When a team finishes second in scoring, fifth in passing and eighth in total offense, there's not a lot of room for improvement.
The Chicago Bears' offense has focused in training camp not on improvement, but making sure those numbers don't go the other direction, even if injuries arise.
A depth concern loomed as the only large question mark facing the offense, and through the first week of camp the focus has been on getting all receivers -- starters and reserves -- used to running the attack with quarterback Jay Cutler.
It's the main reason Cutler has taken a lot of snaps with and against second-teamers.
"There's a couple of benefits," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "One is that he's (Cutler) getting more reps, and that's important to us that he takes the most amount of reps because he'll be running the offense.
"No. 2, it gets him with other players that could be on the field with him this year, and it gets him a feel for how those guys run routes, protect, and those sort of things."
So Cutler has thrown to a former Saints practice squader like Chris Williams as much as he's throwing to Pro Bowl starter Alshon Jeffery.
When Earl Bennett was allowed to leave after the season as a free agent, the Bears had a need for a third receiver. It's been assumed that it would be Marquess Wilson, the seventh-round pick from Washington State who has worked out extensively with Cutler, Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett.
However, Williams has shown himself capable of catching passes despite being only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds. Williams sees himself as a possible counter weapon in the passing game with a receiver corps comprised of 6-3 and 6-4 pass catchers.
"A little bit," he said. "We've got a big bunch. When I get in there, it's a little change of pace, that's for sure."
Veteran Eric Weems, expected to be more of a special teamer like Williams, has been a presence in the battle with Wilson for third receiver.
"The thing about him is he's smart, he studies, he understands," Kromer said. "So when he gets out there he's able to make the play when he needs to. We're lucky to have him."
Wilson continues to be the likely third, although he hasn't necessarily been more of a go-to guy than the others for Cutler in scrimmage. At 6-4, 184, he fits the mold of the first two receivers, but there are questions as to whether he can be that durable over-the-middle slot receiver type to help on third downs.
There has also been a focus on getting the ball to backup tight ends Dante Rosario and Zach Miller.
Of course, the chief Bears depth problem remains Cutler's position. Without Josh McCown, they're left with Jordan Palmer, Jimmy Clausen and David Fales as backups. While Cutler has had almost all the first-team snaps, the backups have had a few.
Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh continues working with all three backups in attempt to find one. Naturally, Palmer has an edge from working with the team last year.
"He knows the system very well and he had some work last year, but not a lot, even in practice," Cavanaugh said. "So that's where he's catching up now is on the field. And I think he's doing a good job.
"He's a tall, strong-armed guy who's smart and makes good decisions so what else do you need in a quarterback other than experience."
Trestman insists he'd leaning to no one as backup, even while cries in Chicago have been for the team to pursue former Bear Kyle Orton as backup. There's no indication this is a possibility.
"I haven't even thought about at this point who that guy would be," Trestman said. "I want to let it happen and it will."
--Through the first four practices, free agent acquisition Ryan Mundy and rookie Brock Vereen took most of the first-team snaps at safety, but Wednesday at the fifth practice Vereen went to the second team and former Dallas Cowboy Danny McCray took the spot with starters. McCray started 10 games in 2012 for Dallas, but did not start in the other three years he played for the Cowboys.
"It's (only) Day 5 so the excitement is not really there," McCray said of getting a chance with starters. "I just know I've got a good opportunity to go out there and show what I can do."
McCray called the Bears defense somewhat similar to the 4-3 Dallas switched to last year when he was a Cowboy, so the change hasn't overwhelmed him. His prowess was special teams, and on defense he is doing some of the things that had made him a good special teams player.
"He brings a high level of energy to the game," Mundy said. "He's very active around the ball. He knows how to get the ball out and that's something that we value here in our defense -- getting the ball out. He's done a great job of that so far in our first couple days of camp."
A secondary with the 6-1, 221-pound McCray and 6-1 Mundy in it looks a bit "Seahawkish," but the real question then would be whether they have the speed to stay with the deep routes. Numerous times in camp Bears receivers have beaten them to the sideline on deep cover-2 beater routes.
Vereen remains in the mix, even as a backup.
"In my mind, I'm still a rookie who has to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster," Vereen said. "I'm far too young to even worry about starting, not starting, whatever. In my mind I still need to prove I'm worthy of being on this team."
Last year's starter, Chris Conte, remains on the physically unable to perform list with a shoulder injury and backup Craig Steltz is also on PUP, so the competition continues.
--Wide receiver Brandon Marshall didn't exactly sound like Joe Namath but did go out on a limb a bit by calling quarterback Jay Cutler an MVP candidate, even if he's sure many will doubt this.
"I don't think anyone would believe it -- I don't know why they wouldn't believe it," Marshall said. "This is a different person. I don't know this guy. I don't know this new Jay Cutler.
"Maybe his new name is, like, Joshua, or something, just a totally different guy. Let's call him Joshua, Joshua Cutler. That's what the J stands for."
Marshall called Cutler far more advanced as a person and leader.
"It's night and day," Marshall said. "He's the first one in the building, and that (stinks) because I try to be the first one in the building. He's there at, like, 5 a.m. He lives it. I think he has a great balance to his life now with his personal stuff."
--Offensive guard Kyle Long received clearance to return to practice after a viral infection kept him out of it for five practices. However, he'll be worked back in gradually. Trestman said it would be the weekend before he begins to put on pads.
"He's got to get his legs back underneath him," Trestman said, adding, "So he's missed out, no doubt about it, and we'll to accelerate the process as soon as he gets back in there."
The offense functioned fine while he was away because veteran Eben Britton filled in, but the offensive line depth is largely untested, much as the receiver depth is. The Bears offensive line did not have a starter miss a game last year, and Britton played in the regular-season finale due to an in-game foot injury to right tackle Jordan Mills.
--Running back Matt Forte fails to draw a lot of attention league-wide, even after he was third in yards from scrimmage last year.
Cutler thinks his workmanlike approach lends itself to his inability to draw attention.
"He's a workhorse, man," Cutler said. "He knows every position. He takes every rep, quietly.
"You kind of take him for granted because you know he's always going to be there. He's always going to do his job. He's always going to make the first guy miss. How old is Matt, 28? He's still out there like a 24- or 25-year-old. He's got a lot of football left in him."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The long snapper battle gained a lot of attention but not for a good reason. CFL veteran Chad Rempel and first-year player Brandon Hartson both had problems getting the ball back to the punters to the extent that when former Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly showed up in Bourbonnais to do radio work from camp, he was hailed as the best long snapper in camp. Rempel is a one-handed snapper and Hartson uses both hands. They had problems with high and low snaps. There's a distinct possibility neither of them will be the answer and GM Phil Emery may have to look at players cut from other teams to find a solution.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Tim Jennings has returned to practice after going to the sidelines following the first practice with a quad strain.
--WR Alshon Jeffery had a foot injury that kept him out of a couple practices, but he returned for a strong Wednesday practice.
--WR Terence Toliver remains out with a foot injury.
--WR Dale Moss, a 6-3, 215-pound former Bear was signed to a one-year deal. Moss, who was on the Bears practice squad in 2012, had also been with Carolina, Tampa Bay and Green Bay. In his first practice, Moss made a high, leaping catch and took a big hit. The injury to Terence Toliver made Moss' addition important. G James Dunbar was waived just before Moss' signing.
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