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Chicago Bears: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of the Preseason

Matt EurichAnalyst IAugust 25, 2014

Chicago Bears: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of the Preseason

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    After a 34-6 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks this past Friday night, the Chicago Bears looked like a team that still has a ways to go if it wants to be a contender in 2014.

    How a team plays in the preseason is never a true indicator of how it will perform in the upcoming season, but the way the Bears played at times on Friday proved head coach Marc Trestman and his staff still have some work to do on both sides of the football before the start of the regular season on September 7.

    Despite not scoring any points on offense with the starters in the game, quarterback Jay Cutler believed the unit was just a few mistakes away from putting some points on the board.

    "We were never shellshocked out there," Cutler told the media, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. "We got to our checks in a reasonable time. We just missed a few big plays out there that I think could've changed the game for us."

    While the offense appeared to be just a few mistakes away from being productive, the defense struggled against the Seahawks all night.

    The defense gave up 370 yards of total offense, including 202 yards through the air to quarterback Russell Wilson

    Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff was disappointed with the team's inability to maintain its rush lanes against Wilson.

    "We definitely have to work on rush lanes, as far as pass rush," Ratliff told Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. "It was exposed with the good quarterback who had great poise, great feet and able to buy time with his feet."

    Little time stands between now and the start of the regular season, meaning both the offense and defense have limited opportunities to work out all of the kinks before the meaningful games begin. 

    The preseason is set to conclude this Thursday, and here is what we've learned about the Chicago Bears through the first three weeks of the preseason. 

Defense Is Still a Question Mark

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    USA TODAY Sports

    After having a historically bad defense in 2013, general manager Phil Emery made it a point to improve his defensive unit in 2014.

    Following the re-signing of guys like Ratliff and D.J. Williams this offseason, Emery also signed veterans Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency and drafted Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in this past May's draft to strengthen a unit that gave up a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game last season.

    While the unit showed flashes of its potential in the team's first two preseason games, it looked much like the unit that struggled mightily in 2013 during Friday night's game against the Seahawks.

    Seattle's starters scored on all five of their possessions in the first half and converted all eight of their third downs.

    Trestman was not happy with what the defense showed on third down Friday night.

    "The stats are what they are," Trestman told the media, via Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. "You've got to get off the field on third down. And you've got to also try to get in a position where they're not third-and-manageable, which makes obviously a much better percentage for them to convert."

    Linebacker Lance Briggs believes the defense's only area of concern is on third down.

    "I think the only thing that stood out is third down," Briggs saidvia Campbell. "Getting off the field on third down is very important. We got ourselves into a lot of third-down situations and didn't get off the field. We've got extended drives, and that gives more plays for the defense out on the field."

    The defense was likely not game-planning for Seattle's offense like it normally would for a regular-season game, but its struggles from Friday night should not go unnoticed. 

    Despite its struggles, Williams does not believe what it showed on the field Friday night is indicative of how the unit will play this season.

    "Just know that what was shown out on the field, I don't believe that's the defense that we are," Williams said, via Campbell. "Now we've got to watch film, and the next time we get on the field, we've got to prove that's not us."

    With the first-team defense unlikely to play many—if any—snaps in the preseason finale this Thursday against the Cleveland Browns, the defense appears to be heading into the Week 1 opener against the Buffalo Bills with more questions than answers. 

Jimmy Clausen Is the Team's Backup Quarterback

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    After giving veteran Jordan Palmer every chance to grab the backup quarterback job, it appears that Jimmy Clausen will head into the 2014 season as the No. 2 behind Cutler after ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted on Sunday evening Palmer had been cut:

    Bears are keeping QB Jimmy Clausen over Jordan Palmer, who is being released, per sources. For now, Clausen has won Bears' backup job.

    — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 24, 2014

    Palmer spent part of last season with Bears after an injury to Cutler in October, but he failed to take a hold on the No. 2 spot during the offseason, prompting the Bears to add Clausen at the end of the team's minicamp in June.

    The coaching staff did its best to give both quarterbacks equal time under center this preseason.

    In the team's first three preseason games, Clausen combined to go 24-of-37 for 280 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while Palmer went 21-of-30 for 225 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

    Both quarterbacks had similar numbers this preseason, but when looking at them on the field, Clausen proved he was much more comfortable in the offense and had the ability to push the football down the field.

    Because of Clausen's skill set and control of the offense, many believed before Sunday he was going to be team's No. 2 this season, including ChicagoFootball.com's Jeff Arnold:

    If tonight's second half shows anything, it's that Jimmy Clausen should be the Bears No. 2 QB. Simply brings more to the table.

    — Jeff Arnold (@JeffArnold_CF) August 23, 2014

    Clausen finished Friday night's game going 6-of-9 for 36 yards and led the team to two field goals in the fourth quarter.

    Now that Palmer is out of the picture, Clausen gives the Bears a backup quarterback who has NFL experience and, at just 26 years old, still has plenty of room to grow at the position.

Special Teams Continue to Struggle

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    After struggling in 2013 to replicate on special teams what it had done under former special teams coach Dave Toub in the past, the unit has again looked like a shell of its former self in the team's first three preseason games.

    On Friday against the Seahawks, the Bears coverage teams gave up a 46-yard kickoff return to Percy Harvin and a 59-yard punt return to Earl Thomas.

