The Chicago Bears first teams put on a clinic against the Oakland Raiders on Friday night. The offense and defense clicked on all cylinders, compiling a 24-point lead by halftime. Offensively, Marc Trestman's unit was able to move the ball effectively both on the ground and through the air. And the defense did its usual thing, forcing as many turnovers (3) as points allowed.
It was a performance the starters can feel good about heading into the regular season, as most will sit out the preseason finale. But remember, the Raiders are one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Bears mopped the floor with them, which is what good teams do to bad teams, but Chicago isn't going to be this dominant week in and week out.
The first teams did their jobs, which is a great sign, yet the backups got pummeled and were outscored 23-7 in the second half ... against Oakland. The issue of depth is starting to become a concern in a few key areas.
Offensive LineThe rookie right side, featuring RG Kyle Long and RT Jordan Mills, held up again last night. While on the other side, LT Jermon Bushrod and LG Matt Slauson also had strong outings. Yet C Roberto Garza – who was graded by Pro Football Focus (PFF) as one of the worst centers in the league last season – isn't getting any better. Yet with four new solid pieces around him, he won't likely drag the front five down.
But what happens if someone gets hurt? The club has Taylor Boggs working as the second-team center. Boggs has never played in an NFL game. The club has also been giving Slauson occasional reps as the second-team center. He played center sparingly the past two years but he appears to be the backup pivot man at this point, with Boggs a practice-squad candidate.
At guard, James Brown will likely serve as the swing. He has some potential but the former undrafted free agent has not looked good in the preseason games, and has just three NFL starts under his belt.
But things are even worse at tackle. The Bears have three veterans with substantial starting experience – J'Marcus Webb, Jonathan Scott and Eben Britton – and yet a rookie is starting on the right edge. It's a credit to Mills' performance so far, but it also shows just how unreliable those three veterans have been. For the most part, both Webb and Britton have been horrible during the preseason. Last night, Webb had two false starts, a holding penalty and a handful of missed blocks. Britton wasn't as bad but it's obvious he's not a great long-term option either.
Scott is the wildcard here. He hasn't practiced in three weeks but had his knee drained a week ago and worked out before the game yesterday. He could be back as early as this week, but so what? Scott started seven games last season for the Bears. He gave up just one sack, according to PFF, but he also allowed 14 QB hurries. Extrapolate that over a 16-game season and Scott would have given up the most hurries of any offensive tackle in the league in 2012. He's a veteran but he's hardly an upgrade.
CornerbackChicago has two outstanding All-Pro corners in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, but with Kelvin Hayden lost for the season, Isaiah Frey, who spent last year on the practice squad, is now the starting nickelback. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, as Frey has been great so far this year and picked up an interception last night.
But again, what happens if one of those three goes down? Sherrick McManis showed again last night why he's worst cover corner on the team. If he's inserted as a starter out wide, it's going to get ugly. C.J. Wilson has shown a lot of promise but relying on an undrafted rookie is risky to say the least.
The one player who does provide depth is Zack Bowman, who hurt his hamstring last night. The extent of the injury is not yet known but if he's out for a significant period of time, the cornerback position instantly becomes paper thin.
Tight EndMartellus Bennett is a three-down player who will be of great value to the offense this year. He's worth the money the team paid him this offseason. But he's the only tight end who can catch a pass on this team. Fendi Onobun, who was slotted as the No. 2 pass catcher heading into the preseason, had two passes thrown at him last night and he dropped them both. That gives him three drops in three games, one of which was a wide-open touchdown. At this point, he's just too unreliable to roster.
Steve Maneri and Leonard Pope are little more than edge blockers, which leaves just Kyle Adams as a viable pass-catching option. Yet Adams is a very average player who is better suited in an H-back role. He's not going to beat safeties down the seams.
If Bennett goes down, people might start pining for Kellen Davis.
LinebackerOn paper, this looks like the deepest position on the team. But in reality, there are some major issues here. First is the health of D.J. Williams, who has been out with a calf injury since the first weekend of minicamp. He's a 10-year veteran the team was relying on to take Brian Urlacher's spot at middle linebacker. Instead, coordinator Mel Tucker has been forced to throw rookie Jon Bostic in the fire. Bostic has made a number of plays during the preseason and looks like he has the potential to be Urlacher's long-term replacement, but he's not there yet. He's a rookie and he's making rookie mistakes. His biggest area of concern is in coverage, where he just looks lost at times. Against the Raiders, Bostic allowed a touchdown in man coverage because he never turned to find the ball.
Like Bostic, fourth rounder Khaseem Greene is also not ready for prime time. He's a hard-nosed player who isn't afraid of contact but the game is a little too fast for him right now. And Blake "Hands" Costanzo is little more than a special teams player.
ConclusionThis isn't meant to be a depressing article. The Bears have good depth at a lot of other spots on the roster, particularly along the defensive line and the offensive skill positions, but there are some areas of concern that shouldn't be ignored just because the first team beat up on one of the worst teams in the NFL last night.
Overall, the starters appear to be locked in and if last night's performance was any indication, they should be able to hold their own with most of the teams in the NFC. But at a few key areas, one injury could cause the entire position to collapse, which could compromise the success of the team.
So if you come across a four-leaf clover, or if an eyelash falls on your finger, you just might want to wish for the health and safety of the starters at the four aforementioned positions.
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.