We only had to wait more than seven months but tonight we finally got our first live look at Chicago Bears football. The club lost 24-17 to the Panthers but the end result is meaningless. To find value in the first preseason game, you have to look at the individual performances.
Things are going to change and with time, things will get better. Any grand proclamations about the future success of this year's team, based on tonight's performance alone, are wildly premature.
For now, the best we can do is highlight the players who did themselves well, and those who made their jobs harder, heading into the third week of training camp.
-Rookie Jon Bostic was thrust into the starting role early in camp after a calf injury put D.J. Williams on the shelf. At middle linebacker, Bostic has been thrown into the fire and tonight he responded in a big way. During the second defensive series of the game, the Panthers lined up for a 3rd and 2. QB Cam Newton tried to hit his receiver over the middle but Bostic was able to contort his body around and snatch the ball out of the air. He then bolted 51 yards for a touchdown.
Bostic is considered the heir to Brian Urlacher's throne and tonight, in his first opportunity to stand out, he made an Urlacher-type play. In that one snap, Bostic showed solid awareness, quick reaction time, good hands and great speed. He still has a lot of room to grow but it's obvious to everyone now that, athletically, Bostic is the real deal.
-Also impressive was fellow rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene. Inserted with the starters in a goal-line stand, Greene showed why he was worth a fourth-round pick in this year's draft. On a 2nd-down play, the Panthers ran DeAngelo Williams up the gut. Greene filled the gap and exploded into the ball carrier. The play went for a two-yard loss.
Later in the game, as a member of the punt team, Greene tracked the ball carrier to the sideline, exploded through a blocker and took the runner down. Like Bostic, Greene is a work in progress but he also appears to have all the physical tools.
-DT Nate Collins had himself a game. He was explosive off the snap and extremely disruptive in the backfield. He had the team's only sack of the game and led the defense with four total tackles, one for a loss, and one QB hit. Henry Melton left the contest with a concussion, but it appears Collins is ready to step up and the fill the void if Melton misses time.
-WR Marquess Wilson may not be old enough to legally drink but he's a grown man on the football field. He led all Bears players with four catches for 82 yards, which included a 58-yard catch and run on a deep crossing route. He must work on his consistency and focus but Wilson tonight flashed a lot of potential. If he can build on this performance, he could definitely play his way into a spot on the final 53-man roster.
-QB Matt Blanchard completed 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards. That's not too bad for the third-string signal caller. He showed poise in the pocket, was accurate and made good decisions. He did throw an interception that was returned 60 yards for the game-winning touchdown but that was due largely in part to Fendi Onobun, whom we'll get to in a second. Otherwise, Blanchard was solid.
-RB Michael Ford scored the only rushing touchdown of the night, converted two short-yardage carries and, most importantly, looked decent as a receiver. He finished second on the team with three catches for 35 yards. He thoroughly outplayed Armando Allen tonight, which is going to help Ford's chances of making the team.
-Henry Melton sustained a concussion on the first play of the game. LS Patrick Mannelly was blindsided while covering a punt and left the game with a rib injury.
-A lot of folks have wondered out loud whether Marc Trestman could fix Jay Cutler's fundamentals. From a technique standpoint, Cutler is far too inconsistent and throws too many passes off his back foot. The belief of many is that Trestman, who has extensive experience working with professional quarterbacks, can correct Cutler's mechanical issues and return him to Pro Bowl form.
Apparently, if that happens, it's going to take a while. On Cutler's first pass attempt tonight, he dropped back two steps and fired a back-foot pass to Alshon Jeffery. It was promptly intercepted. Jeffery deserves much of the blame, as he cut off his route, yet to see Cutler immediately revert to his horrible fundamentals shows a frustrating lack of progress.
-The Bears are not deep at tight end. Behind Martellus Bennett, the cupboard is pretty bare. The hope is that Fendi Onobun, a career journeyman who played basketball in college, can serve as the No. 2 pass catcher. Because if he can't, and Bennett gets hurt, the offense will be just as effective as if Kellen Davis was still starting.
Tonight, Onobun struggled. He dropped a wide-open touchdown pass and then alligator-armed Blanchard's interception. Onobun was open and in a position to make a play on both of those snaps, he just failed to do so. He has the talent to be a weapon on offense, he just needs to realize it.
-With Kelvin Hayden done for the season, Isaiah Frey is now the club's starting nickelback. He didn't play horribly but he missed a pair of tackles and let a sure pick-six go right through his hands. We'll chalk it up to jitters but he can't be making those mistakes a month from now.
-S Brandon Hardin saw time with the third team. He had one opportunity to make a play, on a pass thrown right to him, yet he dropped it. The clock is ticking.
-The entire offensive line struggled tonight, allowing seven sacks. Honestly, almost every player but Jermon Bushrod deserves credit for at least one of those sacks. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has his work cut out for him.
-RB Armando Allen has had fumbling issues in camp and he put another ball on the ground against the Panthers. With Ford playing well tonight, a real competition for the Bears' third running back position may be brewing.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.