Hub Arkush: Bears leaving Bourbonnais with too many questions
BOURBONNAIS – On Wednesday, the Bears will put Bourbonnais behind them for another 12 months. Perhaps they’ll spend the hour-and-a-half ride back to Lake Forest wondering, as I am, what we’ve learned from training camp.
I fear the answer is very little.
With the camp portion of the Bears' preseason over and one exhibition game down, we know exactly what we’ve suspected since free agency began in March and little more.
If it stays healthy, the Bears' offense can be explosive.
But an injury to any one of Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery could derail the season. Battles for backups to each of them not only remain wide open, it’s uncertain whether any of the players who will eventually win those roles are capable of getting the job done.
Cutler amplified the still uncertain depth on offense when he was asked Tuesday about the backup running backs.
“We have a lot of positions like that on this team, I think, where at No. 2 they're vying for positions and to get it right," Cutler said. "Sometimes it just takes time. You can't expect some of these young guys to jump in and for it to click right away. It didn't for us when we were veterans last year running this offense, so it's definitely not going to for rookies.”
He wasn’t being critical of his teammates, Cutler was just being honest. We still have no idea what will happen if Forte gets hurt.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer voiced concern about the running game.
“It was slow to start, and we need to do a better job of it," Kromer said. "We just have to do a better job of blocking and understanding the angles we’re trying to run, and I’ll believe we’ll get that done as time goes.”
There’s no panic there, nor should there be, but Kromer’s concern extended to the offensive line as well, where Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Eben Britton and now Brian de la Puente are all missing significant practice reps.
There is some good news at tight end, where Zach Miller has emerged as a new weapon for the offense.
“Zach had a heck of a day last week," Cutler said. "He's had a really good camp. These last couple days he's had some really strong performances again.”
But there are real questions about Miller’s ability to block the position and Matt Mulligan’s and Jeron Mastrud’s receiving skills.
At wide receiver, Josh Morgan was better the past few days of camp but no sure thing for the No. 3 spot, and Chris Williams, who had a good early camp, is now out indefinitely with a hamstring injury.
On his own potential backups, Cutler again commented honestly.
"They're both working hard," Cutler said. "They're both learning the offense and trying to do exactly what [quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh] and [coach Marc Trestman] want them to do. Getting out of the huddle, making the reads. We have three more preseason games so we'll see how it works.”
It does appear clear that Jimmy Clausen has moved ahead of Jordan Palmer to No. 2. But what if Clausen has to start as many games as Josh McCown did in 2013?
It is worth noting that McCown actually looked awful in the preseason last year.
On defense, there is a perception the defensive line is greatly improved. Perhaps? There are no facts to back that up yet.
What we do know is the strong-side linebacker spot and both safety positions are still up for grabs, and no one seems able so far to do anything to claim them.
There is time, and all of this may work out great. Perhaps all the potential backups are Josh McCown in waiting?
But I had hoped to know just a little bit more before we left Bourbonnais.
• Chicago Football editor Hub Arkush can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.