- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler overcame a rough start to light up the Indianapolis Colts for 333 yards through the air with two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 98.9 after starting the first quarter 2 of 13 for 21 yards and a rating of 4.9. The fact Cutler bounced back is a significant accomplishment, but the quarterback nearly attaining a 100 passer rating is remarkable. Nobody has ever doubted Cutler’s physical skills or the mental aspect of his game. Leadership, intangibles, and fundamentals have always been the issues. But it seems Cutler is working hard to improve those areas in his game.
2. Tim Jennings, CB: Although it seemed Jennings experienced an up-and-down year in 2011, he actually played better than he was given credit for. One of Jennings’ most pronounced shortcomings in that season was his inability to catch what should have been sure interceptions. So during the offseason, Jennings concentrated on improving in that area and that showed against the Colts. Jennings picked off two Andrew Luck passes, and deflected another attempt that safety Chris Conte picked off. Lovie Smith said Jennings is playing with confidence right now, and we don’t anticipate that changing as the year progresses.
3. Brandon Marshall, WR: Nobody can say they’re disappointed by the performance in the opener of the club’s most high-profile offseason acquisition. Marshall caught a team-high nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. What’s more is he flashed incredible chemistry with Cutler, body control and the ability to take over a game. Many of the team’s fans today have never seen a receiving threat of Marshall’s ilk in a Bears uniform. Marshall basically put the league on notice against the Colts. Defenses absolutely have to account for him. But even with coverages devoted to Marshall, it’s not a slam dunk that the defense can get the job done.
1. Devin Hester, WR/KR: Although he caught both passes thrown his way for 27 yards, the strong play of Alshon Jeffery might be seen as a sign that Hester could see diminished looks in the coming weeks. The team discussed putting together a package designed specifically for the receiver, but the Bears didn’t use it much against the Colts. In the future, look for the Bears to find more creative ways to get Hester the ball in space so he can use his run-after-catch ability to make plays. Still, if Jeffery continues excel, the club will have a difficult decision to make in terms of how they distribute repetitions.
2. Brian Urlacher, LB: Urlacher performed fairly well coming off only one week of work during training camp and no preseason action. So he probably doesn’t belong here. But until conditioning is no longer an issue for Urlacher, he won’t be given the opportunities by the coaching staff to perform like the Hall of Famer he’s destined to become. Urlacher wasn’t pleased with Smith’s decision to pull him in the third quarter of the opener because he wanted to be a part of the feeding frenzy on Luck and the Colts. There’s a good chance it will take a couple of weeks for observers to finally see the Urlacher they’ve become accustomed to over the years.
3. Stephen Paea, DT: Although they announced prior to Sunday’s game that Paea would start, the Bears opted to go with veteran Matt Toeaina as the starter. Because of an ankle injury in the preseason, Paea had been held out of workouts and the final three preseason games. So the inactivity put Paea behind in terms of physical conditioning, and that showed against the Colts. Paea won’t be in this category very long once his cardiovascular shape improves. But against the Colts, Paea was credited with no tackles and only one quarterback hit.
Michael C. Wright looks at which Bears are rising and falling in the Stock Watch.