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Grading first performance

(Bob Leverone)
Third-string quarterback Matt Blanchard scrambles during the Bears first preseason game on Friday against the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C. Shaw Media reporter Hub Arkush took Blanchard having to run for life into consideration when doling out grades for the 24-17 loss.

It’s a good thing the Bears’ first test in Carolina doesn’t count as part of their final grades for the season.

Starting cornerbacks, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, were in midseason Pro Bowl form.

Jermon Bushrod, Martellus Bennett, Roberto Garza, Stephen Paea, Lance Briggs, Major Wright and Chris Conte all basically did their jobs, so let’s say B/B- for this group.

Isaiah Frey wasn’t bad, but he did drop what appeared to be an easy interception.

The quarterbacks all get C.

Jay Cutler and Matt Blanchard were more efficient than Josh McCown. I’m also going to give Blanchard a Bronze Star for courage, as he spent a good chunk of the evening running for his life.

Matt Forte and Michael Bush get incompletes. Judging running backs when they had two and three touches, respectively, and only one rushing attempt each is folly. Their lack of work did raise an interesting question though.

Why only one run in nine plays with the starters out there?

“I think what you don’t see is there were a number of runs called where he had the option to throw it because they were in the box,” said coach Marc Trestman after the game.

Armando Allen gets a C- for taking what I thought was an insurmountable lead for the third running back spot and giving it back by losing a critical fumble at the Panthers’ 10-yard line shortly after a Panthers' turnover.

At wideout, rookie seventh-round draft pick Marquess Wilson gets a B for a four-reception, 82-yard evening, including a 58-yard catch and run from Blanchard. The other receivers were average.

One tight end who stood out for all the wrong reasons was Fendi Onobun.

His drop of an easy touchdown catch in the end zone and half-hearted effort on what turned into the 60-yard pick six Blanchard threw to Josh Norman might have cost him the third tight end job.

My two biggest areas of concern going into the game were remainders of the offensive line and linebacker corps.

I’m not sure why we’d assume J’Marcus Webb is going to suddenly improve in his fourth season, and I don’t think it should take two or three more preseason games to figure that out.

Charles Johnson schooled him in Carolina, and it’s time to move on at right tackle.

The problem is Jonathan Scott remained out with a sore knee and Eben Britton, who was having a good camp, was not impressive against the Panthers.

Jordan Mills showed why he belongs on the practice squad this year, leaving the Bears with a real problem at right tackle.

James Brown and Matt Slauson were OK at the guards, let’s say C+ for each. Kyle Long proved he still has a ton to learn and his technique and instincts are nowhere near ready for prime time.

It is quite possible that even with Bushrod, the offensive line will be no more dependable or efficient than it was last year.

That leaves us with the linebackers and, yes, Jonathan Bostic had not just a big play, but the kind that has been the hallmark of this defense.

And the first five of Briggs, D.J. Williams, James Anderson, Bostic and Khaseem Greene are more athletic and faster than last year’s group.

But this group is nowhere near as good as in the past.

Bostic and Greene seem to have the instincts, but you can’t gift or find experience, and both were visibly raw against the Panthers.

Throw in the uncertainty of Williams’ calf, and the linebackers get an incomplete for Game 1.

We are left with a basket full of question marks as we race toward the Bengals on Opening Day.

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