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Sunday, August 14, 2011
Bottom line: Great to see Bears football

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Besides the Soldier Field turf holding up against the precipitous "northern climate" that stadium general manager Tim LeFevour keeps bringing up, the best thing about the Chicago Bears' first preseason game is that it's over.

The Bears won 10-3, ending a four-game preseason losing streak. We all like to decry the meaning of a preseason game, especially the first and last ones, but it was pleasing to all to see football back at Soldier Field.

"It's not like we won the Super Bowl," running back Kahlil Bell said. "The last time I checked there was no parade. Maybe a parade back to Bourbonnais to start training camp again."

No Super Bowl parade, but there was a bit of good news for some. The Bears did prevent a back door charge by the Bills and covered the 2½- to 3-point spread. Don't laugh. A wise friend once told me it's "ignorant" not to bet on preseason football, because informed gamblers have a better edge. We laughed at him then -- we were in Las Vegas, where this is all legal -- but he showed us by hitting an eight-team parlay of preseason games.

Marion Barber
Bears running back Marion Barber picked up 45 yards on seven carries against the Bills on Saturday.
His reasoning, while hilarious, isn't far off. For instance, a true Bears fan would've known the team is deep on the defensive line and at running back, both of which helped prevent any Buffalo momentum in the second half. The Bills had only 86 net yards in the second half, while the Bears had 180.

The Bears' offensive line will be criticized in the film room and the media for giving up nine sacks, but a learning curve is to be expected given the lack of offseason work and with everyone but guard Chris Williams playing a new position on the line. You want to see mistakes early, rather than a window dressing performance.

"We've got new positions and new guys in there," Williams said. "We're trying to jell."

"They were good. They were fine," said Jay Cutler, who was sacked 52 times last season and once in his only series Saturday. "It took a little bit to get settled down. Some of those young guys are still jelling a little bit."

No one expects to see that starting five last all season, least of all backup center Chris Spencer. The line acquitted itself well in the run-blocking department. Bell, who annoys veterans on the defense with a hard-charging practice style, picked up 73 yards on 13 carries, breaking off a 27-yard run. He also caught a 27-yard pass and a 19-yard pass.

But Marion Barber stole the show, running seven times for 45 yards in true "Marion the Barbarian" fashion. Barber didn't talk after the game, which apparently is his style. Cutler and Brian Urlacher are jealous.

In the team's first possession of the second quarter, Barber had runs of 11, 12 and 11 yards in the Bears' only touchdown drive of the game. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie ran it in from 4 yards out to give the Bears a 7-3 lead.

"It was solid performance," Hanie said of Barber. "He was the MVP of those drives, getting the ball downfield. He's a powerful guy, a smart guy with good vision. The O-line did a great job blocking for him. You can't forget about that."

Matt Forte played sparingly and Chester Taylor got three carries for 3 yards. Barber, a surprise pickup, has looked good in practice, too. Taylor looks like the odd man out.

With the Bears' pass protection a work in progress, and Taylor having almost no role last year, the signings of Barber and rising defensive tackle Amobi Okoye look like Jerry Angelo's best moves of the offseason. Okoye, just 24, had two sacks as a backup "3-technique" tackle.

Cornerback Tim Jennings liked what he saw from Barber. A strong, clock-churning run game is the defense's best friend.

"That's what the organization does," he said. "They know the guys they need to put in the system. So you tip your hat to the organization and to Marion Barber. He knows what he's capable of doing and he's doing it."

Jennings is being kind. As any Bears fan can attest, it's actually quite easy to be skeptical of this organization, and the departure of Olin Kreutz, for example, could still be a major storyline if the line doesn't get cinched up in September.

But just like last year, the offensive line will get better and the Soldier Field grass will get worse. The first step of this journey is over, and the season is afoot. And that's something to celebrate.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.