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NFL preseason: Rookies help Bears take another small step

The kids are alright, mostly

Caption
(AP)
Bears running back Matt Forte (22) rolls into the end zone over Chargers nose tackle Kwame Geathers during the first half Thursday at Solider Field. Forte's touchdown helped send the Bears to a 33-28 victory.

CHICAGO – The trick to evaluating preseason football is to set very clear goals, grade players on their complete body of work, never overreact, and make sure you check the film before you start handing out grades.

So, obviously all you get here are some strong first impressions, and mine from preseason Game 2 are the Bears had a pretty decent night in a 33-28 win over San Diego.

My first impression came off the Bears' second possession after a disastrous start. This Bears team is going to be better on offense, regardless of what Marc Trestman does, because for the first time in a long time it has multiple Pro Bowlers on the field. With talent like Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Jermon Bushrod and others, they are going to make plays.

There was more good news for the offense. The experiment of starting rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills next to each other at right guard and tackle showed more than enough to merit another start for each in the all-important preseason Game 3, where starting jobs will actually be won and lost.

Here comes the cautionary tale, though. In spite of the hue and cry in the Twitterverse to begin preparing another Long bust for Canton, it is still an experiment with a long way to go. Extracting Matt Forte's 58-yard run. which neither of the rooks had anything to do with, the Bears offense managed exactly 86 yards on 27 plays in the first half during which Long and Mills ran with the first and second team, a paltry 3.2 yards per snap.

That is obviously not all about just the rookie lineman, but who exactly did they dominate?

The review of the film will show that both Long and Mills acquitted themselves well at times, and well enough the rest of the way. Long is clearly learning very quickly, but still has a long way to go with technique. Against the Chargers, he was big, physical and nasty, and showed real promise.

I was actually more impressed with Mills, because while he is a great deal more experienced than Long, I had no idea his technique is as solid as it is in so many areas. It will be very surprising if both don't start again in Oakland. While the film will show both also made plenty of mistakes, what could have been a real disaster was in fact a very pleasant surprise.

The offense, unfortunately, also gave us one huge concern. The pick Jay Cutler threw to Donald Butler was inexcusable in any system and under any coach, a throw an NFL quarterback simply can't make. The man's an 8-year veteran, and I have no idea what Marc Trestman can do about it.

Defensively, the goals against San Diego had to be to see how far the rookie linebackers have come, whether the Bears are good enough at end beyond Julius Peppers, and where depth at tackle and in the secondary will come from.

Jon Bostic had another signature play, starting the second half by separating Charger receiver Mike Willie from the ball – and several body parts, to boot – with a vicious but perfectly clean and timed hit. Very exciting stuff.

But he was also caught going the wrong way and/or a step too slow in reacting multiple times in the first half. Khaseem Greene failed to take a step forward either, and was far less visible than last week. These two will not grade out as well as Long and Mills.

Beyond that, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin both had nice nights. A win there, but none of the backup tackles or DBs distinguished themselves.

All things considered, it was a pretty good night, but just another small step.

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