The return of Peyton Manning finally happened on Thursday night at Solider Field. In their first preseason game, the Denver Broncos demolished the Chicago Bears by a score of 31-3. Inhale, exhale Bears fans, it was only the first preseason game, and a good portion of the starters were nothing more than spectators on the sidelines.
Jay Cutler was in pads and warmed up, but did not see a snap. Matt Forte and Julius Peppers were suited up, but neither saw a down. Heck, Brian Urlacher wasn’t even in the building, and rumors are starting to swirl in the Chicago sports world about his situation. Head coach Lovie Smith called it a “personal excused absence,” but didn’t say anything further regarding the matter.
Peyton Manning taking the field for the first time in over a year was the story of the night. He started for the Broncos, but only played the first series. He was shaky at best during the drive, but he still showed flashes of the old #18 we all know.
On the first play from scrimmage, he was welcomed back to the NFL by linebacker Lance Briggs, who broke up his first pass attempt. On his second pass attempt, Bears linebacker Geno Hayes tipped the ball near midfield, but tight end Jacob Tamme stayed aware and hauled in the pass for 12 yards. After a short run by Willis McGahee, Manning went for ten more yards, this time connecting with wide receiver Erick Decker. The duo then connected again, this time for 19 yards, putting the ball on the Chicago Bears 14 yard line.
Looking poised to score and not missing a beat despite missing a whole year of football, I can’t say I was surprised by Peyton’s performance. However, on 3rd down at the 12 yard line, the Chicago Bears defense finally got a tipped ball to go their way. Manning’s pass couldn’t be hauled in by receiver Brandon Stokley, and Bears safety Major Wright made an impressive diving interception right in front of the goal line.
Following the interception, Major Wright left the game with a hamstring injury. Not a good sign for the third-year safety who has been battling injuries since entering the league. But he quickly put to rest any worries Bears fans may have had. After the game he said, “It wasn’t anything major. I didn’t get hurt, I just tightened up. I didn’t really want to risk anything, so I just told the trainers it was kind of tight. I’ll be alright.”
There weren’t many positives to the Chicago Bears offense on Thursday night. Jason Campbell, who is being considered the best backup quarterback Chicago has seen in decades, started the game and finished 4-5 for 13 yards. Brandon Marshall caught one measly pass for four yards. Michael Bush made his debut for the Bears, and carried the ball three times for two whole yards, and fumbled in the 1st quarter which led to a Broncos field goal. Not exactly an ideal start to his Chicago career. The fumble is all on him, and he needs to correct that, but the two lousy yards he produced had to do with the 0-line. There was no daylight for him or any of the other backs to operate, as they were meet by Broncos at the line of scrimmage all night.
Let’s all get for real though for a moment. The Chicago Bears offensive line is a work in progress….and that’s being nice. They let the quarterbacks get hit a combined six times Thursday night, and there was virtually nowhere for any of the running backs to go. The Bears ran eight times in the first half for 11 yards, gaining just 41 yards total as the offensive line allowed three sacks. That’s a concern, seeming that the front office raved all summer about how the offensive system would help the o-line execute.
Again, this can all be excused for the fact that it was the first preseason game, and every player needs one or two of these to get up to speed. Two players in particular are, Jamarcus Webb and Chris Williams, who are battling for the left tackle position. Each saw extensive playing time, both playing well into the 2nd half. It’s clear that offensive coach Mike Tice wants these two to get their reps in so they can decipher who is the better option come week 1. Neither of them produced well enough to say who got an edge in the starting battle. Webb was called for a false start, which has historically been a problem for him.
“I’ve got to get better with knowing situations, and getting better with the camaraderie of my fellow linemen,” said Webb, who committed an NFL-high 15 penalties in 2011. “I think it was a time to get better. I’m a young player, and if the team needs me to stay in then I will.”
I suspect we will continue to see extended reps for Webb and Williams until one of them finally figures it out. As of right now, Tice has Webb getting the first-team reps at the moment, but nothing is set in stone and the battle for the starting job should rage on for at least another preseason game.
It’s hard to find positives when looking at a 31-3 blowout loss, especially when the only points the Bears scored, were by kicker Robbie Gould. They were far and in between, but some of the younger prospects showed flashes of potential. Particularly, rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and rookie defensive end Shea McClellin.
Jeffery recorded four receptions for 35 yards, and drew a pass interference call in the second quarter on a third down. Not eye-popping numbers by any means, but that’s the type of performance you want to see from a guy like Jeffery, who was drafted in the 2nd round to bolster the Bears depth at wide receiver. He caught the balls that were thrown his way, he ran his routes efficiently, and played physical against the coverage.
Shea McClellin had a pretty solid performance in his first professional game. He flashed the speed he’s been praised for, pressuring the quarterback numerous times throughout the night. Late in the first quarter, he hustled to track down ex-Bears QB Caleb Hanie, and record his first professional sack. Solider Field’s soaking wet fans responded to the rookies efforts with a loud roar. Chicago was harping on Caleb Hanie all night, showering him with boos every time he went under center. McClellin was however manhandled in the run game and struggled often from the point of attack. He will get better with this issue though, as he adjusts to coming off the snap from the ground. At Boise State, Shea was more of a “roaming” pass rusher, usually pacing back and forth in an open stance.
Other notable performances came from DT Nate Collins, who continues to impress since coming over from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He recorded a sack, and was a factor on lmost every down he played. Linebacker JT Thomas quietly had the game of the night. He was the Chicago Bears leading tackler on the night, tallying seven tackles, and was penetrating the gaps and forcing his opponents backwards all night.
Thomas clearly had a better game than the other linebacker on the depth chart, Blake Costanzo. Blake left the San Francisco 49ers, to sign a two-year deal with the Bears. He was brought on board to be a top replacement to Corey Graham, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens. After last night’s performance, I don’t think he will be considered at the linebacker spot from here on out, but strictly a special team specialist.
Again, breathe Bears fans. It’s only the first preseason game, and although the o-line is a concern, there were some bright spots, especially out of their most recent draft picks. The Chicago Bears are also the type of team that dislikes showing their offensive game plan early on. They do this almost every preseason, minimizing the exposure of their system to the league in exchange for handouts like they gave to the Broncos on Thursday night.
We haven’t seen anything yet in regards to the Chicago Bears offense that has been dubbed “explosive” by coaches and players. Until the whole masterpiece that Phil Emery has envisioned comes on the field together, we cannot properly analyze this team. We have yet to see the best.
Follow Michael on twitter: @windycityiggy