Definitive conclusions – positive or negative – are never usually possible out of first preseason games. Or seconds. Sometimes even thirds. After all, the last two times the Bears went to the playoffs – 2006 to the Super Bowl, 2010 to the NFC Championship game – they lost their first preseason games by double digits.
But these games tell coaches about their teams collectively and players individually. And Thursday’s 22-0 loss to the Denver Broncos was a jolt for the Bears, who didn’t see themselves as road kill, even for a reigning Super Bowl champion, particularly one that they were within a failed two-point conversion of taking to overtime last November.
“Obviously I was disappointed and our team was disappointed,” said coach John Fox. “We were expecting more. I don’t know that we executed as well as any of us expected. It is preseason, you don’t game plan, it’s pretty basic, but there’s plenty room for improvement.”
There’s always room for improvement, but after adding some veterans at key spots, even with the losses of Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and coordinator Adam Gase, the expectations were – and should have been – far beyond this performance.
The fight that was present in too many practices this training camp was conspicuously absent from Soldier Field Thursday night. Since teams seldom game-plan or do any opponent-based scheming for first preseason games, one conclusion is that the Denver Broncos even with pedestrian quarterbacking are vastly superior to the Bears in straight-up football, no tricks.
The need now is for the jolt to sink in, and fast, with a booster shot next week against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
“Obviously as a competitor you don’t want to look up and see a 22-0 score in the fourth [quarter],” said guard Kyle Long. “I know this group of guys. We’ve been in some fights with this group beyond the field. I know what they’re made of.
“We’ve got to be better. We understand that and we know what it’s going to take.”
Perhaps. At least many of the players – linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, offensive linemen Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie – come from successful programs.
But knowing what it’s going to take and doing what it takes are not the same thing. And fighting on the practice field says nothing about a football team or football character…
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
The woeful performance of the offensive line – seven sacks, two of Jay Cutler on the Bears’ first two third-downs, suggests that all the pieces may not be in place for a group with multiple changes coming into training camp and then losing center Hroniss Grasu to a knee injury.
“We didn’t execute as well as we need to, or as well as we should have,” Fox said. “Part of it’s recognition, getting it communicated, and we didn’t do that as well as we should have.”
The Bears are not a staff that panics. But the Bears went all the way through preseason trying to find a right tackle from between Charles Leno Jr. and Jordan Mills and were forced to jam Long into that spot at the start of the week leading to the Green Bay game.
Whether Larsen solves the post-Grasu problem remains to play out. And GM Ryan Pace has signed veterans as backups, albeit ones with health concerns (guard Amini Silatolu, knees; tackle Mike Adams, back).
Rookie Cody Whitehair started at left guard, then moved to center in place of Larsen. The rookie, who spent virtually zero time at center during training camp, proceeded to suffer through a sequence of holding and hands-to-the-face penalties, a sack allowed followed by a snap nearly over the head of quarterback Brian Hoyer.
But Whitehair spent more snaps at center than he did at guard. How coaches grade the film and how both practice and play at New England project to settle a situation that looked very unsettled on Thursday night.
“Really you use these preseason games for young people, particularly rookies. He played guard and center, and that’s a lot to ask for a rookie learning a new offense. But those were learning experiences and good lessons”…
…Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery played, which puts him ahead of last year’s pace at this time. He caught one pass, on the Bears’ first play.
But Jeffery’s production is a distant second to his availability as far as a pivotal factor for the Bears offense. Now questions about him move to New England and the Bears’ joint practices, followed by a game next Thursday, with the Patriots.
And the Bears are still without injury prone Zach Miller at tight end and Eddie Royal at wide receiver, both with concussions, and even No. 2 tight end Greg Scruggs. But seeing Kevin White take the field for the first time was a franchise boost, even with White catching only one pass, a flanker screen in a trips-left formation, for three yards.
“I thought it was real critical,” Fox said. “Both he and Kevin White – Kevin missed all of last season and this was his first football in the NFL in game conditions – having them both out there is good. We still have guys who have to get out there – Eddie Royal and Zach [Miller] so we’re still short some guys that hopefully we’ll get back this week.”