For NFL players, the first game of the preseason is a date to circle on the calendar. No, it's not the regular season, and the games don't count for much more than pride. But for guys who have been battling against thin air or their own teammates for the past eight months, the chance to face off against an opponent is an event to cherish.
On Thursday night, the Bears began their preseason slate with a 27-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins. For backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen and the rest of the second-string offense, the game was worth the wait. Clausen entered in the second quarter and led Chicago on four scoring drives. He finished with 151 passing yards after completing nearly 63 percent of his passes.
Clausen also took a sack, which he said was a friendly reminder of what life is like when the quarterback isn't wearing an orange "don't touch" jersey like they do in training camp practices.
"This was the first time to get out there with live bullets flying around; getting hit is always a good thing," Clausen said. "I just thought everyone did a great job getting in and out of the huddle. Obviously we can watch the tape and eliminate some of the mistakes, some of the penalties. But all in all it was a good first game."
Without receivers Alshon Jeffery or Kevin White in uniform for the game, Clausen – along with starter Jay Cutler and third-stringer Shane Carden – had to spread the ball around to the rest of the team's pass catchers. Ten different Bears caught a pass in the victory.
Additionally, the offense shared the wealth in the running game. Starter Kyle Long was given the evening off, so a plethora of other runners carried the load for Chicago. Starter Jacquizz Rodgers started things off with some nice gains early on, and then reserves Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey, Daniel Thomas and Senorise Perry took over and did the same. Both Carey and Perry had impressive touchdown runs in the second half, as the Bears gained 166 yards on the ground and averaged 5.0 yards per carry.
"When you're in there your job is to present the same or keep the same level as he (Forte) would," Rodgers said. "So that's how I approach the game. ... The running game was productive. Senorise had a long run. Ka'Deem also got in the end zone. I feel like as a running back group, we had a pretty productive day."
An improved rushing attack is an emphasis of the Chicago offense. The Bears ranked 27th in the league in rushing yards per play last season and want to be much improved in that category in 2015.
Clausen said the ground attack was a major reason the offense had success in the second half, as the team scored five times in six drives between the third and fourth quarters.
"It was big, all the running backs did great tonight," the quarterback said. "Obviously I can't say too much about it, I didn't watch the tape yet. But I thought they did a great job, as well as the offensive line up front opened the holes those guys up to run."
Perry's touchdown run was a beautiful 54-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. The back took a shotgun handoff and darted left, before spotting a hole off the right side and cutting back. Once he found the open space, Perry showcased his breakaway speed, cruising by a pair of Miami defenders en route to the end zone.
The running back finished with 89 rushing yards on 10 carries, and also had a 42-yard kickoff return.
There are still three preseason contests left to go, and then the real fun starts. But for the Bears' second unit, Thursday night's performance was a good way to start things off.