CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice boldly declared his starting five up front last week, "unless they falter."
Whether surrendering four sacks Saturday in the club's preseason-opening 10-3 win over the Bills qualifies as "falter", what's clear is the starting offensive line still needs extensive work to improve significantly upon what it did in 2010.
The offensive starters at the skill positions played just one series, while the offensive line remained on the field the entire first half.
"We wanted to play the offensive line the entire half just to get them some work playing together," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We were able to get that done. We're pleased, but we've got a long way to go."
Six plays into the Bears' first offensive series, Bills rookie Marcell Dareus dropped Jay Cutler for a 6-yard loss on what would be the quarterback's final snap of the game. Shawne Merriman sacked backup Caleb Hanie twice more on back-to-back plays to run the sack total to three, with Bills backup defensive end Spencer Johnson ending the first-half sack party with 1:30 left before intermission, slamming Hanie to the ground for another 5-yard loss.
"It was good for the line to go out there and see some different fronts and go against some different guys," Cutler said. "We have to go back and look at the film and see what we did good, see what we did bad, and learn from it."
What it means: That just like every other team in the NFL, the Bears still have plenty of work to do in several areas.
Although Tice claimed the offensive line was set unless "they falter," it's not unreasonable to expect the coach to tinker a little more with the combinations up front when the team returns to Bourbonnais on Monday. Look for the team to start trying to find a place for new addition Chris Spencer in the starting lineup; perhaps even at center, which is currently manned by Roberto Garza.
Forte plays: Seeking a new contract, Bears running back Matt Forte indicated he was considering sitting out the preseason opener because of injury concerns. But Forte took two snaps with the first team during its first series, and caught one pass for no yards.
Showcasing the bruising style that made him a hit with the Dallas Cowboys, Barber ran seven times for 45 yards in one half of action, and played an instrumental role in the team's only score of the first half.
Barber carried six times for 37 yards (the scoring drive was nine plays, 52 yards) during Chicago's third possession, which was capped by Hanie's 4-yard touchdown run.
Okoye, Melton flash: Free-agent acquisition Amobi Okoye produced two sacks in the first half, and appears to be well on the way to earning a role in the defensive-line rotation. Although he's not a run stuffer, Okoye showed the ability to get upfield quickly with his penetrating style, which enabled him to sack mobile Bills backup Brad Smith and Tyler Thigpen in the second quarter.
Melton, meanwhile, lived up to the coaching staff's high expectations of him by making a pair of tackles in two series in the first quarter, including a stop for a 3-yard loss.
Defense not vintage: The starters on the typically stingy Bears defense allowed the Bills to convert 50 percent of third downs and rack up 67 yards in just two series.
The Bills took the early 3-0 lead on a 44-yard field goal by Rian Lindell with 2:05 left in the first quarter to cap a 10-play, 45-yard drive.
"We need to get better, that's all there is to it," said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. "We're a defensive team and we'll get better every week. After a long layoff, it's fun to get back out there and play football again."
Knox contributes: Demoted receiver Johnny Knox lost repetitions on offense, but made the most of the situation by making an impact on special teams.
Knox returned a kickoff 70 yards from the Chicago's 1 to the Bills 29 to set up the Bears in prime field position. But Hanie was sacked twice in three plays on the ensuing possession, resulting in an Adam Podlesh 22-yard punt.
Injury watch: Defensive end Corey Wootton suffered a knee injury on the opening kickoff and didn't play the rest of the game. Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison dinged a shoulder in the second quarter, and was officially declared questionable by the team. Cornerback Zack Bowman sustained what the team is calling a "head injury" on a vicious collision with Bills receiver Paul Hubbard in the third quarter. Bowman appeared to have been knocked unconscious momentarily on the play.
What's next: The Bears take the day off Sunday and head back to training camp in Bourbonnais, where they resume practices on Monday. The team travel to New York to face the Giants next Monday night.