Robert Hughes had the kind of a night most rookie running backs could only dream about. He scored two touchdowns, had a team-high 69 yards rushing and caught two pass receptions for an additional 26 yards. To make it even sweeter, Hughes is a local product, a Notre Dame graduate who hails from Chicago. So how does it feel to be on top of the stat sheet after the Chicago Bears preseason finale?
"It's great," Hughes said in the locker room after the game. "I love it. But really, it's not about me, it's about our team. The fact that I was able to do something to help us get this win tonight is wonderful. It makes me feel truly blessed."
Until last night's 24-14 win over the Cleveland Browns, Hughes had been listed last in the RB depth chart, well behind Matt Forte, Chester Taylor, Marion Barber, and even Harvey Unga. But Hughes seemed grateful to have the opportunity to be on the field in any capacity.
"I realize that the starters didn't play tonight, so I'm definitely not going to expect too much from my results in terms of moving up the depth chart," he said. "But I hope that I have shown the coaches enough to help me stick with this team."
Hughes feels he still has a lot of work to do in terms of learning coordinator Mike Martz's complex offense.
RB Kahlil Bell
"My position is multi-layered," Hughes said. "It requires various skills. You've got to catch the ball, you've got to run with the ball, you've got to be effective in blocking. You have to play intelligently and not make mistakes. I am progressing down that road. I'm eager to learn but I certainly am not there yet."
Hughes' teammate, third-year veteran runner Kahlil Bell, sustained an ankle injury near the end of the second quarter. When Bell went out, Hughes came in. As a result, he had an extended opportunity to show how valuable he can be to the Bears' offense. It's unlikely he'll make the final 53-man roster but he's now definitely in the running for a spot on the practice squad.
After the game Bell shrugged off the injury. His ankle appeared to be lightly taped.
"I tweaked it when I ended up on the bottom of a pile," Bell said. "It was checked out at the half and they decided to keep me out for the rest of this game just to be sure everything was OK. I didn't run on it at all once it felt wrong. I think, though, that if this had been the regular season, I could have continued to play. But we'll know much more tomorrow when things are checked out."
At the time he was removed, Bell had carried the ball eight times for 26 yards. He's had a very good offseason and will most likely serve as the team's third rusher once the season starts.
"Sure I'm frustrated that this happened," Bell said. "But really I don't think I needed that second half to prove I still belong here. The other games, I only had about three carries and tonight I had twice that. I believe I did what I needed to do. I did my best throughout training camp. I'm satisfied with my overall progress to this point, and I certainly hope the coaches feel that way too."
Bell noted the importance of his offseason preparation.
"It was strange this year with the lockout going on, but I never took this for granted," he said. "I worked out and prepared. I felt that I came into camp in good shape and ready to raise things to a higher level. I did what was necessary to prepare myself. I'm not going to worry about what's going to happen this weekend. I welcome competition for a position. I've done all I can do. It's in somebody else's hands now."
Hughes also seemed content to let the coaches decide where things would go from this point.
"I'm happy about the preseason," Hughes said. "It turned out as well as I'd hoped it would. Now, I'm going to let the cards fall where they may. I'd hate to have to leave here. I guess the worst case scenario would be that I'd have some great game film to show to other teams."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.