a number of intriguing players.

Starters Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Buster Skrine figure to play little or not at all during the preseason. That means important reps await for Duke Shelley, Kevin Toliver, John Franklin III and Clifton Duck, who have each impressed at different times in training camp.

The Bears will be watching closely to see what they have behind the starting group.

4.) Kicking battle

What the Bears' kicking competition will look like in preseason games remains a bit of a mystery, as special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has refused to say what the team's plan is for Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro.

At Family Fest practice at Soldier Field on Saturday, Pineiro was a perfect 12-for-12 in field-goal attempts while Fry finished 7-for-9. The Bears are expected to test both kickers during the preseason in the latest step of their ongoing competition.

5.) Filling out the depth chart

Nagy has some versatile weapons at his disposal on offense, which creates some intrigue in how the team fills out its depth chart.

For example, will the Bears carry seven receivers on their initial 53-man roster? The presence of the versatile Cordarrelle Patterson as a fourth running back -- and the lack of a fullback on the team -- could create opportunities for receivers like Javon Wims and Marvin Hall to stick. The uncertainty at tight end only adds to the need for receiving depth.

Running backs Ryan Nall and Taquan Mizzell will also have opportunities to stick on the roster. Rookie Kerrith Whyte Jr. is missing a key chance to showcase his skills while dealing with a hamstring injury, but he could also factor into this puzzle.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.