Victor Cruz

What you need to know from Bears-Titans: Mike Glennon is your Week 1 starting quarterback

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USA TODAY

What you need to know from Bears-Titans: Mike Glennon is your Week 1 starting quarterback

NASHVILLE — Mike Glennon, in completing 11 of 18 passes for 134 yards with a touchdown Sunday afternoon against the Tennessee Titans, ended any discussion of who the Bears’ starting quarterback will be Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons. It’s him.

Does that mean Glennon is guaranteed to be the team’s starting quarterback for the entire season? No. But Glennon was confident and poised in the pocket early, assuredly leading a first quarter 96-yard scoring drive which included a trio of third-down completions to Kendall Wright. It was the kind of drive, with the kind of passes thrown by Glennon, the Bears envisioned when they signed him back in March.

Glennon’s production waned after Cameron Meredith’s gruesome leg injury, though, with just three completions in eight attempts for 34 yards. He missed linking up with Deonte Thompson at the end of the first quarter for what could’ve been a touchdown (Thompson was open), but didn’t make any egregiously bad throws, as was the case against the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals earlier this month.

Said Glennon last week of his Week 3 goals, which he went on to accomplish: “I think ultimately, be kind of the commander on the field. Get the ball in the playmakers’ hands. Get a lot of completions. Protect the football. And put together a few scoring drives.”

If Glennon’s first half was the best-case for him, that’s fine — not great, but fine. And if this is the Glennon that shows up Week 1, the Bears can feel confident in their plan to let Mitch Trubisky slowly develop and ultimately force his way into a starting job.

Mitch Trubisky showed his age

This sequence of events during Trubisky’s second drive with the first-team offense was a reminder that the rookie quarterback still is, well, a rookie: The Bears burned a timeout to avoid a delay of game, Trubisky tripped and put the ball on the ground (the Bears recovered), and then nearly was picked off. He completed a 13-yard pass to Thompson on third-and-long, but then took a delay of game penalty on fourth-and-short to back the Bears into a punt.

That came on the heels of a three-and-out to begin the second half on which Trubisky sailed an incompletion to Wright and threw high to White (the ball tipped off White’s fingers, for what it’s worth).

But the physical talents of Trubisky weren’t marred by his early sloppiness: He found undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry off play action for a gorgeous 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter (against the Titans’ backup defense, but it still was an outstanding connection). His final line was good, too: 10/15, 128 yards, 1 TD.  

The bigger issue, though, was with Trubisky’s operation of the first-team offense. That’s the kind of stuff on which he still needs to improve, and it was apparent on Sunday.

Cameron Meredith’s injury is a massive blow

Meredith’s torn ACL, as reported by Pam Oliver on the Fox broadcast of the game, is a significant blow to a Bears offense that already needed to see more out of its pass catchers. Meredith showed the most reliable connection with Glennon in practice from Day 1 of training camp, and looked to be ascending a year after leading the Bears with 66 catches for 888 yards.

During Glennon’s prior preseason struggles, the Bears stressed the entire offense needed to do better in addition to Glennon. Someone has to catch the ball on this team. Kevin White, the former seventh overall pick who’s still working his way back from a pair of debilitating injuries, will be under more pressure to produce.

Getting back Markus Wheaton, who hasn’t practiced much due to an appendectomy and broken finger, will help, as would reliable play from veterans Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz (if Cruz makes the team). Deonte Thompson probably has a better chance of making the team now, too, as does Zach Miller, though Adam Shaheen’s inclusion on special teams was probably a signal his spot was fairly safe already.

The Bears have two weeks to see if someone can step up to fill Meredith’s production. Otherwise, even if Glennon proves to be reliable, the offense may not be without help around him.

Briefly

— Once again, the Bears’ defense put together a solid game. Akiem Hicks and Willie Young notched sacks, and Tennessee’s first-team offense didn’t score against the Bears’ first-team defense. The only blemish was Eddie Jackson, Quintin Demps and Cre’von LeBlanc failing to tackle Taywan Taylor on a third-and-31 the Titans wound up converting. While the secondary still has some question marks, that’s now three good games by the Bears’ defense this preseason, which backs up the low-key optimism that’s came from this group for the last few months.

— Jeremy Langford, playing his first preseason game of 2017, played a little better than his final stat line showed (five carries, 18 yards; two receptions, 19 yards). He’s probably not on the roster bubble with Ka’deem Carey undergoing wrist surgery, but could’ve been in trouble if he didn’t show much on Sunday. He did, and remains a valuable backup to Jordan Howard.

— Cruz caught a pass with the first-team offense after Meredith’s injury, but while with the backups dropped a pass from Trubisky — who impressively evaded pressure and scrambled outside the pocket — that hit him in the chest. He’s one to keep an eye on next weekend when rosters are reduced to 53.

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

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Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

1. QB Mike Glennon

The Bears’ first team offense as a whole could be included under this subhead, whether it’s the offensive line creating holes for a running back (Jordan Howard won't play with a minor corneal abrasion) or the receivers creating more separation to get open. But the onus is on Glennon to be better than he was Thursday night and prove that 0.0 quarterback rating was the product of a small sample size and not a sign of more serious issues. On the other side of things, a bad game from Glennon only would lead to further questions about his ability to succeed as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

“I mean, (this game is) bigger than the first but not as big as the third,” Glennon said. “I don’t really know how else to say it. Everything gets more amplified Week 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and then ultimately the season opener. Obviously I want to go out and play well but I don’t want to make too big a deal and put too much pressure on a preseason game.” 

