Bears stars to get breather in preseason finale

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.