Eventful preseason gives way to real show

From now on, all eyes will be on Cutler and whether he can be Bears' real quarterback of future

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler discusses the Bears' new offense and Matt Forte's thoughts on it. (Posted on Sept. 5, 2013)

It has been anything but an uneventful seven weeks keeping tabs on the Bears. Whoever said there's nothing to be learned or nothing worth debating in preseason is a knucklehead.

We learned general manager Phil Emery's rookie class has talent. There are 10 first-year players on the Bears roster and if your expectation for first-round pick Kyle Long is that he develop into a perennial Pro Bowler, you're in the right area code.

We have learned coach Marc Trestman appears capable of getting a played called before his quarterback has to burn a timeout. This could be a wonderful new tradition.

Who ever will forget where he was when he got wind of Jon Bostic's $21,000 fine for playing football? That was a lively day around the old water cooler.

Many of us found ourselves rooting for players to make the roster. Running back/return man Michael Ford was my guy and I got my wish. I also was pleased Trestman's infatuation with Fendi Onobun, the former basketball player with an acute case of butterfingers, didn't cloud his judgment when it came to final cuts.

We saw J'Marcus Webb get beat and flagged for a false start for the last times. In a Bears uniform, at least. The Vikings signed Webb, the Bears Week 2 opponent, after he was cut.

This was all good fodder and I always will reflect on Trestman's first training camp as Bears coach with nothing but fondness. Now, however, it's time to shelve the appetizers and side dishes and get to the main course.

It's Jay Cutler time at noon Sunday in the opener against the Bengals at Soldier Field.

The clock begins with the evaluation as to whether the Bears should re-up their enigmatic quarterback or cut bait and start fresh. There is nothing about the Bears close to being as big as this.

In the court of public opinion, Cutler's staunchest defenders even agree there can be no more excuses. The Bears got him an offensive-minded head coach, a professional offensive line and a viable tight end. There is enough talent around Cutler — wearing both helmets and hats — to get him above the middle.

If Cutler doesn't take that next step, he bounces.

That step means eliminating bad decisions, like taking sacks instead of throwing the ball out of bounds or throwing into bracket coverage.

It means working harmoniously with his teammates and coaches.

It means getting out of the gate strong and not relying on the defense to get the Bears a lead.

Will Trestman get Cutler to play smarter? Will Cutler be an adult and work through tough times like a leader or will he walk away from an assistant coach to sit by himself on the sideline? Will he play like a $20 million quarterback whose team wins because of him, not just with him?

The most important questions involve the quarterback, among the most polarizing figures ever to play for the Bears. Making the playoffs would be nice, but as the Bears are not equipped to get to the Super Bowl, determining whether Cutler returns essentially is what this season is all about.

•Brian Urlacher is getting mixed reviews as an analyst. His comments earlier this week about the Bears having a designated "diver" to stop the game with an imaginary injury is the kind of stuff we football fans crave.

If Fox Sports 1 is willing to coach Urlacher, beginning with getting him to slow down and enunciate clearly, he will succeed.

•I'm going to give NFL Network a chance, per the suggestions of several colleagues, for pre-game coverage Sunday. Giving up Chris Berman is like smoking: You know it's bad for you, but do it anyway.

•Best move: I love the Colts minus-9.5 at home against the Raiders. I'm likely to play against Oakland most weekends.

•Tyrann Mathieu of Arizona is going to be the most exciting new player in the league this year.

•Carl Cheffers is the referee for the Bears-Bengals game. Cheffers was in the white hat when the Bears were flagged for an unimaginable nine false start penalties in the disastrous loss at Detroit two years ago on Monday Night Football.

Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

CHICAGO

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