Any concern over quarterback Jay Cutler becoming overdependent on Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall should have been answered early in the Bears' 34-26 victory over the Raiders on Friday night.
Even more important, the three rookies who could be in the starting lineup when the regular season begins on Sept. 8 all answered questions about their readiness.
Cutler targeted Marshall twice early without success, but he found four other receivers before the first quarter was over at Oakland's O.co Coliseum. His first pass was a short slant that Alshon Jeffery turned into a 22-yard gain with a spin move and proved to be a sign of more to come.
"I trust those guys," Cutler said of his "other" receivers. "Alshon, I think, probably had the best camp out of everybody on offense. He's done a great job this off-season of getting better, getting physically stronger and gaining my trust. I love throwing it to him."
That much was obvious. Jeffery had 7 catches for 77 yards in the first half, repeatedly beating Raiders coverage on short slants inside but also working his way open on a sideline route and a catch over the middle that he picked off his shoe tops.
The Bears scored on each of their first four possessions to bolt to a 24-0 lead, dominating the game on both sides.
"We can't get too excited because it's the preseason," Cutler said. "The offensive line did a good job, those guys on the outside are making plays, and Matt (Forte) ran great."
The second score came on a short Cutler flip behind the line of scrimmage to Forte, who left Raiders linebacker Kevin Burnett clutching air as he sprinted 32 yards for a TD on the first play after a Tim Jennings interception.
Cutler was rarely hurried behind an offensive line that included rookies Kyle Long at right guard and Jordan Mills at right tackle. Cutler was not sacked and on one of the rare occasions when he was rushed, he picked up 13 yards on a scramble.
Both rookie linemen were also instrumental in giving Forte running room, and he responded with 76 yards on just 6 carries and added 2 receptions for 32 yards.
"The offense was clicking," Forte said. "The line did well, especially those two rookies on the right side. They continue to impress me."
Cutler played until halftime, when the Bears held a 27-3 lead, and he completed 12 of 21 passes for 142 yards with 1 touchdown, no interceptions and a 93.8 passer rating that should have been much higher. Bears receivers dropped 5 passes, including 3 by Marshall, who did not have a catch.
On defense, rookie Jon Bostic continued to demonstrate that he's ready to start the regular-season opener at middle linebacker with veteran D.J. Williams (calf) still sidelined.
On the Raiders' first offensive series, the second-round pick brought down tight end Mychal Rivera after a short catch and, on the next play, stuffed running back Rashad Jennings for a 1-yard loss. After mobile Terrelle Pryor replaced starter Matt Flynn at quarterback, Bostic prevented him from scrambling around the corner, allowing James Anderson to get the Bears' third sack of the first half.
Coordinator Mel Tucker's defense showed a wrinkle that wasn't part of Lovie Smith's defenses, when cornerback Charles Tillman blitzed and sacked Flynn for a 7-yard loss. Nate Collins had the Bears' other first-half sack, his third straight game with a sack.
Bostic wasn't the only young defender who took another huge step in his development. Isaiah Frey, the defensive standout of training camp, picked off Flynn midway through the second quarter. Because Kelvin Hayden's season-ending hamstring injury, Frey has taken over as the team's nickel corner and continues to make plays on the ball.
"We looked good," Tillman said of the first-team defense, "but there's always room for improvement. I don't think we're as good as we can be."
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