Ten things to take away from the Chicago Bears' 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos in their preseason opener:
1. No one game plans for the opening preseason game and starters don’t play into the fourth quarter in the first exhibition. But maybe nobody told the Bears.
Although they didn’t put together a regular game plan for their meeting Thursday with the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field, the Bears did keep a third-year starter on the field until the midway point in the fourth quarter when left tackle J’Marcus Webb finally went to the bench.
Unprecedented in the NFL? Maybe not. Highly unusual? You bet. On a night when quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and defensive end Julius Peppers were held out, Webb was on the field for 41 of the offense’s 49 snaps.
You didn’t need telepathy to read the mind of offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who has been among Webb’s biggest supporters. It was a clear message that was delivered to Webb: You have not been good enough.
Tice said earlier this week from training camp at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais that no one had claimed the left tackle job and run away with it. Webb has it virtually by default, even though it looked like it was designed that way ever since the Bears chose to draft a speed rusher and big wide receiver in the first two rounds last April instead of seeking a tackle.
It is Webb’s job and it doesn’t look like Chris Williams will be going back to left tackle. The Bears need Webb to play better so he got just about every rep possible, even blocking for fourth-string quarterback Matt Blanchard.
You could consider it a punishment of sorts but the Bears aren’t in a position where it makes sense to bring punitive measures to the development of the offensive line. They simply need to improve. Along the way, Williams got extensive time at right tackle but it still wasn’t the workload Webb carried.
“Some players we thought needed reps, we needed to see,” coach Lovie Smith explained. “And our tackles are two of them and we wanted to get them a lot of reps as much as anything. Just practice time, improving our ball club. Some of the guys we know a little more about right now we didn’t play as much and that was pretty much it.”
Webb tried to downplay his night at the office. He was called for one false start and didn’t dominate on the left side but it was still a vast improvement over the preseason opener a year ago when he was run over by Buffalo’s Shawne Merriman.
Was he surprised to play so much?
“Definitely not,” Webb said. “I’ve got to get better every day and every week and that comes with the territory. I think of it as time to get better. I am a young player and if the team needs me to stay in, I will.”
Webb said he wanted to review the film before assessing his play. He wasn’t the only lineman to play more than usual. Left guard Chris Spencer remained in the game for the entire first half. He was beaten for a sack at one point.
Brian Urlacher’s whereabouts and left knee will remain the focus of camp when the Bears return to Bourbonnais on Saturday. But those topics will not completely overshadow the offensive line.
2. Shea McClellin's start to the preseason certainly exceeded his start to training camp. The first-round draft pick from Boise State showed the speed that led the club to select him with the 19th overall pick when he tracked down ex-Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie from behind for a sack. He was credited with two quarterback hits and three total tackles. It was a nice debut for a player who has been maligned by some after only 15 days of training camp.
“I had fun. It’s a start,” he said. “You know I definitely have a lot of learning to do. I’m just looking forward to getting back out to the practice field and getting better.
“It’s always good to get a sack, no matter what it is, it boosts your confidence a little bit. After that you can kind of relax and just go out and play.”
McClellin understands what comes with the territory as a first-round pick. He knows he is residing under the microscope in a defense that needs him to make a significant contribution as a rookie.
“There is always pressure for any first-round pick,” he said. “You just have to go out there and play.”
A veteran scout who was at the game checked in with some observations.
“He’s a left end, not a right end,” the scout said of McClellin. “To me, he is really truly a better fit as a 3-4 sam (strong-side) linebacker. You’re never going to see him be special off the edge. He’ll be a pain in your ass and he’s strong but that’s my opinion.”
Too many people have wondered about the possibility McClellin could one day move to middle linebacker, so I bounced that scenario off the scout. He scoffed at the notion, pointing out the athleticism of Brian Urlacher far exceeds McClellin.
“If you’re talking inside, I could see him as a two-down inside linebacker in a 3-4,” the scout said. “But in a 4-3 defense? No, that is not the answer for this kid. The Bears will play him at end and he’s going to be a high-motor player for them.”
3. The scout also weighed in on other players and positions. Some observations as he drove toward O’Hare:
-- Alshon Jeffery is not agile enough to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage and “needs to develop into one of those Keyshawn Johnson-type guys that is physical.”
-- “Gabe Carimi didn’t look bad for not having played a lot last season. The left tackle problem is still there and there could be a problem with pressure up the middle. (Roberto) Garza may have to help with the guards.”
-- “The fourth quarterback (Matt Blanchard) didn’t look too bad until he started looking at receivers instead of reading coverage.”
-- “There are issues at safety after the first two.”
-- “The tight end (Kellen Davis) is just Average Joe and the guys behind him are really Average Joes.”
-- The scout also singled out linebackers J.T. Thomas (game-high seven tackles in press box statistics) and Patrick Trahan, defensive end Thaddeus Gibson, defensive tackle Nate Collins and cornerback Isaiah Frey as players that flashed to him. He also was impressed with Nick Roach, who was filling in for Urlacher at middle linebacker.
4. Chris Leak, who won a national championship at Florida, might have been the most well-known fourth quarterback the Bears have employed in the last decade. But Matt Blanchard might be the most competent since Ken Mastrole made some plays in mop-up time during the 2002 preseason. An 81-yard drive to beat the Rams in St. Louis comes to mind.
Blanchard, an undrafted rookie free agent from Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, showed poise in completing his first six passes before throwing an interception. Granted, it was against third-stringers from the Broncos but there was a little rhythm to him.
“I got more comfortable as my reps went on,” he said. “I felt great. You have those butterflies but all in all I felt great throughout the entire experience. The game is definitely fast. But you get used to it.”
