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5 things to watch: Bears vs. Raiders

Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler

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Updated: September 24, 2013 6:39AM



OAKLAND, Calif. — In a perfect world, the NFL preseason would exist in a vacuum, shielded from scrutiny, because most of what happens is more likely to be insignificant or misleading than an indicator of things to come.

Jay Cutler admonished the media for making too much of his interception and his reliance on Brandon Marshall against the San Diego Chargers last week. But let the record show he did not want to make too much of a positive aspect of the preseason — that the Bears’ first- and second-team offensive lines have had no pre-snap penalties.

‘‘I think it’s too early at this point to really tell anything,’’ Cutler said when asked if that might be an indication the line play will be better this season.

So while Cutler will be the focus in Friday’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, analyze his performance at your own risk. The Bears are game-planning only slightly for the annual ‘‘dress rehearsal.’’ Likewise, the Raiders are less likely to show stunts that will test rookies Jordan Mills and Kyle Long on the right side of the offensive line. And the Raiders are banged up, with six starters either injured or returning this week. They’ll be starting a third-string left tackle against the Bears. That further complicates the evaluation process.

Cutler’s expectations seem like a good, simple measuring stick of success: ‘‘Get in and out of the huddle, limit our penalties and hopefully move the ball,’’ he said.

That said, anytime the Bears are on television (9 p.m., Fox-32), it’s tough to look away.

Staff Reporters Mark Potash and Adam L. Jahns offer their top five things to watch against the Raiders:

JAY CUTLER, QB: After targeting only Brandon Marshall on his five passes against the Chargers, Cutler knows he needs to spread the ball around. Can he do it within the context of Marc Trestman’s offense? The key for Cutler is not whom he throws to but that he goes through his progressions to get there.

MATT FORTE, RB: The Bears aren’t likely to show off what they can do with Forte in the passing game (he has one catch for five yards in two games), but outside of his 58-yard run last week, Forte has gained 15 yards on eight carries in the preseason.

ALSHON JEFFERY, WR: The second-year wideout from South Carolina is the most likely beneficiary of Cutler’s need to spread the ball around. He’s their second-best receiver and — more important — Cutler’s second-favorite receiver. ‘‘I love throwing it to him,’’ Cutler said.

JULIUS PEPPERS, DE: He has been cruising through training camp since tweaking a hamstring in the first week and has not played in the first two games. He’s usually ready to go no matter what, but let’s see just how well he’s moving against a real opponent. And how long he plays.

KHASEEM GREENE, LB: The rookie from Rutgers didn’t make much of an impact in his second preseason game last week. He has a long way to go but still could be a factor this season, so it will be interesting to see how quickly he learns from his mistakes.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @Mark Potash

JORDAN MILLS, RT: It’s not crazy to think the fifth-round pick could solidify himself as the starter for Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals with another strong performance. The Bears need to see how Mills does more as a pass protector than as a run blocker. He’ll get that chance against the Raiders.

JON BOSTIC, MLB: The rookie will be the Bears’ starting middle linebacker when the regular season begins, and it’s apparent some fine-tuning is needed when it comes to reads, assignments and coverages. It will be interesting to see if his recent fine for his big hit against the San Diego Chargers will hinder his progress. His teammates maintain it won’t.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bears had a very strong game against the Chargers from a special-teams perspective. But special teams have been an issue for the Chargers.

SECONDARY RECEIVERS: Coach Marc Trestman said this week that more balance is a goal in the passing game. He and his staff will be evaluating what receivers Alshon Jeffery and Joe Anderson accomplish against the Raiders when plays are called for them.

NATE COLLINS, DT: The veteran has backed up his strong training camp with a strong preseason. Collins has been playing like a starter in the three-technique spot — and he has to, with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton’s status unknown because of a concussion.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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