What it means: The club goes into the regular season optimistic about its prospects, having seemingly settled the unrest along its often-scrutinized offensive line. The club also expects to go into the opener against the Atlanta Falcons relatively fresh after holding out several key veterans to speed the healing process for all the bumps and bruises.
While the offensive line showed gradual improvement after the exhibition opener against the Buffalo Bills, the team didn’t seem to develop the chemistry between quarterback Jay Cutler and the receiving corps that it had hoped coming into training camp. That’s still a work in progress. But Cutler and offensive coordinator Mike Martz say the Bears will be ready once the games count.
With most of the main contributors were held out of Thursday’s game, the Bears took a long look at several on-the-bubble players that should help tremendously when they make evaluations for Saturday’s final roster-cutdown date.
Hanie rebounds: Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie bounced back from a few inconsistent, interception-filled showings in the preseason on Thursday when he started in place of Cutler.
Hanie completed 7-of-10 passes for 83 yards and a 19-yard touchdown to Johnny Knox in generating a passer rating of 128.3, while engineering two scoring drives.
“It was just good to have a strong game on the last [preseason outing],” Hanie said. “Going into [the regular season] on a good note is always good. [I] still made some mistakes out there, which you can build on and correct. So I’m just going to focus on those and go into the season on a good, positive note.”
Hanie’s perfectly-thrown pass to Knox in the left corner of the end zone floated over the heads of two Cleveland Browns.
“Johnny made a great catch on that,” Hanie said. “Looking at the replay, it was good coverage by those guys, and it was a tight window in the corner there.”
Injury watch: Kahlil Bell (ankle), Craig Steltz (hip) and safety Chris Conte (head) left Thursday’s with injuries, and it’s unclear whether their ailments will affect their availability for the Sept. 11 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. None are starters, but the team will count on Bell, Steltz, and Conte for valuable depth and contributions on special teams.
In addition to those injuries, the club also held out running back Marion Barber (calf), linebacker Lance Briggs (knee), long snapper Patrick Mannelly, receiver Sam Hurd (ankle), tight ends Kellen Davis (back) and Desmond Clark (knee), in addition to defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf) and defensive end Corey Wootton (knee).
Barber, Briggs, Mannelly, Hurd, Davis, and Adams are expected to return in time for the opener. Wootton has targeted the opener for his return, but is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery.
What’s next: The Bears receive some much-needed time off to continue healing up as the team goes deep into evaluation mode to winnow the roster down to the 53 players it plans to take into the regular season. The Bears have to cut down the roster by Saturday to the NFL-mandated 53-man limit.
After making the cuts, the Bears will also establish an eight-man practice squad, and begin game planning for the Atlanta Falcons.