Time running out for Chicago Bears to right offensive wrongs
There's an overriding question in the wake of the Chicago Bears' uninspired performance in Saturday's third preseason game, their final dress rehearsal: Is there enough time to correct all the offensive flaws that have been exposed?
Improved health should help, especially for a unit that lacked rhythm and alacrity for all but a handful of possessions in Saturday's 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Eddie Royal all are expected back for the regular-season opener against the Texans in Houston on Sept. 11.
Long's presence will give quarterback Jay Cutler better protection and running backs more room to maneuver.
The Bears also were dealing with problems up front in their preseason opener, when they were shut out by the Denver Broncos.
"We've been short in both games up front," coach John Fox said. "In the first game we replaced our center (Hroniss Grasu) two days before the game, and obviously Kyle Long wasn't out there (Saturday).
"Those aren't excuses; that's just reality. If we look at the tape, I don't think it was all bad. I know it looked like that, but so do a lot of preseason games."
Miller and Royal will provide more targets for Cutler, who has a 67.4 preseason passer rating, completing 17 of 31 passes (54.8 percent) for 146 yards with no TDs. He also has been sacked five times.
Backup Brian Hoyer was worse with a 44.4 passer rating that includes 19 completions on 41 attempts (46.3 percent), no TD passes and 2 interceptions.
Miller and Royal practiced last week but were held out of contact because they still were working through the concussion protocol.
"We've had them out there, and I know what they can do," Cutler said. "They're difference-makers out there; they make plays. Zach is a matchup problem for some people, and Eddie is, too, in the slot. Hopefully we get them back for the first game."
Miller was indeed a difference-maker in the final half of 2015, when he caught 29 of his 34 passes for 381 of 439 yards and 4 of his 5 touchdowns.
But Royal's contributions were negligible in an injury-marred season: 37 catches for 238 yards, a 6.4-yard average per catch and 1 touchdown.
If the Bears are to be competitive when the real games begin, they also will need better performances from wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White.
They are being counted on heavily, but their production came up short when it was needed Saturday.
Jeffery had two drops, including one that could have produced a huge gain, while White dropped a screen pass with no one in the vicinity and also ran the wrong route, causing an incompletion.
"There are going to be growing pains," Cutler said of White. "That's just how it is. He missed his rookie year, (after) not playing a ton of college football, and then (we're) just throwing him out there.
"We're working with him, and he's doing everything he possibly can to work through it and be where he's supposed to be.
"I talked to him on the sideline and told him, 'This is going to happen, but now you know and it can't happen again. We can't have repeat mistakes.' He's a good kid. He's going to do well."
Most starters aren't expected to play at all in Thursday's preseason finale at Cleveland, but the Bears' offense has two weeks to turn excuses into production.
It might not be enough time.
• The Bears trimmed 10 players from their roster Sunday in advance of the mandatory cutdown to 75 players due by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Among those let go Sunday were running back Senorise Perry, wide receivers Kieran Duncan, Darrin Peterson and Derek Keaton, offensive lineman John Kling and Martin Wallace, cornerback Joel Ross, tight end Gannon Sinclair, defensive lineman Keith Browner.
Fullback Darrel Young, a vested veteran, was terminated.
Five more cuts must be made by Tuesday.
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