    Along with the team's inability to slow down its opponent's return game, it has not been able to find its replacement to Devin Hester in its own return game.

    Micheal Spurlock and Darius Reynaud got extended opportunities Friday night when Chris Williams had to miss the game due to a hamstring injury, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:

    Add #Bears WR Chris Williams (hamstring) to your list of scratches. Going to be harder to make the team the longer he is sidelined.

    — Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) August 23, 2014

    Williams was presumed to be the front-runner for the position heading into training camp, but after an injury against the Philadelphia Eagles in the preseason opener that has kept him out of the last two games, he is most concerned about getting himself 100 percent healthy.

    "It is a little frustrating, but you've got to be healthy so you can play this game," Williams told Arnold. "But I think everyone's No. 1 goal for me right now is for me to be healthy so I can go out there and give 100 percent."

    After short stints with the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns to start his career, Williams dominated as a return man in the Canadian Football League. In 2012, he set a CFL record with six return touchdowns and finished the season with 1,117 punt return yards.

    Despite not getting much of an opportunity yet to prove himself on the field, he will likely start the season as the team's No. 1 return man, if he can get healthy, because of what he proved he can do in the CFL.

Safety Position Remains Wide Open

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    USA TODAY Sports

    After adding veteran safeties Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, Danny McCray and M.D. Jennings in free agency and drafting Brock Vereen in this past May's draft, the Bears still appear unsure of who will be their starting safety tandem this season.

    After joining the team in late June, Wilson failed to make much of an impact and was cut by the team over the weekend, via ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson:

    #Bears announce cuts that includes: Nate Collins, Adrian Wilson, Michael Ford, Greg Herd, Kofi Hughes, Joe Long, P. Thompson, Purdy, Gandy.

    — Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) August 24, 2014

    Mundy will likely be the team's starter at strong safety after spending the majority of training camp and the preseason with the first-team defense.

    Veteran Chris Conte stepped on the field Friday night for the first time this preseason after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery and began his journey toward reclaiming his starting free safety spot. Despite showing some flashes against the Seahawks, Conte's night was cut short by a concussion, via Biggs:

    #Bears S Chris Conte has a concussion and will not return

    — Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) August 23, 2014

    Despite the injury, Biggs wrote (subscription required) that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Conte "definitely" still has a chance to reclaim his starting job.

    Conte undoubtedly struggled last season, but his teammates have faith in what he can do on the field.

    "I like his athletic ability," cornerback Tim Jennings told Jahns.

    He continued:

    Chris can get from hash to hash. He knows what he's supposed to do. [He's a] physical guy [who] makes tackles in the open field. He's just raw talent. I like what he brings.

    Despite the praise, Conte's job is not secure, and his primary competition will come from veteran Danny McCray.

    McCray has started all three preseason games at free safety and believes he is getting better every day.

    "I feel like I am getting better each day," McCray told Biggs (subscription required). "I do understand this is preseason and this is really the wide-open competition that they explained it would be when we signed on. I wouldn’t say feel good. I just want to get better."

    If Conte can get cleared this week to return from his concussion, Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns could help solidify his chances to be the team's starter at free safety in Week 1. If Conte stumbles, McCray will likely hold onto the job that he has seemingly earned throughout training camp and the preseason.

Josh Morgan Appears to Have Slight Edge over Santonio Holmes as No. 3 Receiver

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    After an injury to Marquess Wilson in training camp and the release of Eric Weems last week, the Chicago Bears tried to solidify their No. 3 wide receiver position by adding former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes on August 16.

    Holmes saw his first action with the team on Friday night, playing 17 snaps, via Kevin Fishbain of ChicagoFootball.com:

    Chris Conte played 22 snaps in his first preseason game before leaving with a concussion. Santonio Holmes got 17 snaps.

    — Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) August 23, 2014

    Despite Holmes being the bigger name, the Bears have put their faith in veteran Josh Morgan to win the No. 3 spot. He appears to have already gained Cutler's trust, evident by a nice back shoulder grab from Morgan against the Seahawks, via TheGameChicago.com's Adam Hoge:

    Nice back shoulder adjustment by Josh Morgan. When Cutler knows he can trust you with that, you’re set.

    — Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) August 23, 2014

    Morgan finished Friday night's game with three catches for 48 yards.

    Holmes is not guaranteed to make this roster and understands he will need to put in a lot of extra work to get himself prepared.

    "As much time as I want to spend in the playbook, which consists of all night and all day, learning and sticking around the coaches," Holmes told the media in regards to how quickly he can pick up this offense, via Campbell (subscription required). "Get meeting with the backup quarterbacks and taking every rep in mentally from the sideline."

    Arnold believes Morgan has solidified the No. 3 wide receiver spot for now but is interested to see what Holmes can do in this offense:

    Josh Morgan looks like a solid option for the No. 3 WR but it will be interesting to see how Santonio Holmes develops in offense

    — Jeff Arnold (@JeffArnold_CF) August 23, 2014

    Only a member of the Bears for a little over a week, Holmes is going to need time to develop, leaving Morgan as the team's best option right now.  

     

    All training camp observations obtained firsthand by the author unless otherwise noted. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Chicago Bears or ESPN.com.

    Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

    Follow @MattEurich

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