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Bears report: 10 things you need to know

Updated: August 21, 2013 9:16PM



Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was upstaged Tuesday by one of the few people who could upstage him at Halas Hall — former Bears coach Mike Ditka, who addressed the team after practice at the behest of first-year coach Marc Trestman. Ditka still is the only coach to win a Super Bowl with the Bears. He did it in the mid-1980s. Though he didn’t speak to reporters afterwards, it’s always an interesting day at Halas Hall when coach Ditka is around. Here’s a wrap-up of another eventful day in Lake Forest:

1. Jay Cutler knows he has to throw the ball to other receivers besides Brandon Marshall. Cutler threw five passes in a 16-play stint against the San Diego Chargers last Thursday night at Soldier Field — each of them to Brandon Marshall. It was the usual mixed bag: a touchdown pass, an interception on a ball that never should have been thrown and three other completions for 19, seven and seven yards. It was only the second preseason game, but it also was the same old Jay Cutler, which left some longtime Bears observers uneasy. He bristled lightly when asked about spreading the ball around a little bit.

‘‘You guys are hitting the panic button after two preseason games and 30 plays. We’ve ran 30. Lots of runs,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘Yeah, we’re gonna spread it around. We can’t just throw to Brandon and give the ball to Matt. We’ve got to figure out ways to get other guys involved. We had plays up, some of them worked, some of them got checked out of. So, it is just the way it goes.’’

2. Cutler is correct that it’s early, but for the record, it gets late awfully quickly in the preseason. Cutler has only two quarters, maybe part of a third, against the Raiders to provide evidence the offense will be able to hit the ground running in the season opener against the Bengals. Trestman already has said Cutler will not play in the preseason finale against the Browns next week.

3. Trestman is the fourth Bears head coach since Ditka was fired after the 1992 season and the first to ask him to address the team. It’s not a game-changer, but it reflects well on Trestman that he made the gesture for the right reason.

‘‘I reached out to coach Ditka when I got the job,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘I thought that was a great place to start, Somebody who knew as much about the Bears and the tradition of the Bears as he does and it turned out to be dinner with our wives and I called him last week with the idea that we left it, was to bring him to come by and see Halas Hall and the new facility and spend some time with our players and say hello to them. And he graciously agreed to do that and we certainly appreciate the fact that he came out here today to be with us.’’

4. The last time Ditka coached the Bears to the playoffs, Julius Peppers was in the fifth grade. So it remains to be seen just how well his message resonated with the current Bears. “His message was a great one,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘It’s about the relationships that you have with your teammates, it’s about the camaraderie, it’s about the locker room. The money is the least significant portion of it. I think that’s pretty universal in the game of football when you’ve been around it a long time.’’

5. Defensive tackle Henry Melton and wide receiver Earl Bennett are still out while recovering from concussions, but they were on the field during practice Tuesday. It means they either are a day closer to returning to practice, or the team wants it to look like they’re a day closer to returning to practice. Trestman did not address any of the team’s injured players during his media availability after practice. But the possibility that both players will miss the season opener looms larger with each day they don’t practice.

‘‘I think anytime anybody gets concussions there is going to be concern,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘That’s really highlighted these past couple years — concussions. Hopefully [Bennett] will get back sooner rather than later, but I think we are going to take all the precautions and make sure he is 100 percent.

6. So who would fill the Earl Bennett role in this offense? Devin Hester no longer is a candidate. Dan Sanzenbacher is with the Bengals. And most of the Bears’ best unproven wide receivers are outside-type guys. Theoretically, in Trestman’s offense everybody plays everywhere, so technically that makes anybody a candidate to fill Bennett’s spot as the clutch third-down receiver who knows how to get open in the middle of the field. Take it for what it’s worth that offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer — who like the rest of the staff is loathe to single out any player who hasn’t done anything yet — mentioned Joe Anderson, rookie Marquess Wilson and even 6-5, 205-pound second-year receiver Terrence Toliver as possibilities when asked about filling Bennett’s role.

7. The Bears will operate off a game-plan against the Raiders. ‘‘We hope to play guys longer,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘We’re game panning this a little bit more than the other games we’ve played in the preseason. This week we’ve scheduled it out where we’re getting used to what a game week would feel like. From there, we’re gonna play the guys hopefully longer than the last time, and we’ll see how that goes.’’

7a. But not that much of a game plan. ‘‘You want to be successful out there,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘But you also know that it is preseason. This one doesn’t count, so you don’t want to throw all your eggs out there and if we’re not successful we’re not going to feel good about where we’re going. It’s a little bit of give and take and we’ve just got to figure out a good balance.”

8. According to Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery ‘‘has probably had the best camp out of everybody on offense.’’ Cutler offered that in response to a question about the “trust factor” Cutler has (or doesn’t) with is receivers. Cutler’s accuracy seems like it is directly proportional to the comfort or trust he has in the receiver. (He throws bulls-eyes to Brandon Marshall, but always seemed to throw it over Devin Hester’s head.) Jeffery clearly is a receiver with whom Cutler is comfortable. “He’s done a great job this offseason of getting better, getting physically stronger and gaining my trust,’’ Jay said. ‘‘I love throwing it to him.’’

8a. You gotta love Jay Cutler. For all the crap he takes from critics like me and a lot of fans who think a quarterback who cost the Bears two first-round draft picks should lift a team on his shoulders instead of being so dependent on everything around him being in perfect order, Jay Cutler is real. He never stands on ceremony and doesn’t say anything he doesn’t truly believe. He either tells you what he’s thinking or he doesn’t. On Tuesday, trying to accentuate the positive, I asked him about one improved aspect of the offensive line’s performance that even after just two preseason games appears significant to me — no pre-snap penalties by the first- and second-team o-lines. A year ago the Bears had four false starts in the first half of their first two preseason games (and the fifth-most false-starts in the NFL during the regular season). This year they have none. While anyone else would have taken that and run with it, Cutler wasn’t so impressed.

‘‘You’re finding the positives, I guess. Nice work,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ll see. We’ve got to keep finding more positives.’’

So that statistic doesn’t mean anything? ‘‘I think it’s too early at this point to really tell anything,’’ Cutler said.

9. Aaron Kromer backs Cutler, says he’s just taking what the defense is giving him. “All good quarterbacks think they can make throws that they might not be able to make,’’ Kromer said in defense of Cutler. ‘‘So guys follow their reads. They’re just like a lineman: they step with the wrong foot. They block at the wrong angle. A quarterback throws it to the wrong guy at times when he’s reading his reads.

‘‘The whole offense is doing a good job of understanding our scheme and spreading the ball around by what the defense gives us. If the defense gives us Brandon Marshall, we’ll give it to him. If they don’t, we won’t throw it to him.’’

10. This might not be the last time Mike Ditka talks to the 2013 Bears. Ditka’s legacy, besides the Vince Lombardi Trophy of course, is the impact of emotion on a football team, for better or worse. Even in Ditka’s final season, when the Bears lost eight of their final nine games, the one victory was a 30-6 rout of a playoff-bound Steelers team when the Bears were honoring retiring linebacker Mike Singletary. It was a testament to the power of emotion, something both Ditka and Trestman try to instill in their players in very different ways. “Even when he was just giving us that speech at the end, you can feel his passion,’’ tight end Martellus Bennett said of Ditka’s speech to the team. ‘‘He talked about the commitment to teammates ... and that it comes down to the players, not just the coaches. The coaches can coach, but when we’re on the field, we need to make the commitment to one another, making things happen for each other.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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