The Bears lost their preseason opener to the Carolina Panthers, 23-13, but appeared to avoid serious injuries, which is a definite win. And Perhaps their biggest offseason addition, David Montgomery, debuted very promisingly, while the process of replacing their biggest offseason subtraction — PK Cody Parkey — started, ironically, with some early optimism.
RB David Montgomery
It was only six touches in his first-ever preseason game, but it was enough for top pick David Montgomery to illustrate exactly why the Bears were comfortable trading Jordan Howard to Philadelphia, then sending a pair of draft picks to New England to move up and tab him with the 73rd overall selection as their new feature back.
Montgomery tallied 46 yards and a touchdown on those six touches — three carries for 16 yards, including a sensational TD run, and three grabs for 30 yards, with another eye-opening pickup on a 23-yard catch-and-run — flashing the vision, quickness and smooth receiving skills that the Bears believe make him everything Howard isn’t.
PK Elliott Fry
You can’t make this stuff up. To close the first half, Fry was summoned for — what else? — a 43-yard field-goal attempt facing the same North end zone that served as the infamous site of Parkey’s “double-doink.” After the Panthers iced Fry, who was attempting his first-ever NFL field goal, mind you, he banged it straight through to a thunderous roar from half-full Soldier Field. It was symbolic. It was surreal. And it gave Fry a clear early lead over Eddy Pineiro, the first leg off the bench Thursday, who missed a 48-yarder wide left that looked doomed from the moment it left his foot. Pineiro did converting a 23-yard chip shot in the fourth quarter.
S Deon Bush
The surprising availability of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the cost of only a one-year, $500,000 (guaranteed) deal to replace Adrian Amos in free agency is likely to relegate Bush to his familiar No. 3 safety role for one more season. But the hard-hitting former fourth-rounder from Miami started his contract season on a strong note with an interception and an additional pass breakup, playing tight coverage and showing that the drop-off to Clinton-Dix might not be that steep.
LB Nick Kwiatkoski
The Bears have speed everywhere along their second level … with one exception. And Kwiatkoski’s limitations in coverage showed up almost immediately, when he was outrun after taking a bad angle to the sideline by Panthers RB Cameron Artis-Payne for 17 yards on the second play from scrimmage. Kwiatkoski was caught in coverage again on the third defensive series, allowing a 16-yard grab to TE Ian Thomas. It was all a bit too familiar after the Packers picked on Kwiatkoski a year ago in the opener with Roquan Smith slowly getting his feet wet coming off his summer holdout.
Kwiatkoski notched a sack, but his challengers in the reserve ILB battle were very good: Kevin Pierre-Louis, the ex-Chief who surprisingly had his number called Thursday before incumbent Joel Iyiegbuniwe; and the combo of Josh Woods and James Vaughters, teaming up on the Bears’ first takeaway of the season.
Swing OT candidates
Rashaad Coward was flagged for holding early on and seemed a bit sluggish and flat-footed getting into his pass sets. T.J. Clemmings was also flagged for holding. Cornelius Lucas, the likely early leader in the clubhouse, allowed a sack to Panthers first-round EDGE Brian Burns. The starters — LT Charles Leno and RT Bobby Massie — are solid and have shown their durability. But don’t be surprised if this is a position, along with kicker and tight end, that the Bears could be seeking upgrades come cut-down day.
The return and coverage units
With all eyes glued to the kickers, it should’ve been easy to overlook the other special teams. It wasn’t. The punt coverage and return units played very poorly. It’s not totally stunning considering Chicago thoroughly turned over its third phase in the offseason, with stalwarts Benny Cunningham, Josh Bellamy and Daniel Brown all departing. But coordinator Chris Tabor’s group needs more from its fresh blood after surrendering 131 punt return yards on six attempts. And it was a bit disconcerting seeing the unit’s most established member, converted CB Sherrick McManis, playing safety deep into the third quarter with the third team.