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Four Downs: Time to worry about offense?

8/12/2013
Will Jay Cutler and the Bears have the offense in working order by the first regular season game? AP Photo/Bob Leverone

With just one preseason game in the books, how much do we know about the state of the Bears offense or the offensive line's makeup?

Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: Through two and a half weeks of camp and one preseason game, the Bears should be concerned about their offensive execution.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact: Whenever a new offense is installed there are naturally going to be concerns, especially coming off a disastrous 2012 season on offense. There is ample skill-position talent on the roster for Jay Cutler to spread the ball around to, but for whatever reason, the offense hasn’t looked all that sharp in practice since camp opened up in late July. Far too often Cutler has been intercepted, either due to his error or a miscue by the intended receiver. The Bears can’t turn the ball over if they expect to win. There is also the uncertainty on the offensive line, which will continue to be a cause for concern until the final starting five is set sometime around the third preseason game. And even when the No. 1 line is penciled in, are the Bears comfortable starting two rookies on the right side in the event Jordan Mills hangs onto the job? To be fair, the Bears haven’t really been able to run the ball in the preseason. If the ground game can get cooking with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, then no matter what happens with the other stuff, the Bears will have a chance to be decent on offense. But simply based on what we’ve seen so far, the offense has a long way to go before it will be ready to handle whatever the Cincinnati Bengals offense throws at them in Week 1.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Not any more concerned than anyone else around the league is at this point of the year. It's important to remember that the Bears are executing a brand new offense, and the truth is the first-teamers executed fairly well against the Carolina Panthers. In 10 snaps, Cutler completed 6 of 8 for 56 yards with a passer rating of 54.2, which was knocked down quite a few points due to the interception he threw on the first play of the game. Of those 10 plays, nine of them turned out to be passes, although Bears coach Marc Trestman later revealed that he called more runs than what was actually executed. This could be viewed as a positive. Cutler checked out of some of the runs to put the Bears in more advantageous situations to throw the ball, based on several factors. Judging from his completion percentage (75), Cutler was making the correct checks. So signs indicate Cutler is figuring out things, and that's exactly what the Bears want from their quarterback at this point in the preseason.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Jordan Mills will prove to be a better offensive tackle than J'Marcus Webb.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact: Here is the issue with Webb; he’s not getting any better. The Bears know exactly what he is capable and not capable of doing. With Mills, there is still a chance he can turn into an above average NFL offensive lineman, something Webb is not. Mills also seems to care about his profession. He gets mad when he makes a mistake. The rookie even went as far as to call himself “my own biggest critic.” Does Webb really care about football? In three-plus years of covering the guy, I can honestly say I don’t know the answer to that question. It doesn’t seem to bother Webb all that much when he allows a defender to drill Cutler for a sack. For that very reason alone, I give the nod to Mills, who is expected to receive a fair shot to unseat Webb for good in the coming weeks.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. Eventually, Mills probably will wind up being a better offensive tackle than Webb, who seems to possess the physical tools, but also seems to lack the mentality necessary to excel at his position. It's not quite time to write off Webb, however. One bad play shouldn't banish Webb to the bench forever. A thorough study of film from Friday night's game at Carolina would probably reveal that every starter on the offensive line suffered through a bad play here or there. The microscope on Webb is just more intense because of his past struggles. Mills, meanwhile, probably isn't quite ready to contribute as a starter right now. But he'll get there. The Bears plan to throw Mills in with the No. 1s against the Chargers on Thursday, and after that game we should have a better indication about his potential as a starter. What's promising about Mills at this point is his enthusiasm. It's quite apparent that the desire is there to put forth the work necessary to become a solid starter. Mills projects as a better player than Webb in the long run, but in the short term the latter might be the best option at right tackle.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Matt Forte will have a career season in Trestman's system.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction: The only reason I’m not convinced that Forte will eclipse the 1,715 all-purpose yards he compiled his rookie year of 2008 is because if the Bears offense is executed properly, Cutler will have so many other options, in addition to Forte. But don’t get me wrong, a healthy Forte should have a monster year in this offense, especially if the Bears throw him the football out of the backfield. Forte has looked outstanding in camp, with a strong lower body that should allow the tailback to break free of would-be tacklers when the regular season rolls around. However, the hope is that Forte stays fresh for the Bears late season playoff push because Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Martellus Bennett and Michael Bush shoulder their share of the load.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. Considering Forte gained 1,238 yards in his best rushing season (2008), it's not out of the realm of possibility for him to put together a career year on the ground if the offense runs through him the way Trestman said it will. The fact Forte will be asked to catch more passes also bodes well for the possibility of him having a career season. But from this vantage point, too much of Forte's potential success appears to be tied to Cutler. What if Cutler puts on the blinders, and forgets about Forte and throws only to Brandon Marshall? What if the quarterback checks out of a ton of called runs, thus taking away some of Forte's opportunities? There are too many questions here and not enough answers. Forte should be able to put together a career year in the new offense, similar to the way Charlie Garner did in the past working with Trestman in Oakland. At the same time, a lot of that will depend on how Cutler will distribute the ball.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Jon Bostic will be starting by Week 3.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact: This is a tough one. I still haven’t given up on D.J. Williams, whom the Bears really liked in the offseason program, but I just don’t know when the veteran middle linebacker is going to return from a bad calf injury. If Williams can get back on the field for the third preseason game, then I believe he has a shot to win his job back. But the longer Williams stays out, the more chances it gives Bostic to make plays in the preseason. If the rookie can sustain the success he had after the opening drive versus the Panthers and carry that into the next two exhibition games, then it will be difficult for Williams to unseat Bostic in the middle of the Bears’ defense.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Bostic will start only if D.J. Williams is unable to play in Week 3 because of injury or suspension. Bostic put together a promising showing in his NFL debut against Carolina, but Trestman was quick to point out the team isn't anointing him by any means. That's partially because he knows what the Bears already have in the middle with Williams, who has been slowed by a strained calf. Williams put together five consecutive seasons from 2007-2010 of 103 tackles or more, including 170 stops in 2007, before injuries and off-field issues limited his production. Williams never missed a regular season or playoff game over his first four seasons in the NFL, and at one time was considered one of the league's best at his position. Williams didn't all of a sudden age 10 years overnight. He's still got it, and the organization had been raving about that fact just before Williams suffered the injury. Bostic definitely shows potential, and is the future at the position. But he's not going to unseat a healthy Williams.