Blanchard hit Chris Summers for a 28-yard gain to set up the Bears’ only score, a 47-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the fourth quarter. He’s barely gotten any reps in training camp, which is standard for fourth quarterbacks. His hope is to be good enough for the Bears to consider him for the practice squad or flashy enough for other teams to take notice in preseason.
The way preseason works, Blanchard could see a small amount of duty in the next game or he might be on the bench until the second half of the preseason finale.
“There is a ton to learn from,” he said. “You look at the film, I was taking too many sacks on my part. So, I have to get rid of the football. I just have to get better. It was a good experience.”
Mastrole, by the way, now runs a passing acamdey in Florida.
5. McClellin is the defensive end everyone is focusing on but two others made plays. Corey Wootton, starting in place of Julius Peppers, drew a holding penalty against Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady.
“Peyton (Manning) gets creamed or I take 10-yard penalty?” Clady said, according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post. “Peyton gets clobbered or I maul this guy?”
Wise choice. Cheta Ozougwu also had success rushing off the edge. He was credited with a sack and two quarterback hits after showing up on occasion during training camp. He’s making the transition to defensive end after playing inside linebacker for the Houston Texans in preseason last summer as a seventh-round pick before a foot injury sidelined him. He’s a little undersized to play defensive end but that is what the Bears seek.
“Whenever you have an opportunity you have to make the most out of it so I just take it a play at a time and God will take care of the rest,” Ozougwu said. “I have to continue to be consistent and continue to work on my rush and play the run better. I’m not saying I haven’t progressed but I have to continue to get better.”
Ozougwu tweaked his ankle late in the game but said he expects to be fine. He played as a stand up defensive end at Rice so he’s got familiarity playing end. He will have to remain quick off the edge to stick out.
6. Geno Hayes made the most of his time with the starters as the free-agent pickup had a pass breakup and a tackle for loss. He was also credited with a stop on special teams. Hayes has been working behind weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs in training camp but with Nick Roach now in the middle in place of Urlacher, Hayes has moved to strong side with the starters.
Some thought Hayes, a former Buccaneer, would have a chance to compete with Roach for the starting job.
“We talked about it and everything but I am here to help the team in any kind of way,” he said. “If they want me to play either position sam or will or even special teams, I am here for that.”
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has Hayes starting on all four special teams units right now. That is how he first made it with the Bucs, so he’s on board with the assignment. The time with the starters, even if it’s brief, is getting him up to speed with the scheme faster because he says there are not a lot of similarities between what the Bears are doing and what the Bucs did under Raheem Morris.
“It gives you a better experience with the defense as far as understanding what to do and getting a feel for playing with the guys as far as Briggs and Nick,” he said. “It’s helping learn how to play off each other, you make a mistake I know what to do. Those are the kinds of things that help you out along the way.”
It helps that the Bears have a reserve with experience. It was a gamble going without one last year.
7. Brandon Hardin had a large ice pack on his right shoulder after the game. Fortunately for him, it was his left shoulder that prevented him from playing last fall at Oregon State. The rookie third-round pick was credited with a pass defense on a play that could have turned into an interception. He was beating himself up over the drop after the game, already a veteran when it comes to knowing the significance the head coach places on takeaways.
“I was definitely out there thinking more, trying to see everything,” he said. “It felt like the game was going fast. Eventually I know I will calm down. But definitely played like a rookie out there today. I wish I could have got a pick and been more secure on some of the tackles.”
It’s a starting point for him.
8. There isn’t a whole lot that is pretty to take out of a 31-3 defeat. The Bears didn’t move the ball on offense and the Broncos ran the ball effectively. We’ve seen this happen when the team has been at its worst in the regular season. But this is preseason and records in exhibition games are virtually meaningless when it comes to the real thing, no matter what Smith says about keeping score. It’s impossible to really gauge an offense that was without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and got only brief appearances from Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and others. The offense has been relatively crisp in training camp. This certainly did not reflect that. A lot of the route combinations on display in training camp were also kept under wraps. Expect better fundamental football against the Redskins on Aug. 18. Like Smith always says, this is a starting point. The bet here is the coach talks about the big improvement that normally happens from Game 1 to Game 2. That line ought to be used this coming week. And the Bears need to make that jump.
9. The Bears had success in 2005 when they picked up Brandon McGown, an undrafted safety from Maine. They’re taking a good look at another one this summer in Trevor Coston. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had an interesting note Thursday. The Green Bay Packers drafted Jerron McMillian, who played next to Coston, in the fourth round. McMillian is doing well in Green Bay’s camp and should play for the Packers this season. And McGinn reports Maine coach Jack Cosgrove told an AFC personnel director that Coston was just as good as McMillian. So, maybe the Bears have another rookie safety to watch after third-round pick Brandon Hardin.
10. Scouts from 15 NFL teams were represented in the press box for the game, including all three NFC North foes. The other teams in attendance were Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, New York Jets, Oakland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. The Toronto Argonauts of the CFL were also on hand.
10 a. For all the rain that came down before the start of the game, the Soldier Field surface held up pretty well. Here’s wondering if that could possibly be a sign of things to come.
10 b. Not much push up the middle from defensive tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea.
10 c. Defensive tackle Brian Price showed up in the running game on a couple plays. That is a good sign.
10 d. Long snapper Pat Mannelly was credited with an assisted tackle on special teams. The reconstructed knee must be feeling pretty good.
10 e. It’s a shame Mike Tice isn’t available to media until Monday. Guessing he’ll design a challenging week for the linemen and offense as a whole.
10 f. Look for a full story on a lesson that can be applied to everyday life from the beginning of Alex Brown’s career with the Bears and the involvement of general manager Phil Emery, then an area scout for the Bears. It will be on the Web site Friday.
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