2. WR Kevin White

Cameron Meredith can do a lot to help Glennon’s case, but the Bears have a good idea of what they have in the third-year receiver who’s been one of the more steady performers during training camp. Kevin White is in a different position, having not been targeted at all against the Denver Broncos and still needing to prove plenty going into his third year in the NFL. White’s growth this year may be slow, but he needs to show some signs of that growth during preseason games to build up some confidence for Sept. 10. 

“Anytime you go through some injuries, there’s a whole mental game that plays a part of it,” fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz (more on him in a bit) said. “Just talking to him – I think he’s over it. He understands those things are behind him. His confidence is back in his body with the things that he can do. You’re starting to see that out there on the football field. He’s really hitting another gear, catching these balls, going deep down the field and putting pressure on these defensive backs.”

3. WR Victor Cruz

It was a little jarring to see Cruz, a Super Bowl-winning former Pro Bowler, playing until the final snap of Thursday’s game — even if that had something to do with the Bears not having Daniel Braverman available and losing Rueben Randle and Joshua Bellamy to injuries during the game. But Cruz hasn’t seemed to significantly push Kendall Wright for the No. 1 slot receiver job over the last few weeks, and could find himself on the roster bubble by the end of the month. A good showing Saturday night could provide a nice boost to his chance of avoiding that bubble.  

“I've been impressed with him,” Fox said before the Bears’ first preseason game. “He's got a great feel for the game. Sometimes it might not be just how fast they are physically but how fast they play, and he seems to be that type of guy. He's still got plenty of gas in the tank and we're excited to have him.”

4. DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard is the only player on this list who flashed last Thursday, with an impressive tackle for a loss probably the Bears’ second-best defensive play of the day behind Leonard Floyd’s first-play-of-the-game sack. He’s had a solid camp, too, showing some promising signs after struggling to show much of anything a year ago. For Bullard, Saturday night will be about keeping his arrow pointing up, perhaps to the point that he could start at defensive end opposite Akiem Hicks in Week 1. 

“He’s definitely stronger, faster,” Hicks said. “He was already explosive, right? He has picked up the game to a point where he can play within the scheme now and see things come and be able to predict the play in order to get a step on the guard or the tackle, whoever he’s playing against. Just the things that come with getting more reps.”

5. CB Kyle Fuller

No player may have a better opportunity Saturday night than Fuller, who should be in line to take first-team reps with Bryce Callahan out and Prince Amukamara missing practices this week with a strained hamstring. What Fuller does with this opportunity could be a major deciding factor of whether or not he’s part of the Bears’ 53-man roster — this coaching staff and front office didn’t draft him, and his fifth-year option for 2018 was declined in the spring. 

“It’s a new year,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said earlier this month when asked about Fuller. “We start evaluating guys by what you’ve seen on the field at this point.”

Prince Amukamara not ready to crown Bears wideouts yet, but 'both have great potential'

Prince Amukamara not ready to crown Bears wideouts yet, but 'both have great potential'

Prince Amukamara returned to Bears practice Thursday after attending to his wife's emergency surgery the day before. For the most part throughout his first Bears camp, he'll line up opposite either Cameron Meredith or Kevin White. The same goes for the other projected starting cornerback, Marcus Cooper, when he's been testing a hamstring he's trying to get back to full strength.

Cooper had his practice time opposite the great Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona last season, while Amukamara had the same in his final two years with the Giants opposite Odell Beckham, Jr. before spending last season in Jacksonville.

I approached both on their impressions so far about Meredith and White, not because they compare, because neither is close yet to those other two star wideouts. It was more to envision how high the bar for the Bears tandem might be, because Fitzgerald and OBJ have certainly set a standard.

Cooper is massive for a corner, 6-foot-2, and signed a three-year deal based on Ryan Pace's belief he has a high ceiling of his own after four interceptions a year ago.

He expressed after Thursday's indoor walkthrough in Bourbonnais that the potential is high for both based on the physical tools Meredith and White possess. But both are still very young in the NFL maturation process. Amukamara agreed.

"Both have great potential. I feel like, so far, they're our number-one and two guys. Don't ask me which is which. Both are different guys," Amukamara said.

"I think Kevin for sure is more of a deep-ball, big-play receiver, and Cam is very elusive for how big he is. He can definitely play in the slot and run great routes. I think they've been getting a great test going up against us at practice, but looking towards that first exhibition, the Broncos have an elite tandem."

Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib this week were graded as the best cornerbacks in "Madden 18," which may be starting to be more significant that All-Pro or Pro Bowl selections.

So does a guy like Amukamara "help" young receivers? Hey, it's been a running narrative the past couple of days: Bears receivers and their position coach.

"Mmmm, not willingly," Amukamara said with both a slight grin and slightly downward eyebrows. "But if they ask, or if I make a play, I'll say, `Hey, this is what I play here.' Or I'll tell them, like, `This is what Odell does,' and stuff like that, just cuz I know Odell is well-respected around the league and I played with him. Like, `Odell probably would've done this.' Or how he would've run his route."

Of course, these could very well be just two fresh faces playing the good teammate, pumping the kids' tires.  It's sometimes a long way between potential and proof. It's certainly there for an odd couple - one a seventh overall draft pick in 2015, the other completely undrafted that same year. White and Meredith are in the process of earning and learning. Let's see them get to September 10th, and find out if they're "1-2" at the starting gate.