Bears defense's highlight reel a short one

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On third-and-1 in the first quarter of the Bears' 20-19 victory Thursday night over the Jaguars at Soldier Field, linebacker Jon Bostic guessed right.

Bostic shot the gap, shed left tackle Luke Joeckel and secured running back Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss. When the Bears defensive coaches compile highlights that represent progress for a group that must show more, this play will be at the top of the list.

It won't be a long one.

The Jaguars made the new Bears defense resemble the old Bears defense before both teams' starters departed. The word underwhelming comes to mind. The middle of the field was too open on passes and the gaps too wide on runs. The Bears' No. 1 defense allowed the Jaguars to go 3-for-5 on third-down conversions, including a killer 20-yard completion on third-and-12. They delivered more effort than execution, but the Bears need both to avoid the defensive disaster the historically bad 2013 season became.

"I think we're a humbled group,'' linebacker Lance Briggs said. "It's good to get tested against an opponent, but you're never really going to know until Week 1.''

True, but if the Bears took one step forward defensively against the Eagles, one of the NFC's best offenses, this was more than a half-step back against the Jaguars, one of the NFL's worst. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker doesn't game-plan this early in preseason — teams seldom do — but still the Jaguars ran and threw too freely. Gerhart running through linebacker D.J. Williams' arms for an 18-yard gain had nothing to do with schematic advantages.

Remember that Jacksonville features quarterback Chad Henne, on the verge of losing his job to rookie Blake Bortles, and a group of wide receivers unknown to anybody not preparing for a fantasy football draft. Too often, the Bears made it hard to tell.

Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich, who once struggled in the same job for Lovie Smith, must have felt as if he had seen this inconsistency before from a Bears defense.

It's only mid-August, but these were only the Jags and one of the NFL's five worst starting quarterbacks. Henne typically scares his own coaching staff more than the opponent's but completed 12 of 17 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Somewhere, Colin Kaepernick probably watched the telecast and chuckled.

The Bears debut of defensive end Jared Allen, who barely missed a sack, deserved to end more positively for the No. 1 unit. Instead, the biggest bright spot was the Bears defense won't have to worry about overconfidence this preseason. A fumble by kickoff returner Eric Weems — who isn't the answer, unless the question is what special-teamer should be replaced first — helped the Jaguars possess the ball for 26 first-quarter snaps compared to only five for the Bears. But that's no excuse.

"I thought we got a good judge (of) where we're at,'' Allen said. "Saw a lot of good things but have to clean some things up. That's what preseason is for.''

Besides the Bostic tackle for a loss, the only other memorable sequence defensively included tackle Stephen Paea supplying a strong interior push for a sack he split with Jeremiah Ratliff. The Bears would have gotten off the field one play later but a sack from speed rusher Trevor Scott was negated when Kelvin Hayden was flagged for an illegal contact penalty — a bad call that reminded us it's the exhibition season for the officials too.

The holding call on safety Ryan Mundy one series earlier drew fewer complaints. Mundy appeared to be beaten and grabbed tight end Marcedes Lewis like he knew it, an image that underscored a rough night in the secondary. Fans scoff at the idea of the safety position receiving a boost from Chris Conte, still recovering from shoulder surgery, yet nobody at the position has stepped forward and seized his job. Danny McCray and Mundy started again but, as little impact as either guy had, it seems a player with 40 career NFL starts could help.

In fairness, the secondary played without rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, who left after the opening kickoff with an ankle injury. Hayden replaced Fuller on the nickel defense but the Bears missed an opportunity to get cornerback Tim Jennings more snaps in his new role. Jennings openly acknowledged he needs more time moving inside to the nickel-back spot yet, with Fuller out, Hayden played the position unique in its demands.

Until Jennings gets enough snaps inside to feel comfortable, it will be fair to wonder if the Bears made the right call moving a Pro Bowl cornerback to nickel to make room for their top draft pick. Until the defense puts two straight games together, it also will be fair to wonder if the only thing different is the names.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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