Bears struggle on both side of ball in first half vs. Bengals


Bears struggle on both side of ball in first half vs. Bengals

The defense was discouraging enough as Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron led the Bengals on long touchdown drives sandwiched between a three-and-out.

The Bears' offense is dealing with its own three-and-out (besides what they did on the game-opening possession), as in the trio of wideouts who were sidelined in this most important preseason game: Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson (in addition to Kevin White).

[MORE: Bears looking at crucial tests in multiple areas vs. Bengals]

With uncertainty clouding just when they'll return from their respective calf, hip, and hamstring injuries, the storyline was who'd step up. Joshua Bellamy, Marc Mariani and Rashad Lawrence would get a heavy workload, and each would catch a pass on four targets from Jay Cutler in the first four possessions.

Bellamy caught a six-yard toss on the first play from scrimmage, then after a second series in which none from that trio were thrown to, Lawrence grabbed a 16-yarder for a first down on the third series, and Mariani a short sideline toss in an effort to just improve field position on a third-and-20. 

But on the ensuing series, Northwestern product Lawrence had a bad drop on a throw over the middle that would've produced a first down, instead sending the unit to the bench before the Bengals would all a third touchdown just before the half. Lawrence rebounded with a second reception during the two-minute drive, but failed to get out of bounds, despite being near the sideline. Mariani followed with a tough, pay-the-price 13-yard reception to get the ball inside the Cincinnati 25.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Cutler's only other incompletions on the first four series came when he had to ground the ball under pressure, and therein lies a deeper concern, even if the three injured wideouts return in time for the season opener in a couple of weeks: A Jermon Bushrod hold stalled a second series that looked like it might have some legs, while Charles Leno, Jr. was beaten for a sack and called for a hold.

Bushrod's playing through a back issue that doesn't figure to get better over the next four months. But the right side still doesn't look "right," either. And after Mariani's second catch, a bullrush up the middle put Cutler on the ground, forcing the offense to settle for their lone points of the half, a field goal.

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”