What We Learned: Browns vs. Bears

With the preseason now in the rearview mirror, the Chicago Bears appear to be a much better football team than the one we saw lose to the Texans in the 2008 finale last December. Thursday's 26-23 victory looked impressive. So what did we learn at Soldier Field? Start with these five observations ...

1. Bowman can be a star in this league if he avoids the injury bug
Before he went down with a hamstring problem a week or so into training camp, second-year cornerback Zack Bowman may have been the most impressive player on either side of the football. Not only does the former Nebraska Cornhusker have perfect size for a Cover-2 corner at 6-1 and 197 pounds, similar to Charles Tillman, but he's also a playmaker with the ball in flight. After missing three preseason games and a ton of practice reps coming back from that bum hammy, Bowman was on the field for a grand total of one defensive snap Thursday against the Browns – and come up with yet another INT.

He fell to the Bears in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft because of a long injury history throughout his college career, but if Bowman can ever stay healthy for 16 games, he has Pro Bowl potential.

RB Adrian Peterson
Getty Images: Scott Boehm

2. It might be time to scan the waiver wire for another back
It was a cruel twist of fate for running back Kevin Jones, who re-signed with the Bears during the offseason and was promised a bigger role on offense than the 34 carries he received a year ago – he was never 100 percent coming off knee surgery the previous season. Now that Jones is out for 2009 after tearing ligaments in his ankle Thursday against Cleveland, Chicago is left with a combo of Garrett Wolfe and Adrian Peterson behind starter Matt Forte. The coaching staff has all but admitted that they took advantage of Forte's talent a season ago and ran him into the ground, which is why Jones was forecasted to be such an important contributor this year coming off the bench for a series here and there.

With Wolfe little more than a scat back on third down and Peterson not ideally suited be the bell cow should anything happen to Forte, general manager Jerry Angelo would be wise to see if any capable ball carriers hit the waiver wire after cuts are made around the league.

3. Dvoracek's injury won't have much of an effect at nose tackle
Considering how hard he has worked to come back each and every time following his myriad injuries, it's no wonder the rest of the defensive linemen were crushed to learn that Dusty Dvoracek tore a ligament in his knee – yet again – and will miss all of 2009. That being said, with Matt Toeaina playing well Thursday against the Browns, Chicago's depth chart at nose tackle is still three-deep with solid contributors. Veteran Anthony Adams may be the best dollar-for-dollar defender on the roster, youngster Marcus Harrison looked unblockable at times in the preseason and Toeaina has always performed admirably when given an opportunity.

Dvoracek cleared waivers and has now been placed on injured reserve for the fourth time in four seasons as a pro, so it's hard to imagine him in a Bears uniform again since this is the final year of his contract.

WR Johnny Knox
Getty Images: Scott Boehm

4. Don't get too excited about rookie receivers' big night
Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox both played terrific football Thursday against the Browns, even though neither one of them had to worry much about whether or not he was going to make the 53-man roster – they were locks well before kickoff. Nevertheless, Iglesias led Chicago pass catchers with 5 receptions for 72 yards, while Knox recorded 2 for 62. Knox in particular displayed his ability to deliver big plays, spinning away from two defenders for a 43-yard catch-and-run, busting loose for a 50-yard kickoff return and then breaking off a 38-yard punt return.

Despite their highlights at Soldier Field, look for the Bears to only dress four wide receivers in Week 1 at Green Bay, meaning the two rookies will most likely be inactive and may not be called upon later in the schedule.

5. Special teams is always the deciding factor between two players
Heading into the final preseason game, it became apparent that one of the last spots on the roster was coming down to Rashied Davis vs. Brandon Rideau. Davis was the experienced receiver and has come up with some big plays over the course of his Bears career, although he had a poor 2008 after contracting a nasty case of the dropsies. Rideau had bounced around the league since 2005, and while he was yet to make his first NFL catch, he was getting first-team reps in OTAs and made a handful of eye-opening receptions throughout training camp.

However, the Monsters of the Midway value special teams as much as any club in the league, so because he is a demon on the coverage units, Davis will survive cut-down day while Rideau gets handed a pink slip he probably didn't deserve.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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