Published August 29, 2013
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears got the balance they sought on offense last week. Now, their starters are getting a breather.
Don't expect to see Chicago's top stars on the field during Thursday night's final preseason game against Cleveland.
Their dress rehearsal for the opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 8 came last week, when they dominated Oakland in the first half. Now, Jay Cutler gets a breather. So does Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, along with every other star on both sides of the ball.
For the Browns, the top players might get a few snaps, and that would be just fine with quarterback Brandon Weeden.
"If that's what (coach Rob Chudzinski) wants to do, absolutely," Weeden said. "I'm a creature of habit and I like to prepare and I like to not take a ton of time off and skip anything that I normally do, but if that's what he wants to do then absolutely, I'm all for it."
The Browns believe they are finally headed in the right direction and poised to take a big step forward after five straight seasons with at least 11 losses.
They hired Chudzinski and brought in Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. They inherited a team with a second-year quarterback in Weeden who has all the tools to succeed, but it hasn't been the smoothest run so far.
They lost running back Dion Lewis to a broken leg. He went down against Detroit on Aug. 15 and was placed on injured reserve, a big blow to their backfield. He was expected to play on third down and as a change of pace for starter Trent Richardson.
Meanwhile, Weeden and the first-team offense struggled in last week's 27-6 loss to the Colts, raising anxiety among fans with the opener against Miami approaching.
Weeden was off-target after impressive showings in the first two weeks, missing easy throws and forcing passes. There were drops, critical penalties and a failure by the Browns to score on their first seven possessions. They looked like a team that needed more work, and they might get it on Thursday.
The Bears' starters appear ready, dominating Oakland in the first half after struggling the previous week against San Diego.
Cutler spread the ball around, with Alshon Jeffery finishing with seven receptions for 77 yards after all five passes went Marshall's way in the Chargers game.
That eased some of the anxiety of the Bears' fans, even though the game was ultimately meaningless. It wasn't exactly soothing for Marshall, with the Pro Bowl receiver saying he isn't where he needs to be physically after having offseason hip surgery.
Whatever work he gets between now and the opener will almost certainly come in practices and workouts, after coach Marc Trestman said this week he plans to rest most — if not all — of his starters against Cleveland.
That's hardly unusual.
Teams typically play their starters for only a half in the third preseason game then sit them in the finale to avoid unnecessary injuries and give bubble players a chance to solidify roster spots. Chudzinski is bucking that trend, to a degree.
The Bears (2-1) are holding to it, but their coach also acknowledged a possible benefit to giving the starters some snaps in a fourth preseason game.
"We're going to work hard this week as if it's training camp to work them and then we're going to rest them and get them focused on Game 1," said Trestman, in his first season as the Bears' coach after spending the past five leading the CFL's Montreal Alouettes.
"That's the way we did it when I was up north and the places that I've been. I haven't experienced a lot of different ways of doing it, and it seems to have worked well. The question has a good answer. There would be some to say why not give them a half the week before and get their conditioning up. So I don't know if there's a right or wrong, just the direction we've gone here and a lot of teams go around the league."
So don't expect to see Cutler anywhere but on the sideline, assuming he's in the stadium. He and every other star player will likely sit this one out, along with backup quarterback Josh McCown. Trestman said Jordan Palmer will start behind center, with Trent Edwards expected to relieve him.
"There's still competition for positions on the team and there's competition for positions in this league. There's great value in this game on multiple levels," Trestman said.