As preseason tests go, Friday night's game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle against the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, should be a formidable one for the Bears' offense.
The starters are expected to play at least until halftime and possibly into the third quarter against what was the NFL's best defense in 2013 and in the league's loudest outdoor stadium.
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"They're really good up front," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. "They show you a lot of different looks. Their back end is as good as there is in football. (Free safety) Earl Thomas is all over the field. (Cornerback) Richard Sherman is really good. It's going to be a test. We'll see if (strong safety) Kam Chancellor plays or not. With or without him, they're challenging."
There are numerous other challenges for the Bears' offense. The run game has yet to get much traction, and key members of the passing game have been in and out of the lineup almost since the start of training camp.
Marquess Wilson, who was expected to be the No. 3 wide receiver, suffered a fractured collar bone on Aug. 4 and probably won't be back until sometime in October. Tight end Martellus Bennett was suspended for the first preseason game, during which backup tight end Zach Miller emerged as a legitimate threat. But Miller suffered a season-ending foot injury last week. Dante Rosario, another tight end competing for playing time, missed last week with a minor calf injury but is back in action.
Chris Williams, a candidate to move into the No. 3 or No. 4 spot after Wilson's injury, missed almost two weeks with a hamstring injury. He's back at practice now and should play Friday. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes is a proven veteran and a strong candidate for significant playing time if he's properly focused and motivated. But that could be down the road, considering he was added to the mix just this week. He may play vs. Seattle but probably not extensively.
"It's definitely a different plan than originally expected," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "But each year you have to have a balanced offense and different personnel groupings. We had planned on being a big three-wide receiver team, and with Marquess down, we have to find somebody to step in. We've added players, and we've tried different guys."
Friday night Josh Morgan will open the game as the No. 3 with a chance to lock down that spot, at least for now.
In Miller's and Rosario's absence at tight end last week, Matthew Mulligan showed he could be more than a strong blocker with 4 catches for 39 yards.
"We feel like we have a good group of tight ends still, and we have a good fullback (Tony Fiammetta)," Kromer said. "You just need balance. The offense is built to adjust that way. That's what you have to do during the year. We just have an opportunity to work on it prior to the year."
The run game, which is averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt, would be helped by the return of right tackle Jordan Mills. He has not played in a preseason game because of an injury to the left foot that he had surgery on in the off-season. Michael Ola has gotten valuable snaps filling in, but Mills' return would be welcomed, although that won't happen until the preseason finale at the earliest.
Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte has barely broken a sweat. He has only had 7 carries (for minus-7 yards). Forte also has just 3 catches for 22 yards. He had 74 catches for 594 yards last season, so the Bears aren't in panic mode.
"I don't think it's a concern for us right now," Cutler said. "We'll get it going when we need it. Whether it was running or passing, (Forte) was a huge part of this offense. Offensive line, we'll figure it out. 'Krome' will get it worked out for us."
If at least some of those kinks don't get worked out in Seattle, expect the anxiety level to ratchet up in the two weeks leading up to the regular-season opener.
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