Following Saturday’s third preseason game — also referred to as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season — the Bears are currently in self-assessment mode as they try to narrow down their roster and make sense of the struggles they’ve had this preseason en route to an 0-3 record.
Because the starters don’t figure to play much at all — if anything — in Thursday’s dreadful Game 4 against the Cleveland Browns, now is the perfect time to take a look at what the Bears have going for them heading into the regular season.
I’m not one to put much stock into the results of meaningless preseason games, but the execution on the field has been exceptionally bad. The Bears have scored just 29 points in three games, the fewest points in the league. They’ve also given up 68 points, proving that it’s not just the offense that is lacking punch.
The Bears have had their fair share of injuries, but there is only so much validity to that argument as a reason for their poor preseason play. Those starters who have played have lacked energy, awareness and a winning attitude.
Here’s a more thorough breakdown by position group.
It’s been a rocky three games for Jay Cutler and the Bears offense. Cutler has a 67.4 passer rating, which is nowhere near where it needs to be for this team to succeed. It’s only taken eight years, but Bears fans — at least those with a minimum fifth-grade education — finally have come to realize what they have in Cutler: an unspectacular but completely serviceable starting quarterback. And in a league where great quarterbacks are hard to come by, and on a team with holes everywhere, serviceable is good enough for the time being. Cutler lost two of his safety valves this offseason in tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte. Not to mention, he lost his offensive coordinator as Adam Gase took the Miami Dolphins head coaching gig. To say that Cutler might be facing regression could be stating the obvious unless he can prove us wrong.
Jeremy Langford undoubtedly has some big shoes to fill following the departure of Matt Forte. Forte was not only a great runner, but he was among the best receiving backs in the league and he was solid in pass protection. Langford needs work in all three of those areas. Through three games, Langford gained 79 yards on 18 carries (4.3 average) and caught just two passes for 11 yards. Behind Langford, rookie Jordan Howard is still trying to work his way up the depth chart. He sits fourth behind Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers. Carey and Rodgers are just bodies on offense. Howard has more talent than both of them and just needs to hone his skills as a rookie. Rodgers receives good favor from the coaches due to his special teams ability. Carey has endeared himself to the coaches because he takes handoffs and hits the line with reckless abandon. The entire position needs to play better to take pressure off the passing game.
Alshon Jeffery will certainly be motivated this season while playing on the franchise tag because he’ll want to play for a big contract next offseason. He’s had a case of the drops this preseason, but nothing to fret about that a regular season atmosphere can’t cure. Kevin White has had his ups and downs, but it’s to be expected for a second-year player playing in his first NFL action and making the kind of mistakes a rookie would. But White also has shown his quick-twitch burst that makes him a dangerous receiver if he gets into open space. We have yet to see what Eddie Royal provides in the slot due to concussion issues, but he’s the prototypical slot receiver and we know what to expect from the veteran. Behind those three, the Bears have some question marks to answer. Marc Mariani, Josh Bellamy, and Deonte Thompson are all fringe receivers trying to make the roster based on special teams talents. Cameron Meredith is a wild card who has tried to make the most of his opportunities in the preseason. Meanwhile, seventh-round rookie Daniel Braverman has some impressing to do in the preseason finale to make the roster.
Hey, remember that Zach Miller guy who impressed the fantasy fanatics last year and played well enough to not only earn a new contract this offseason but allowed the Bears to jettison Martellus Bennett? Yeah, well, he’s hurt again, which is in line with how his entire career has gone. In his stead, Rob Housler has been making a few plays, catching two passes of 52 and 17 yards in length. Housler’s not going to be any kind of threat if he’s thrust into extended action if Miller can’t get onto the field, and Miller needs to prove not only that he can stay healthy but that he can help in the run game, too.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment this preseason has been the play of the offensive line. First, second-year center Hroniss Grasu was lost for the season with a torn ACL, which has thrown the Bears’ line into a state of flux. Three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long has been battling a shoulder injury, newcomers Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie have had their issues acclimating to their new surroundings, and rookie Cody Whitehair is not yet NFL-ready. Cutler has been sacked five times this preseason and the Bears rank 27th in rushing yards. Everything in football starts up front along the line and if the Bears struggle to compete this season, the finger gets pointed directly at this unit.
The Bears defensive line has been a nice upgrade so far, but there certainly is more work to be done. Free agent acquisition Akiem Hicks is a disruptive force as he makes his way into the offensive backfield. The Bears have high hopes and expectations for second-year pro Eddie Goldman. Rookie Jonathan Bullard has been a pleasant surprise of training camp, routinely standing out with his penetration. Any time that new players are thrown into the fire together, it takes some time to jell as a unit, but you can tell that the Bears have found some players that can make some plays.
What a world of difference Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman make over former inside backers Shea McClellin and Christian Jones. Trevathan and Freeman are a couple of solid, real professional linebackers. On the outside, we have some serious concerns about the health of Pernell McPhee, who has not been seen on the field this preseason after getting his knee scoped in the offseason. His recovery has been alarmingly slow and he has a history of health issues. In his place, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston have continued to be bright spots and are transitioning nicely into 3-4 linebackers after playing defensive end two seasons ago. First-round rookie Leonard Floyd has some work to do because his pure speed rushes might have worked at the college level, but aren’t as effective in the NFL. He needs to develop a few counter moves to help him disengage from — and get around — blockers. I’ve been saying since the Bears signed him last year that Sam Acho is a great complementary piece. He won’t wow you with stats and highlights but he’s a hard worker, a core special teamer, and has a great work ethic.
The Bears have some major woes in the secondary, but we’ll start at cornerback. Third-year pro Kyle Fuller was supposed to make a big leap this year but has now been put on the shelf after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery almost two weeks ago. He’s out indefinitely and that leaves the Bears thin at the position. Starter Tracy Porter suffered a concussion Saturday against the Chiefs and will now be in concussion protocol for at least a week. Fortunately, he wouldn’t have likely played against the Browns in the preseason finale and he has another week after that to recover. He’ll be fine once the regular season begins. Behind those two, the Bears are thin at the position. Bryce Callahan was supposed to be the nickel back but he’ll be thrust into more action with Fuller out. Jacoby Glenn has seen some time this preseason but he has been dealing with a concussion as well. Rookie Deiondre’ Hall has made some nice plays in pass defense but it’s always a little scary starting a rookie at the position.
Surprisingly, safety was one of, if not the biggest question mark heading into the season, and although the duo is not exactly a great combination, the Bears likely have found their starters in Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey. What the duo lacks in skill and talent, they make up for in heart and hustle. Jones-Quartey led the Bears in tackles in Saturday’s dress rehearsal against the Chiefs and Amos is making strides in his second season. Rookie safety Deon Bush and veteran Chris Prosinski offer little in the way of defensive depth more than quick fill-ins should injury strike. They’ll need to contribute on special teams.