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updated: 8/31/2014 8:50 PM

Bears still have questions seeking answers

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  • Coach Marc Trestman and the Bears open the season Sunday at home against the Buffalo Bills.

      Coach Marc Trestman and the Bears open the season Sunday at home against the Buffalo Bills.
    Associated Press

 
 

When the Bears arrived at Olivet Nazarene University six weeks ago there were multiple questions facing coach Marc Trestman and his staff.

After three weeks in Bourbonnais and four preseason games, some of those questions have been answered, some remain mysteries and others have been partially answered.

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Who will be the No. 3 wide receiver to complement Pro Bowlers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery?

Early on, 2013 seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson appeared to be a lock for the No. 3 job and on the precipice of a breakout season. Then the slender 21-year-old laid out to attempt a diving catch in early August -- the same day tight end Martellus Bennett had a snap session that resulted in a fine and suspension -- and his collarbone was fractured when he hit the ground. Wilson won't be back until some time in October.

Into the void stepped veteran Josh Morgan, and he led the team in receiving yards through the first three preseason games. At 6-feet-1 and 220 pounds, he provided another tough, physical presence.

Then on Aug. 16 the Bears took a gamble on talented but troubled Santonio Holmes, and he inserted himself into the competition in the final preseason game with a nifty catch and spin-o-rama move that resulted in a 32-yard touchdown.

The competition could play out through the season, and Wilson, who has more upside than either of the veterans, should be back in the competition in the second half.

Can Shea McClellin live up to his first-round pedigree as a strongside linebacker after failing to make much of an impact as a defensive end?

The jury is still out on this one. McClellin has flashed the instincts he lacked as a lineman but has not demonstrated enough consistent production to nail down the spot full time.

He could wind up sharing time with 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic, who has better coverage skills and should continue to play in nickel situations, paired with seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs.

The Bears still believe McClellin can add a spark to the pass rush, but he's far from a sure thing.

Is there any way the defense won't be better than last year's disappointing group?

There is more talent and there are more playmakers. But … the first group was pantsed for 4 consecutive TD drives at Seattle in Week 3 of the preseason, including drives of 83 and 87 yards.

The perception is that elite pass rusher Jared Allen has more left in the tank and will play harder than Julius Peppers did in 2013, when he was often a disinterested bystander.

But Allen has played so little in the preseason that skeptics still are waiting to see the guy who has more sacks than anyone in the NFL since he entered the league in 2004.

Two of the Bears' other free-agent defensive ends, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, look like difference-makers.

Improved or not, isn't this still an old defense?

Yes. cornerback Charles Tillman and Briggs are 33, and they both looked their age and appeared to play slow against the Seahawks, although Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson can do that to just about anyone.

But it's not just those two. Tackle Jeremiah Ratliff is 32. The other Pro Bowl cornerback, Tim Jennings, is 30. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams and Allen are 32.

It would require blinders not to see signs of age and deterioration across the defense. Injuries cost Ratliff 11 games last season, Tillman eight games, Briggs seven and Williams 10.

With all the starters returning and playing for a second consecutive year in the offense of Trestman and coordinator Aaron Kromer, shouldn't this be an elite unit?

It should be, but there only have been glimpses of it so far. The expected improvement up front because of the increased cohesion hasn't come to fruition because right tackle Jordan Mills, the weakest link in last year's O-line, hasn't played yet because of a foot injury.

The run game hasn't impressed anyone, but Matt Forte, who makes the ground game go, hasn't played much.

No list would be complete without a question about the safety situation: It's going to be better, right?

Well, Chris Conte still could wind up starting at free safety for the fourth straight year.

Coaches are confident last year's slump was an aberration for Conte, but it remains to be seen if he can recapture his confidence. And now he's coming off a concussion in the third preseason game, the only one he participated in.

Danny McCray started at free safety in the first three preseason games, and he has played well enough that the Bears don't have to live with Conte as the starter if he can't bounce back. Ryan Mundy looks like an upgrade at strong safety, and rookie Brock Vereen provides young depth.

Long snapper Brandon Hartson was waived Sunday, so the Bears will be looking to add a veteran this week.

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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