1. Tom Flores, the distinguished former coach of the Raiders and analyst for the team’s radio broadcast, was surprised early in the third quarter when Josh McCown completed a pass to Eric Weems.
“I thought all Chicago had was big receivers,” Flores said.
Funny because Weems is 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, and not long ago he would have fit in with just about all the other wideouts on the roster. That is one significant way the roster has turned over in the last two years and Alshon Jeffery was the big target that showed up in the third preseason game, catching seven passes for 77 yards in the first half. Go ahead and fill in your own joke here about Jay Cutler not spreading the ball around.
Jeffery got most of the action but Cutler targeted seven different receivers in the first half when he completed 12 of 21 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown on a 32-yard swing pass to running back Matt Forte. Cutler’s numbers would have looked much better had there not been a slew of dropped passes. Coach Marc Trestman said there were “at least” three drops and maybe as many as six depending on what his staff finds when it goes over the film.
Jeffery was the reliable target, though, and he continues to look like a completely different player from a year ago. Cutler’s first completion was to Jeffery on a short route on the left side. He spun around and blew past cornerback D.J. Hayden, Oakland’s first-round pick and the 12th overall pick back in April. Jeffery maintained his balance on the dirt infield for the O.co’s other tenant, the Oakland Athletics, and made a big gain out of a short pass.
“I’m just more experienced and the game is beginning to slow down for me,” Jeffery said. “I am coming out each and every day trying to get better in practice. And I need to get better at everything.”
Maybe Jeffery doesn’t feel much different but he looks more fluid, more refined, more powerful and certainly more sure of himself. He’s also more complete, setting a big block downfield on Forte’s touchdown.
“That’s something he worked on from last year,” Forte said. “Coaches have been harping on our receivers. That’s how you get big plays, blocking downfield, and on that one swing pass to me that I scored on, he locked the dude down on the outside. (Tight end) Martellus (Bennett) blocked two people on that play. If I don’t have those guys, it’s a nice play but I don’t score.”
Cutler said earlier in the week that Jeffery had the best training camp of any player on offense, a target that he has more confidence in now. Brandon Marshall didn’t catch a pass, guilty of one drop and maybe two depending on a review, but the game in the air still thrived and Cutler traced Jeffery’s improvement back to the time he spent in the offseason working out with Marshall in Florida.
“The guy’s hungry. He wants to make it in this league,” Cutler said. “He knows he’s got a great opportunity opposite (Marshall). He knows he’s going to get a lot of single coverage, and he’s in a great system with Marc and the guys out there calling plays. It’s a good spot for him. I think he’s in a really good place mentally, and obviously tonight he had a great showing.”
With Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett, it’s big targets across the board. It wasn’t too long ago, 2011, when the Bears were featuring Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher and Roy Williams as the big target. Times have changed and Flores took notice.
2. Rookie Push I. The more you see from Michael Ford, the undrafted free agent from LSU, the more you think he might really be pushing for a spot on the 53-man roster. Ford followed up the 100-yard kickoff return he had last week against the Chargers with a better performance on the ground. He carried nine times for 58 yards, scoring on a 15-yard run in the fourth quarter when he made a nice cut and then a spin move. Ford also had a 17-yard gain around left end, punishing Raiders cornerback Usama Young at the end of the play.
The spin move was daring, the type of move that will often get a ball carrier knocked across the field.
“You gotta take a chance sometimes,” Ford said with a smile. “It was guts.”
Meanwhile, Armando Allen, who held the role of the third running back last season, did not play. Allen has been working his way back from a hamstring pull suffered at the end of the team’s stay in Bourbonnais. He’s been active in practices recently but on a limited basis.
There is a little bit of apples to oranges when you evaluate the two backs. Ford is a compact, physical runner at 5-foot-10, 216 pounds. Allen is listed at 5-foot-8, 190. All things equal, it’s probably a no brainer to go with the back that is 26 pounds heavier. But Allen has more experience on special teams and a better understanding of the offense at this point. But if Ford is cast as the third running back, there ought to be time for him to learn as he goes behind Matt Forte and Michael Bush. It’s going to be interesting. Ford now has a team-high 30 carries for 101 yards. They are not numbers that excite you, and he’s been running against a lot of defenders that are going to be seeking jobs very soon, but there are traits to like.
“It’s just getting better and better every week,” Ford said. “That is the goal, getting with Matt and Bush and trying to learn from those guys and improve every week. The goal (is to make the team). That is all I can do is keep working hard and let the chips fall where they fall.”
3. Rookie Push II. In a flash, it looked like C.J. Wilson’s opportunity had come and gone. The undrafted free agent from North Carolina State was on the field before he should have been. When Zack Bowman went out in the second quarter with an injured right hamstring, the Bears called on Wilson to play opposite Sherrick McManis as the next cornerbacks in the game behind starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. It was a big break for Wilson, who caught the attention of the coaching staff with a strong effort in training camp.
When he saw Raiders wide receiver Jacoby Ford bearing down on him at his left cornerback position and Ford began to break down his route, Wilson knew what was coming. A hitch route. He diagnosed it and jumped in front of the Matt McGloin pass. There was about half a football field ahead of Wilson.