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updated: 10/17/2010 8:06 PM

When exactly does NFL preseason end?

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Sometime when we weren't looking the NFL became a pro football Developmental League.

Locally it might seem like the Bears are the only team still rearranging the roster, the starting lineup and especially the furniture in the offensive line.

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Let's see, put the raw tackle next to the couch, the big guard over there under the lamp and the quarterback flat on his butt under the Bearskin rug.

Veteran center Olin Kreutz, himself not exactly his old Pro Bowl self anymore, must stroll up to the line of scrimmage humming a certain rock lyric:

"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

All kidding aside, quarterback Jay Cutler's pass protection Sunday nearly was the death of him or maybe a concussion waiting to happen again in a 23-20 loss to Seattle.

"I have to go back to work, Kreutz said, "and try to get everybody just blocking the right guys.

To be fair, the offensive line must be improving. The last time Cutler played he was sacked nine times in the first half; this time it was only six times in the entire game.

Celebrate! Celebrate! Dance to the music!

"Protection-wise, (it's) still a problem, something we have to fix, Lovie Smith happened to notice.

The Bears' head coach correctly added that the problem continues to be the line, the tight ends, the backs and the quarterback misreading his reads.

You can add playcalling on first and second downs when a team goes 0-for-12 in third-down conversions.

Smith also pointed out that the protection wasn't the Bears' only area of concern. So was the defense on this day, time management, the polish on the shoes and the cut of everyone's jib.

"This was a team effort, Smith said, perhaps meaning a team lack of performance.

So the Bears are in a deep pile of doo-doo, right? Well, no, not exactly.

After 2 losses in three games, the Bears' 4-2 record shares the NFC lead and is atop the NFC North. The only plausible explanation is that the rest of the conference is in as much trouble as the Bears.

Six weeks into the season, everybody is scrambling to develop an offensive line or quarterback or defense or toughness or discipline or something.

Just think, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to shorten the preseason and lengthen the regular season. What he should want to do is lengthen the preseason and delay the regular season.

Too many teams weren't ready to play in Week 1 and still weren't in Week 6. The game sure has changed from when NFL teams started out good, bad or ugly and ended good, bad or ugly.

The off-season and preseason were times to build a roster, make players better and determine what kind of team you were.

Now free agency and the salary cap force so much turnover that the pros are like colleges, where players come and go almost faster than agents can corrupt star running backs.

What the NFL winds up with is not so much parity as a game of what you see now isn't necessarily what you'll see in December.

"We'll get it corrected by next week, Kreutz said.

The Bears better correct it soon or Cutler will be in a coma before the Developmental League season ends.

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