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Hub Arkush: Bears fighting on 2 fronts

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 9:07 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Mike McCarn)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell runs into the end zone for a touchdown Friday past Bears linebacker Jon Bostic (left) after catching a pass during the first half of a preseason game in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

I will continue to warn as loudly as I can that it is dangerous to read too much into any preseason game and especially the first one. But one thing was made perfectly clear in Carolina: The Bears are fighting on two different fronts to get ready for the season opener against the Bengals in just 26 days.

One battle is to learn Marc Trestman's new offense and run it efficiently and effectively. It's hard to overstate how difficult that can be in a short window, and one offseason and training camp with strict limitations on how hard the players can work and how much contact they'll have makes for a very short window.

In the locker room after Friday's Panthers game Jay Cutler said simply, "Yeah it's tough. First preseason game. New offense. Not reading the game plan that much. You run the plays you run in training camp, but it's no excuse."

Cutler may not be making excuses, but the fact is the Bears need a number of reps with all the first stringers in place and playing at full speed before we can expect them to be consistently effective with what Trestman wants them to do, and that's just not going to happen by Opening Day.

The defense is in a similar situation in spite of the fact they're still using Lovie Smith's playbook and terminology. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker isn't going to call plays the same way Smith and Rod Marinelli did. He will add a number of his own wrinkles, and the defense will have at least four new starters at left defensive end, middle linebacker, strong side linebacker and nickelback.

But time is the second-biggest problem the Bears face right now. The bigger issue is talent.

Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester and Robbie Gould are all special players or have the ability to be special players. If all eight of them stay healthy and play to their peak abilities, the Bears could be playoff contenders again this year.

But those are huge ifs in the NFL today, and should any of them get hurt or struggle in any way, Forte is the only one of the group the Bears have a backup for who might be able to step in and carry the load.

Even more concerning is the fact the Bears have positions on the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker where they may not have players talented enough, experienced enough or both to start in the NFL.

"Practice is the No. 1 way to make the team, and we've told them that," Trestman said after the Panthers game. "Especially games like this against other teams, you have to block and tackle and step up your game, obviously."

Was there a player other than my elite eight who stepped up in Carolina and proved they were ready for prime time?

When the Bears line up Kyle Long at right guard and rookie fifth-round draft choice Jordan Mills with the first team in their first practice after the Panthers game, how should that make us feel? Do you believe the offensive line is improved or the Bears can contend with those two rookies starting?

Trestman said it was always part of the plan to get them some work and not to read too much into it. But would he waste that valuable practice time if he wasn't at least considering the possibility they're the best he has?

Long, Mills, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene and others trying to make this team this year may eventually be perennial All Pros. Right now they're a bunch of kids who aren't really sure what they're doing under live fire.

It's extremely early in the 2013 season and there is still a ton to learn about these Bears. But is it ever too early to be reminded the greatest system in the world won't help if you don't have the talent to run it?

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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