Some of the most encouraging developments in the 34-26 preseason victory over a bad Oakland Raiders squad were the contributions of young players who must play important roles in the regular season if the Bears are to get back to the postseason.
The Bears have made the playoffs just once in the past six seasons.
But with rookies Kyle Long, Jordan Mills and Jon Bostic -- plus the draft class of 2012, including Alshon Jeffery, Shea McClellin and Isaiah Frey -- the Bears are building a strong nucleus for the future.
Nowhere are reinforcements needed more than on an offensive line that has failed to adequately protect quarterback Jay Cutler since he arrived from Denver in 2009.
General manager Phil Emery acknowledged as much when he used his first-round pick on Long and his fifth-rounder on Mills.
Friday night Cutler was uncharacteristically unhurried, and his accuracy was nearly flawless. Granted, the Raiders' defensive line doesn't compare to the Cincinnati Bengals' front the Bears will face in the regular-season opener, but right guard Long and right tackle Mills continued to progress in their second straight starts.
"They played well," Cutler said. "They get better and better each week. The thing about them is, they want to do it. They're excited about it. It matters to them, and they're getting better, so I don't see why (they couldn't start the opener)."
The rookie linemen have become study buddies on their fast track to the starting lineup, and a false-start penalty on Mills was the only noticeable gaffe for either player. The Bears didn't allow a sack.
"We tried to know our assignments," Long said, "and I thought we did a good job of giving Jay a good pocket."
Given the rare luxury of a clean pocket, Cutler helped prove what he has been saying all along about Jeffery's prowess.
"He worked with (Brandon Marshall) in the off-season down in Miami, and he's got another year under his belt being in the NFL and (knowing) what it takes," Cutler said after connecting with Jeffery seven times for 77 yards.
"The guy's hungry. He wants to make it in this league. 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 (Trestman) calling plays.
"It's a good spot for him. I think he's in a really good place mentally, and obviously (Friday night) he had a great showing."
When the Bears drafted Bostic in the second round they believed he had the ability to become a starter early in his pro career. But then the calf injury that sidelined veteran D.J. Williams in the first week of training camp accelerated Bostic's timetable.
Williams was able to do some running on the field during pregame activities Friday, but it's doubtful he will be close to 100 percent for the Bengals. In his absence, Bostic's his big-play ability has been unmistakable in each of the first three preseason games.
He had game bests of 7 solos and 8 total tackles in Oakland.
"I played some runs a little bit faster," said Bostic, who repeatedly has stressed his need to get better. "I was confident in my run fits, especially when we were playing Cover 2.
"You've just got to keep coming along. It's a long way for me to go. I'm not where I want to be.
"I know for the season I'm going to need to be way ahead of where I'm at now. I've got to make adjustments and make sure those things carry over into next week's game."
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