It’s a good thing the Bears’ first test in Carolina doesn’t count as part of their final grades for the season.
Both starting cornerbacks, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, were in midseason Pro Bowl form. Jermon Bushrod, Martellus Bennett, Roberto Garza, Stephen Paea, Lance Briggs, Major Wright and Chris Conte all basically did their jobs, so let’s say B/B- all around for this group. Isaiah Frey wasn’t bad, but he did drop what appeared to be an easy interception.
The quarterbacks all get C, although Jay Cutler and Matt Blanchard were more efficient than Josh McCown, and I’m also going to give Blanchard a Bronze Star for courage, as he spent a good chunk of the evening running for his life.
Matt Forte and Michael Bush get incompletes. Judging running backs when they had two and three touches, respectively, and only one rushing attempt each is folly. Their lack of work did raise an interesting question though.
Asked in his postgame news conference why he ran once and threw the ball eight times plus a ninth attempt that ended in a sack when Cutler was in the game, coach Marc Trestman replied, “I think what you don’t see is there were a number of runs called where he had the option to throw it because they were in the box.”
What Trestman was not asked and did not comment on was whether he approved of all the audibles or checkdowns Cutler called. That is definitely a storyline to watch.
Armando Allen gets a C-/D for taking what I thought was an insurmountable lead for the third running back spot and giving it back by losing a critical fumble at the Panthers’ 10-yard line after the Bears had taken the ball away from Carolina at the Panthers’ 25.
At wideout, rookie seventh-round draft pick Marquess Wilson gets a B/B+ for a four-reception, 82-yard evening, including a 58-yard catch and run from Blanchard. The other receivers were average.
One tight end who stood out for all the wrong reasons was Fendi Onobun. His drop of an easy touchdown catch in the end zone and half-hearted effort on what turned into the 60-yard pick six Blanchard threw to Josh Norman may have cost him the third tight end job.
This leaves us with my two biggest areas of concern going into the game, the remainders of the offensive line and linebacker corps.
I’m not sure why we’d assume J’Marcus Webb is going to suddenly improve in his fourth season, and I don’t think it should take two or three more preseason games to figure that out. Charles Johnson schooled him in Carolina, and it’s time to move on at right tackle.
The problem is Jonathan Scott remained out with a sore knee and Eben Britton, who was having a good camp, was not impressive against the Panthers. Jordan Mills showed why he belongs on the practice squad this year, and where that leaves the Bears at right tackle is with a real problem.
James Brown and Matt Slauson were OK at the guards, let’s say C+ for each, but Kyle Long proved he still has a ton to learn and his technique and instincts are nowhere near ready for prime time.
It is quite possible that even with Bushrod the offensive line this year will be no more dependable or efficient than it was last year.
That leaves us with the linebackers and, yes, Jonathan Bostic had not just a big play, but the kind that has been the hallmark of this defense. And the first five of Briggs, D.J. Williams, James Anderson, Bostic and Khaseem Greene are more athletic and faster than last year’s group. But this group is nowhere near as good as last year’s was.
Bostic and Greene seem to have the instincts, but you can’t gift or find experience, and both were visibly raw against the Panthers. Throw in the uncertainty of Williams’ calf, and the linebackers get an incomplete for Game 1 and a basket full of question marks as we race toward the Bengals on Opening Day.