Commentary

The real deal?

With each game, Bears closer to discovering how good they can be

Updated: August 20, 2012, 10:41 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With so much attention spent disseminating and dissecting every player, every situation, every word in BearsWorld, Michael Bush is confused why everyone is so ignorant.

"I think you guys don't know what you got," Bush said with a hint of a smile at his locker at Halas Hall on Monday. "I'll just keep showing everybody each week and getting better. … I know what I can do. I just need for you guys to believe as well."

Someone call R. Kelly. Sing it with me, "I believe I can run …"

At a listed 245 pounds, the free-agent running back formerly with the Oakland Raiders bristles at being called a "battering ram" and goal-line crash test dummy. After all, in his mind, Bush is still the schoolboy star of Louisville whose Heisman campaign was halted by a nasty leg injury. Too many years of sharing carries have diminished his reputation as the "thunder" to someone else's "lightning."

"Some people say I'm slow because I'm big," he said. "Some people say I can't move. But I don't know what you guys are watching. I've been doing it for a while and that's not me."

Even Jay Cutler was a little surprised when Bush juked past a guy in the red zone to score his second short-yardage touchdown in Saturday's preseason win over Denver.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bush
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireMichael Bush scored two touchdowns in Saturday night's win.

"I think he has a little quicker feet than anyone anticipated, making that guy miss in the hole, that kind of threw us for a loop just watching it," Cutler said. "He's a sleeper. You never really know and then he turns it on game day and he can make plays for you."

It goes to show how things aren't always as they seem in the mind's eye, or as Brandon Marshall sagely pointed out Monday, "It's never as good as you think. It's never as bad as you think."

Those bromides hold especially true in the exhibition season, which is best treated as a televised scrimmage. But for the Bears' offense, which is finally showing signs of being an elite outfit, it's hard not to get excited.

Just as we might have the wrong idea about the agility of Bush's feet, so too might we fail to have an accurate take on the Bears' reality with the regular season still weeks away.

The truth is they don't know how good they are yet either. This is still a team in development, which is why the telephone lines light up when sports talk shows are on the Bears. This is a team that will incite debate, even more than usual.

Because you can see this team being very good, an explosive offense combined with an opportunistic defense capable of causing turnovers.

And you can see this team being sadly mediocre, a middling offensive line and an already-injured safety group, not to mention a surgically repaired Brian Urlacher being the main concerns.

While the defense looked stout without Urlacher, the first-team offense looked pretty good, from Bush's scoring ability to the offensive line not giving up a sack when Cutler was in the game. (Backup Jason Campbell was sacked three times.)

Naturally, a good deal of skepticism on the group remains. When J'Marcus Webb is involved, irrational trust is hard to come by. This week's test is the New York Giants, with a fearsome front four of six rotating players.

Cutler, who was sacked nine times and likely suffered a concussion against the Giants in 2010, said, "By the end of the game we'll have a pretty good idea of what we have up front."

"Those front four, they have are some of the best in the league," he said. "They're really long, they're fast, they can bull rush and they can speed rush, so it's going to be a challenge for us."

Asked what the offensive line did better in the second preseason game, right tackle Gabe Carimi put it concisely.

"I guess we just blocked better," he said. "I don't know."

It could be that simple. Or maybe he means they got a little lucky too or just properly game-planned for the Redskins' pass rushers. If Webb & Co. can hold off the Giants' predators, he could incite some real optimism. But if the Bears' line can't hold off New York, well, there's certainly reason to be scared this week. There were too many injuries last week at Soldier Field not to get visions of a crumpled-up Cutler in your head.

But you can only worry about the future when it's the present.

While the line kept Cutler pretty clean last week, Marshall looked like the go-to receiver we've been waiting for. He and Cutler connected for a 41-yard catch on the Bears' first play, and the passing game finally showed a glimmer of hope that it could be consistently deadly.

Marshall knows that surface analysis would say he had a good game. He wants to go deeper, and not just down the field.

"To me, it's a little humbling," Marshall said of evaluating his performance. "I have to be a little more disciplined on my routes and on the field. You don't want to take away from the excitement and the things we accomplished out there a few days ago, but on my end I have to be more disciplined."

Don't call this next game meaningless. For Marshall, it's part of the process.

"I'm actually looking forward to this game and one of the main reasons is how bad I played," he said. "You guys wouldn't be able to tell but there's some things I did out there that wasn't technically sound. I want to build off that and play better."

I can remember one play where Marshall seemed to slow down to invite contact to get the cornerback off-balance, and Cutler missed him deep.

"It's little things, things if you catch it now, it won't affect us once the season starts," Marshall said.

As far as preseason hype goes, no Bear is getting more than rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery, who caught three passes for 62 yards, validation of his excellent training camp. He even earned some respect from his peers for a dumb, 15-yard penalty. When you have the chance to rip off DeAngelo Hall's helmet, you take it.

Marshall has been his loudest cheerleader, but even he said "chill."

"What does [Bill] Parcells say?" he said. "Let's not induct him in Canton yet."

Marshall is right. Jeffery has to win that Super Bowl MVP in New Orleans this January first. Really, we don't know what kind of performer Jeffery is going to be just yet, just like we don't know if Bush will really cut into Matt Forte's carries or if the offensive line is capable of keeping Cutler in one piece for an entire season.

For now, conjecture is king. But this week's game will get us closer to enlightenment. Just pray Cutler makes it through in one piece.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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