3rd exhibition the 1 that counts — kind of

Bears will replicate regular-season game as much as possible against Giants

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The first two NFL exhibitions are essentially an extension of practice. No game plans or film study to prep for an opponent. Dry, dull contests with base concepts and starters running to the bench early in the first half.

Line up and play ball. That's your guide, your mission as a player during the first two practice games. They are a series of one-on-one matchups in live situations where coaches grade on alignment, assignment and technique.

That will change somewhat for the Bears when to visit the defending Super Bowl champion Giants for their third exhibition Friday night.

This game counts — sort of.

Don't worry about the score or who wins. That's secondary to the actual meaning behind this matchup. The Bears have put in time this week to replicate a real "game week" in the regular season. That means install a plan, study film and have long meetings. Then get on the practice field to work against the scout team and show up at the stadium with a game plan in hand.

A scripted series of plays and schemes — on both sides of the ball — have been designed to produce against the Giants based on what they have shown on film. It's a dress rehearsal, or practice exam, for the real thing Sept. 9.

The Bears will look for Jay Cutler to target wide receiver Brandon Marshall, establish the running game with Matt Forte and show Cover-2, Cover-1 and zone-pressure on defense against Giants' quarterback Eli Manning.

And they also will have the battle between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams at left tackle under a microscope — again.

This Giants' defensive front is the best in football. Don't believe me? Turn on the tape from their Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady and the Patriots. It is fast, physical and gets to the quarterback with a four-man rush.

Tonight, that front is down a name — a big name — in injured defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. His speed, explosive first step and athletic ability would have been the ultimate summer test for both Webb and Williams. But don't let that discount the importance of the Bears' left tackle candidates showing they can handle the job.

The Giants have plenty of depth along the defensive line, veterans such as Osi Umenyiora who can give Webb and Williams a full night's work on the edge. They still will be tested as the Bears search to fill every role on their team against established talent.

Forget about the final exhibition next week in Cleveland for the starters. That's a free plane flight for the No. 1 guys who will find a solid restaurant to grab a steak the night before the game and relax on the sidelines with a bag of sunflower seeds. That game is for the rookies and veteran bubble players to go all out in search of a final roster spot.

But Friday night is about Cutler, Marshall, Forte, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and the rest of the core players in uniform. Camp is over, the team is back at Halas Hall and final cuts are coming soon.

Here are the goals: Run the game plan; execute the schemes; find a left tackle; stay healthy.

This is as close as it gets to the real thing in late August.

Twitter @MattBowen41

Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.
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