We've looked at quite a bit this off-season and preseason to try and figure out just what this 2013 Bears team is going to look like. With the "sneak preview" that Game Three of the preseason offered, we saw just what fans were hoping for: a rejuvenated offense, and a still-powerful defense. I wanted to highlight three plays and players to recap what we've seen so far, and what we can expect to see more of moving forward.
Alshon Jeffery, the Slant Machine
It's no surprise that Marc Trestman loves the slant - it was his go-to move both as an NFL offensive coordinator and a CFL head coach. The real surprise is how big of a step Alshon Jeffery appears to have taken this off-season. After a middling 2012 season, Jeffery has stepped into the role of #2 WR quite nicely. On this one of his seven receptions against the Raiders, Jeffery proved that Phil Emery was right to trade up and grab the WR in the second round last season.
The Bears ran a classic West Coast pass pattern - two receivers run go routes, and the third runs a slant underneath them. The defensive backfield has no choice but to keep its coverage on "decoys" Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett - let one of those two get past you, and it's a sure touchdown. But, with no defender able to clog the passing lane, it was almost a touchdown anyways:
Look to see a lot of these three-receiver patterns in the regular season. This one is nothing special, which is not surprising given that Trestman has openly declared he's saving the good stuff for the regular season. But if this is only a preview of what the full offense looks like, I can't wait to see the main attraction come September 8th.
Has Marquess Wilson Played Himself onto the Team?
A couple of weeks after the draft, I took a look at Marquess Wilson's work in Washington. I was impressed by his ability to reel in jump balls, create separation from the defender with sharp route-running, and make moves after securing the reception. He has showcased all of these in the limited playing time he has had this preseason, and finally got his chance to run with the ones against the Raiders.
Again, Trestman's play call was designed to manipulate a linebacker, and worked doubly well due to defensive miscommunication. With the Raiders bringing a blitz to Cutler's left, the right defensive end was assigned to cover Matt Forte out of the backfield. The Raiders linebacker didn't get the memo, however, and also went to follow Forte. With Wilson now one-on-one with a DB, Cutler did what he does best: #6 threw the ball into tight coverage and hoped his receiver would make the play.
True to my prediction, Wilson was able to beat strong coverage and make the play. With the DB draped on his back, Wilson got vertical and secured the ball with textbook perfection. The Bears were right to purchase this particular lottery ticket, as it looks like they might have found a seventh-round winner.
I've been watching Wilson closely on special teams, and he has shown a bit of improvement in punt and kick return coverage. He admittedly looked lost in Games One and Two, but against the Raiders, he was making his blocks and holding his edge of the coverage pretty well, combining with Blake Costanzo to force a fair catch at one point in the first half last week. If he can make a strong final showing on both ST and offense this week, it'll be nearly impossible for Phil Emery to cut the promising rookie WR.
Shea McClellin - DE or LB?
Last week, I took a look at the still-open question of how the Bears plan to deploy Shea McClellin. Even last year, we've seen McClellin occasionally called upon to drop into coverage, but the
rabble community members seemed to strongly support McClellin working on his pure DE skills. Even if that is the plan, his linebacking skill-set can still pay off for the team.
Witness this play from last Thursday. With the Raiders in a third and long and the Bears bringing out their 3 DE set to get after Matt Flynn, McClellin got to put his read-and-react skills to use. The Raiders went with a safe play here - a basic RB screen to the QBs right. The pressure from defensive linesmen Corey Wootton and Stephen Paea almost got to Flynn, but the whole idea of a screen is to draw in the defensive line and then throw the ball over them. Only one defensive linesman made the correct move here, and that was McClellin:
Shea realizes there is a screen afoot, and he wisely positions himself between the quarterback and running back. Flynn, having nowhere else to throw it to, is forced to pitch the ball at McClellin's feet. So while it may be easy to give Paea and Wootton the credit here, they would have put in all that pass-rush for naught if it wasn't for McClellin's heads-up play. So while Shea can certainly develop as a DE, with potential starting MLB Jon Bostic getting subbed out for the nickel on plays like this, it's good to have a DE who is able to make read plays like this.
It's been a long off-season, but real games are so close you can almost taste the tailgate Polish sausages. What has impressed you the most this preseason? What have you seen that you didn't expect, and what didn't surprise you at all? One more fake game left, and then we can get all the answers on the field.
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