Football / Sports

Santonio Holmes stands out in Bears' exhibition finale

CLEVELAND -- You can assess Thursday night's Chicago Bears exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns through whatever lens you'd like.

Officially, it was a 33-13 loss, a result that gave the Bears a 2-2 preseason record. (Take that for all it's worth.)

Technically, there was plenty at stake for many players on the bubble, fighting to get noticed for one of the final roster spots.

But from an entertainment standpoint, this was every bit a late August formality at FirstEnergy Stadium, a snapshot of exhibition football with the masses itching for the relevance of the regular season.

Inside a half-empty stadium, with anxious mistakes and ticky-tack penalties mixed in, Browns kicker Billy Cundiff took target practice on the end-zone nets with four field goals that put a fitting punctuation mark on the preseason.

As expected, Bears coach Marc Trestman opted to give his starters the night off. Trestman also rested several key reserves and draft picks, pushing to have his team healthy and rested for the start of the season.

"It was more what was in the best interest of the team tonight," he explained. "Who did we need to play tonight and see and who did we need to sit?"

With 40 of 75 Bears players not suiting up, that left ample opportunity for others down the roster to emerge.

Most notably, receiver Santonio Holmes, who signed with the Bears on Aug. 16, flashed his potential in the first half -- first with a 32-yard touchdown catch from rookie quarterback David Fales and soon after with a 30-yard punt return.

On the touchdown reception, Holmes ran a quick slant, then used a nifty spin to race the final 25 yards to the end zone.

"I felt the coverage of the defender playing a little bit over the top," Holmes said. "And I just made a great play afterward and finished strong."

Added Trestman: "We saw him take a short catch and turn it into a long gain. And that's some of the explosion we've seen during practice."

Holmes' contribution to the return game, meanwhile, wasn't necessarily Devin Hester-esque. But during a preseason in which no one had stepped up to claim the punt returner role, Holmes at least grabbed the attention of special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis as an option.

"I wouldn't say I would lobby for (a return role)," Holmes said. "But if the opportunity and the spot opens up and Coach would like me to play as a returner, I'll do what I can to help the team."

DeCamillis' kickoff return job also appears unsettled. With front-runner Micheal Spurlock not suiting up Thursday, Chris Williams returned three kicks for an average of 27 yards.

Overall, DeCamillis' units had a shaky August, obvious again Thursday when Robbie Gould pushed a 52-yard field goal wide right after what appeared to be an errant snap from Brandon Hartson.

It was the latest indication that even a proven standout specialist such as Gould can be significantly affected by his supporting cast and another warning that the special teams are far from air tight as the Sept. 7 opener against the Bills nears.

On offense, Fales had a predictably inconsistent night on the way to 13 completions in 24 attempts for 146 yards. His longest completions were to Holmes and Josh Bellamy for 32 yards apiece. But a fourth-quarter interception was behind Williams with cornerback Robert Nelson closing on the pass near the sideline.

"He got bounced around pretty good tonight," Trestman said of Fales. "He was on the ground but got back up and made some throws. He hung in there tough. And it was a good opportunity for him to get a sense for what the NFL is all about."

Fales seems probable to be one of the 22 players waived over the next two days, with the Bears likely aiming to bring him back as one of their 10 practice squad players.

With the preseason complete, the Bears have until 3 p.m. Saturday to refine their roster, facing a number of crucial decisions across all three phases. General manager Phil Emery will be at the head of those calls.

From there, at long last, a regular-season plan can come together.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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