The 2013 Bears No. 1 offense was on the field for three possessions, a total of 10 plays, in the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. The possessions ended with an interception, a punt and a sack. No points.
The plan for Thursday night against the San Diego Chargers is considerably more ambitious, both in plays and results.
“That was pretty much a dress rehearsal, with just 10 plays,” quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh told CSNChicago.com. “We’d like to get the first group double that if we can. Just execution and ball security are the two most important things.
“We were happy that there weren’t any penalties and all the sideline stuff was solid. Now we’ve just got to execute.”
That applies to every area of an offense that ranked among the leagues least effective last season. Including pre- and regular season, the Bears have not scored a touchdown on a drive longer than 10 yards in their past 12 possessions.
Jay Cutler is unlikely to throw another first-snap interception as he did repeatedly in practices and again last Friday vs. the Carolina Panthers. He completed six of the seven passes after that first mis-read and spread the ball to five different receivers.
“We're moving along,” Cutler said of the overall degree of progress. “I don't think I can pinpoint exactly where we're at, but we're definitely getting better each and every day.”
Time to start showing it. A directive is for Cutler to get the ball out of his hands quicker than he too often did in ’12. That will be part of it.
A position battle is going on at No. 3 where Michael Ford, who scored the offense’s only TD last week vs. the Panthers, needs to outperform newly signed Curtis Brinkley, a former Charger who has averaged 21.3 yards on kickoff returns.
Matt Forte and Michael Bush each carried once and caught a combined three passes. No. 1 running backs in Marc Trestman offenses have averaged 65.4 receptions over the past 10 years. Establishing this component of the offense is critical, and running plays early may help the rookie offensive linemen at right guard and tackle by forcing respect for the run.
“Getting Matt a few carries to make sure he is comfortable running again [is a goal],” Trestman said. “He got very few shots last week so we’ll try to do a little bit more with him.”
Brandon Marshall will get his first preseason snaps. Alshon Jeffery was targeted on Cutler’s first two passes in Carolina. Both were caught, one by Jeffery, one by a Panther. Their spots in the lineup are set.
Less set is the No. 3 where Earl Bennett is still out with a concussion from nearly two weeks ago. His future is in some question. In his place Devin Aromashodu has gotten work with the No. 1 offense. The chief competition there is Joe Anderson, who came out of the Carolina game with a slight shoulder bruise but who was back practicing.
Rookie Marquess Wilson is a receiver to monitor. He caught four passes from Matt Blanchard last week, one for 58 yards, but his roster status will be determined in large part by play on special teams, as for Anderson and Eric Weems.
“[Wilson] got to understand it’s so important for him to be a special-teams player for us if he becomes a fourth or a fifth wide receiver, and he is competing to be a fourth or a fifth wide receiver, and you can see what Joe Anderson and Eric Weems do for us,” Trestman said. “That’s part of the job for a receiver that is not one of the top three; he’s got to be an active special team’s player and give us the kind of play that Joe and Eric give us on special teams at this point.”
The Bears paid Martellus Bennett $9.2 million guaranteed as part of a $20.4 million contract this offseason to add a vital component to a diversifying offense. Bennett’s only contribution to the stat sheet last Friday was making the tackle after the Carolina interception on the first play. That wasn’t the plan and won’t be.
What also needs to play out is the depth chart beyond Bennett. Steve Maneri is a blocking TE who caught his one pass “target” in Carolina and sits No. 2 to Bennett. The unknown is Kyle Adams, a solid part of special teams but who was limping badly around Olivet Nazarene on Tuesday.
“Obviously, we’d like to have a guy who can block and run, get a guy who can block and catch a pass,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “You don’t want to get one-sided. But if a guy is that much better of a blocker than the other guy is a pass receiver, then you keep the blocker.”
Expect the offense to scheme some help for the rookies on the right side of the line.
The position group has been a virtual escalating daily story ever since J’Marcus Webb gave up a sack against Charles Johnson in Carolina and lost his starting right-tackle job to rookie Jordan Mills. Overlooked was the elevation of Kyle Long ahead of James Brown, who had held an edge at right guard and started the Carolina game.
Center (Roberto Garza), left guard (Matt Slauson) and left tackle (Jermon Bushrod) are set. Long’s and Mills’ jobs are theirs to lose, and indeed that can happen with poor performances vs. San Diego.
Only slightly less significant is the play in the next tier. Webb and Eben Britton are competing for roster spots presumably as the swing tackle but could become starters if Mills flops. Slauson will get a look at center as well.
Against Carolina “it wasn’t as tied down or as tight as we need it to be, technique was not as good,” Kromer said. “We blocked the right guys, but technique was not where it needs to be. It needs to improve, and we’ll do that.”