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Sports

Highs and lows of Bears exhibition victory

FootballIce HockeyJay CutlerChicago BearsShea McClellinPhilosophyNick Foles
Can Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic be reliable contributors? They have a long way to go.
When will Martellus Bennett return from suspension? Time will tell because coach Marc Trestman isn't talking
Bears special teams are a work in progress that need to show much more progress

One exhibition game down, three to go.

After a sometimes bumpy yet productive effort Friday night, the Bears left Soldier Field with a 34-28 victory over the Eagles, rattling off the game's final 17 points to generate some positive energy for the final days of training camp.

So what was learned as the team returns to Bourbonnais to resume camp Sunday? Here's a three phase breakdown:

Defense

Reason for optimism: The hopes of a defensive revival will start with pressure from the front four. And even with Jared Allen held out Friday, the Bears' line created plenty of disruption early.

On the game's third snap, Stephen Paea stormed up the middle to force a rushed Nick Foles throw that Lance Briggs nearly intercepted. On the next play, Jeremiah Ratliff beat guard Evan Mathis so badly he drew a holding penalty. And then Willie Young and Lamarr Houston helped create a takeaway with enough pressure on Foles that the Eagles quarterback fired way wide of receiver Ifeanyi Momah and right to safety Ryan Mundy.

If concerns remain about the stability on the back end, safety Danny McCray is quick to point out how much added confidence the secondary has with a push like the Bears revved up Friday.

"You're way more comfortable," McCray said. "The ball's coming out quick. Those receivers are turning around looking to see if they have to scramble for the ball. It's a lot easier on us."

Reason for concern: Friday's game was supposed to be a measure of progress for young linebackers Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic. Yet both showed signs they still have a long way to go to be consistent and reliable contributors.

The Eagles' longest passing play, a 34-yard Mark Sanchez completion to Zach Ertz, came in a huge window between Bostic and rookie safety Brock Vereen. Sanchez went back to Ertz for 18 yards on the next play, this time with McClellin lagging in coverage.

That drive ended with a 4-yard Matthew Tucker touchdown run in which blocks swallowed up McClellin and Bostic. Tucker's 24-yard run on the next series went right past McClellin with center David Molk taking him out of the play with a mediocre cut block.

Worth discussing: Chris Conte participated in a light warm-up on the field before Friday's game, going through backpedals, cuts and other conditioning work. Conte had surgery on his right shoulder last winter and hasn't practiced during organized team activities, minicamp or training camp.

With Conte out, McCray, Mundy, Adrian Wilson and Vereen have been battling for depth chart position. But Conte's readiness to dive back into the mix will affect that storyline, perhaps as early as Sunday or Monday.

Offense

Reason for optimism: After a choppy opening possession that produced only 1 yard on three plays, the first-unit offense used a second series for redemption, marching 69 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown. The scoring play was a 10-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Zach Miller, a precise back-shoulder dart where only the tight end had a play on it.

That was the last of Cutler's several impressive throws that included a 40-yard bomb to Alshon Jeffery that was brought back because of a holding penalty and a 23-yard completion to Dante Rosario in which Cutler had the perfect arc and velocity to hit his tight end between linebacker DeMeco Ryans and safety Malcolm Jenkins.

On the touchdown drive, Cutler converted on third-and-11, third-and-10 and third-and-7.

Obviously, first-quarter scoring marches in exhibition openers need to be kept in perspective. But on that series, Cutler appeared to have answers against the Eagles' active 3-4 defense.

Reason for concern: The running game sputtered all night with the Bears averaging just 2.9 yards on 32 attempts. That included their longest run, quarterback Jimmy Clausen's 16-yard scramble.

Matt Forte totaled minus-5 yards on three carries. Rookie Ka'Deem Carey had 23 yards on 10 rushes.

Worth discussing: Coach Marc Trestman still can't offer specifics for when he expects Martellus Bennett to return from his indefinite suspension, so it will be a wait-and-see deal Sunday to track if the emotional tight end is back in Bourbonnais.

Assuming Bennett can get back on the same page with his coach and general manager, he will remain the No. 1 tight end by a wide margin. But in his absence greater opportunity has surfaced for the other four. Miller, a 29-year-old whose last regular-season game action came in 2011 with the Jaguars, made the most of his chances Friday with six grabs for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

"When you get an opportunity, when you get a ball to come your way, you have to make the plays," Miller said. "You have to prove you can do it when the lights are on."

Special teams

Reason for optimism: On a night with few bright spots, the first unit kick coverage team stopped Eagles receiver Josh Huff inside the 15 on the opening kickoff. The tackle went to Sherrick McManis, who fought off a block, stayed in his lane and delivered a big hit.

Hey, it's something.

Reason for concern: Coordinator Joe DeCamillis had to be reaching for the antacid during his initial film review. Among Friday's troubling miscues: a Robbie Gould field goal that was blocked; Huff's 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown; and Micheal Spurlock's muffed punt.

The blocked field goal came with Chad Rempel snapping and punter Pat O'Donnell holding. Eagles defensive lineman Brandon Bair got a hand on the kick after he and Kevin Graf both plowed between Rempel and Jermon Bushrod.

On the touchdown return, Huff went untouched altogether.

And Spurlock's muff? Michael Ford, the up back on the return, didn't track the ball well enough and was in Spurlock's way as he charged to catch a 40-yard Donnie Jones punt.

Worth discussing: O'Donnell bettered Tress Way in the first under-the-lights punting competition — but barely. O'Donnell delivered ordinary punts of 40 and 47 yards, the latter landing a yard into the end zone for a touchback. Way was shakier with kicks of 38 and 37 yards, leaving plenty of work to do as camp resumes.

dwiederer@tribune.com

Twitter @danwiederer

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FootballIce HockeyJay CutlerChicago BearsShea McClellinPhilosophyNick Foles
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