Five Things We Learned: Bears-Panthers

Marc Trestman praised Jay Cutler for making the right calls out of running plays and into passing based on the Panthers' defense. AP Photo/Mike McCarn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here are Five Things We Learned in the Chicago Bears' 24-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the preseason opener on Friday.

1. The Bears' offense is still a work in progress: Jay Cutler began the Bears' opening preseason game the same way he's kicked off a handful of training camp practices on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University -- by throwing an interception. That early miscue, which Cutler accepted total responsibility for when he met with reporters after the game, set the tone for the night as the Bears' first-team offense didn't accomplish a whole lot in 10 total snaps. Granted, 10 plays is a very small sample size, but I think it's fair to say the offense needs to make significant improvement between now and the regular season opener on Sept. 8. When the games count, there needs to be an emphasis to use Matt Forte on the ground, something the Bears failed to do in nine of the 10 plays Cutler was on the field because the quarterback correctly, according to coach Marc Trestman, changed certain run calls at the line to passes based on the look from the Panthers' defense. That's understandable. But outside of Brandon Marshall, the one constant for the Bears is Forte. He needs to be fed the ball early and often. If the Bears can run the ball effectively, it will open up a world of possibilities for Trestman and Cutler. If they don't run enough, Cutler might not last eight games behind this offensive line.

2. Rookie linebackers looked like they belonged: The game tape from Friday night will likely reveal the mistakes made by rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. But the two 2013 draft picks certainly seemed to be in the right place more times than not as the game wore on. Bostic showcased his elite speed when he intercepted a pass and ran it back 51 yards for a touchdown. Then later in the game Bostic strung out a Carolina run play and forced the Panthers tailback to run straight out of bounds and take a loss. Greene might not fit the mold of the ultra-athletic players Bears general manager Phil Emery prefers to draft, but he was an extremely productive player at Rutgers. And if his first NFL game is any indication, Greene is a sound tackler. Greene tied for the team lead with four tackles against the Panthers, and figures to be a core special teams contributor unless more injuries at linebacker force him onto the field this year.

3. Right tackle continues to be a problem: There is no reason to sugarcoat it -- J'Marcus Webb is off to a shaky start in the preseason. He needs to get it together, otherwise the Bears will have to turn to Jonathan Scott (injured) or Eben Britton at right guard, and neither option sounds all that appealing. Webb has the most natural talent of the three, but he is maddeningly inconsistent. Webb's technique sometimes betrays him, as it did Friday when he was beaten for a sack in the first half. Entering the final year of his contract, Webb needs to decide whether he wants to be a permanent starter in the future, or career backup.

4. Defense is miles ahead of offense: We already knew this, but preseason game No. 1 just reinforced how important it is for the Bears' defense not to experience a massive dropoff from last season. Can the defense score nine defensive touchdowns and force 44 turnovers like the unit did in 2012? That may be asking too much, but the Bears' four-takeaway effort in Carolina is an encouraging start. Throw in the Bostic interception return for a score, and the defense displayed all the elements that made them so feared and effective for much of last year -- that is until they wore down late in the season because the Bears' dysfunctional offense forced them to stay on the field for an excessive amount of time. Injuries to Henry Melton (concussion), D.J. Williams (calf) and Kelvin Hayden (torn calf/done for year) are concerning, but as long as core players such as Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers are on the field every week, the Bears' defense has a chance to keep them in games, if not win them outright like they did last year.

5. Certain guys stepped up: It's kind of tough to toss compliments at a player who is competing against second- and third-stringers, but several Bears helped themselves with decent showings in Charlotte. No. 3 quarterback Matt Blanchard hung in there despite poor pass protection to complete 15-of-18 passes for 194 yards, including a 58-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who had a strong debut. He led the team with four catches for 82 yards as he builds a case to stick on the 53-man roster, despite the fact he probably can't contribute much on special teams. Veteran defensive tackle Nate Collins, a likely roster lock, did a nice job sliding in for Melton when he left the game with a concussion. Finally, cornerback Sherrick McManis seemed to always be in the middle of the action, forcing and recovering a fumble, although McManis did miss an opportunity to deliver a knockout shot while running down field to cover a punt.