CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If Marc Trestman was hoping to find some rhythm on offense and something to build on for the Bears' final few days of training camp, he'll have to continue his search when the team gets back to Bourbonnais.
The offense has been disjointed at times during practices this summer against the team's own defense, and a new look from the Panthers in the exhibition opener Friday night at Bank of America Stadium didn't change that. Looking to take off with a rebuilt system under the offensive-minded Trestman, the Bears showed there is more work to do.
There were no clean scoring drives, and Trestman gave his starters three possessions and 10 plays, more than he hinted at earlier in the week when discussing playing time. Jay Cutler was intercepted on his first pass, right tackle J'Marcus Webb was beaten for a sack and the Panthers easily diagnosed a screen pass.
"It was an unfortunate start," Cutler said of the interception. "I have to put the ball on Alshon (Jeffery's) other shoulder. We had some good stuff after that; we had some bad stuff. Typical preseason game. We just have to take a look at it and get better next week."
There were positives to take out of the 24-17 loss. Middle linebacker Jon Bostic, getting every opportunity to win the starting job with D.J. Williams sidelined with a right calf injury, stepped in front of a Cam Newton pass for tight end Greg Olsen and returned the interception 51 yards for a touchdown.
Bostic is a smart, instinctive player, and if he shows an understanding for the defense, it will bode well for the future of a transitioning unit. Williams remained in a walking boot earlier this week, so his return is hardly imminent.
The Bears were missing wide receiver Brandon Marshall, whom Trestman held out. Josh Norman's interception on the first play was a product of an apparent mixup with intended target Jeffery, but Cutler did stare his man down. Webb was simply overpowered by left end Charles Johnson on the sack.
"Other than the pick we had, we moved the ball a little bit," Trestman said. "We got a few throws in. Jay made some great throws. We caught some slants in contested throwing areas. We got a few runs in. Matt (Forte) got a couple of catches, moved the ball around.
"Certainly didn't do what we wanted or up to our expectations. But other than the first play and the one sack ... we got some things accomplished. We learned a little bit more about our guys."
Cutler finished 6 of 8 for 56 yards, including 13-yard completions to Jeffery and running back Michael Bush. The starters gained three first downs. There were no passes to tight end Martellus Bennett. The offense was efficient getting in and out of the huddle and operated at a smooth pace, something that was expected after up-tempo practices.
"I thought it was good communication (with Trestman)," Cutler said. "We got in and out of the huddle. Obviously we'd like to have that first one back, but it's something to learn from."
Exhibition results are never a reliable indicator of things to come in September. But the Bears would like to move the ball efficiently and put some points on the board in the next three weeks to build confidence as they prepare for the Sept. 8 opener against the Bengals at Soldier Field.
The starting defense allowed one touchdown — a 3-yard pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell — but that came after Norman picked off Cutler and returned it to the Bears 18.
Norman added a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter after intercepting Matt Blanchard, who completed 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards. He connected with Marquess Wilson on a 58-yard strike to set up Michael Ford's 4-yard scoring run. Backup quarterback Josh McCown was 3-for-8 for 27 yards.
There aren't many starting jobs up for grabs. Webb could be under fire at right tackle, and Bostic could stave off Williams, especially if it takes the veteran a few more weeks to return. Bostic needs to diagnose plays between the tackles quicker, but he has speed and might prove ready to take over.
"He got himself into the end zone, and that's special for a guy in his first-ever pro game," said weak side linebacker Lance Briggs, who called the defensive signals for the first time. "That's rare."
It was a bright spot in this exercise, with plenty of work to do in the weeks ahead.