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Saturday, August 14, 2010
Updated: August 15, 2:16 PM ET
Jay Cutler's start: Blink and you'd miss it

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

SAN DIEGO -- Jay Cutler looked sharp Saturday night in the Bears' preseason opener.

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler threw just two passes on Saturday night.

At least we think that was Cutler.

Not even Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu was sure.

"He got two series, that's good enough," the Bears receiver said of his starting quarterback.

Told that Cutler played only one series, Aromashodu, who caught four passes -- none from Cutler -- for 78 yards and a touchdown, seemed puzzled.

"One? Oh, I didn't even know," he said with a smile. "But that's fine. If he's satisfied, I'm satisfied."

Considering the Bears looked pretty good to that point, stopping the San Diego Chargers on a three-and-out, then taking the lead on a 38-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, they really might have been satisfied.

"This kind of starts out the legitimate evaluation of where we are as a team," said Bears head coach Lovie Smith.

Considering the Bears ended up dropping a 25-10 decision, there would appear to be plenty to evaluate.

"We have a lot of work to do and a long ways to go to be the type of football team we're going to be," Smith said. "But it is a start."

Both Smith and Cutler said it was the plan to play the quarterback for only a few plays. It came as a surprise to the entire Bears media corps, but then, what do we know? It was certainly fair to wonder, however, whether the coaching staff took one look at that first series and feared for Cutler's safety.

Either way, Cutler managed to look impressive in the brief glimpse we had of him, completing his only two attempts -- 33- and 14-yard passes to Johnny Knox -- and leading the Bears on a nine-play, 51-yard scoring drive that culminated with Gould's field goal.

But the appearance also provided an unfortunate glimpse of last season, when the Bears ranked 27th in red zone scoring.

With a first-and-10 on San Diego's 19-yard line, the Bears moved backward on three plays. Matt Forte, who gained 7 yards on four attempts in that first series and also never returned, got Cutler sacked by Chargers left corner Donald Strickland on second down for a 6-yard loss. Cutler was hit hard again as he scrambled on the next play, and it was goodbye, Jay.

"We wanted to get in and out of the huddle, get in a little bit of a rhythm and knock some rust off," Cutler said. "I haven't been hit for a while."

Smith had said to expect as much as a half from the first units in San Diego, and he did keep most of his offensive line in the game that long. But perhaps he was alarmed by the actual tackling the Chargers were doing.

Rumor has it that the Bears were considered for the show "Hard Knocks," but HBO would have had to change the title. The New York Jets had more contact in their cafeteria than the Bears have had this training camp.

You do wonder about this. But mostly you wonder what would happen to the Bears if, God forbid, Cutler were to go down.

Caleb Hanie
Caleb Hanie put on an impressive display before suffering a shoulder injury.

Caleb Hanie, who has managed to remain on the roster despite early, legitimate concerns by offensive coordinator Mike Martz that the Bears sign a veteran backup quarterback, looked good enough last preseason and this training camp to merit some confidence.

Hanie completed 10 of 17 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He looked decent at times and tentative at others, and left the game with an injury to his throwing shoulder after a fumble midway through the third quarter.

Smith said it would be premature to talk about Hanie going on injured reserve "or anything like that." But let's be honest. If we're even talking about Hanie after Sept. 12, we'll also be waiting anxiously for the Blackhawks' season to begin.

This was our first real look at Martz's offense, but we gleaned little. Cutler, who genuinely seems to enjoy working with his new offensive coordinator, told WBBM radio that he enjoyed watching him work on the sideline.

"He's on top of it, getting calls in quick and early, always thinking ahead," Cutler (with a shot at former offensive coordinator Ron Turner?) said. "He's been doing this for a long time. This isn't his first rodeo. I look forward to many, many games with him."

The Bears obviously did not plan much for the Chargers and their 3-4 defense, which has given them fits in the past. But it was a good test, as they will face it plenty this season against Green Bay, Dallas, Washington, Buffalo, Miami, New England and the Jets.

Still, evaluating preseason games is a little like predicting what the Rod Blagojevich jury will do. There's no real way to tell.

We know the special teams looked anything but special thanks to four Chargers kickoff returns of 114 yards.

We know Aromashodu will be a featured receiver again and that Knox should only get better. We won't know about Forte until he actually shows us. Brian Urlacher said his wrist isn't a factor.

"Hopefully the next preseason game we'll get a few more reps and try a couple more things," Bears receiver Devin Hester said. "It's tough, especially when you see the offense move down the field and then after that series, we're out of the game."

At least he noticed.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.