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The secret to preseason football success: Keep your first-string offensive line out there longer than the other team's first-string defense.
That was the key element during the Bears' lone touchdown drive on their way to a 10-3 victory over the hapless Buffalo Bills on Saturday as sort-of competitive professional football finally returned.
After we all flash back to Meatballs for a little while (chanting "It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter"), let's go ahead and break down a little bit of this ultimately meaningless exhibition game.
First of all, backup running back Marion Barber ran hard and showed some delightful shiftiness during the drive capped off by backup quarterback Caleb Hanie's scrambling score.
Barber clearly still has plenty left in his tank after a half-dozen years of hard running in Dallas. He is a quality addition and it is clear that Chester Taylor's spot on the roster is tenuous. Of course, the drawing of over-arching preseason conclusions is dangerous but Taylor, last year's big free-agent signing at running back behind Matt Forte, simply doesn't run as hard as Barber.
And an NFL team's third halfback has to be a special teams stalwart. Third-year man Kahlil Bell has shown he can fill that role. It is hard to believe Taylor would.
As for the offensive line performance, overall clearly the early sacks against weren't great. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb better be seeing Shawne Merriman in his nightmares during the coming week (and working on ways during the day to counter the speed and power flashed by the player nicknamed "Lights Out" way back in high school after he knocked out four guys in a single half). Merriman has struggled with injuries the past three seasons but he is still a young player (I was surprised to find out he is only 27 years old) with all sorts of ability.
But the line wasn't helped by situation (third-and-long during Cutler's final series) and by the quarterback holding the ball too long (Hanie during his first drop back). Then again, television analyst Erik Kramer was wrong when he said Hanie held the ball too long on his second sack. On that play the quarterback took a moment to look away from his first option before he was pounded down but the line has to give him more time than that.
Otherwise, safeties Chris Harris and Major Wright both showed a willingness to lower the boom from out of the secondary. Wouldn't it be delightful if the Bears were finally in good shape with a pair of safeties in the right positions (Harris at strong and Wright at free) after years of struggling to get it right back there.
And at least the field held up. Any truth to the rumor (the one I am starting right now) that one of the reasons the park district and the Bears haven't been willing to change the sod to artificial field turf is that Soldier Field wouldn't be able to host lucrative soccer friendlies (like the the Fire versus Manchester United game that drew 60,000-plus earlier this summer) on FieldTurf?
Actually, you have to believe the Bears when they say they are putting player safety first; that they believe players suffer fewer injuries on grass than they do artificial turf. After all, it would be much cheaper to put in the plastic stuff and never have to worry about it again. When the team is forced to bring in new sod during the season like they have the past few years, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Let's see how this year plays out but it must be noted that last year the Packers, who play on the plastic stuff, were riddled with injuries (they may have won the Super Bowl but they struggled through the regular season, barely squeaking into the playoffs at 10-6 with two wins in the last two weeks). Meanwhile the Bears suffered relatively few season-ending infirmities. Of course the sample size is too small to draw any wide-ranging conclusions but like I said, let's see what happens this coming year.
The Arlington Million
"Finally we had a fairly normal weekend in the sport of Horse Racing this past weekend," Gerard Apadula writes for iSportsWeb. "No 20, 30 or 40-1 shots winning big races, no injuries and, led by Cape Blanco winning the 2011 Arlington Million, most of the best horses in their respective races did what they were supposed to do . . . win."
Here it is:
"[W]elcome Dennis to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the most unlikely destination in what was certainly the most remarkable of journeys," Sam Smith writes on Bulls.com.
Here is his remarkable induction speech from Friday night:
And here is a career retrospective produced by the NBA:
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