LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The longer quarterback Jay Cutler plays in Chicago, the more candid he becomes with public comments.
Due to a preseason plagued by injuries and lineup fluctuations on a daily basis, Cutler did not paint the obligatory rosy picture when asked if the offense will be ready to face the Houston Texans in Sunday's season opener.
"Don't know, it could go either way," Cutler said. "You never really know how it's going to go until you're really out there.
"That first game will give us all an indication of where we're at."
Cutler never had his receiver corps intact last year due to injuries. This preseason the same situation occurred, starting with Marquess Wilson's minicamp foot injury to Alshon Jeffery's training camp hamstring pull, to concussions suffered by wide receiver Eddie Royal and tight end Zach Miller.
"With us, we may have not put it out there in the preseason -- we all know that and are well aware that we have not lit it up at all -- but we just have to keep working, keep grinding, and when it comes Week 1 we have to put a product on the field," Miller said.
The offense clicked against New England in the second preseason game, but a shoulder injury suffered in that game by right guard Kyle Long threatens to disrupt a line which already experienced one catastrophe with the season-ending ACL tear suffered by center Hroniss Grasu.
Long, who signed a contract extension worth a reported $40 million over four years, will try to earn his pay by playing in the opener after resting the final two preseason games. He is expected to use a special harness.
Facing All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt will only add to a difficult task.
The line was in such a state of disarray in the middle of preseason that Cody Whitehair at left guard seemed to provide a steadying influence even as a rookie.
"We plugged him in as a starter fairly early," coach John Fox said. "He's played multiple positions. His football IQ is very high. How fast he's adapted to the pro game has been pretty impressive."
Late Sunday night, the Bears added guard Josh Sitton, who had been released by the division-rival Packers.
Cutler thinks the Bears have been through so much in receiver personnel rotation, they might be ready for anything.
"We had a lot of guys coming in and out," he said. "I think through training camp we saw a lot of different faces coming in and out of the huddle, so I think the comfort level kind of grew a lot with a lot of guys."
When he looks at the overall level of talent, Cutler sees a team capable of competing in an NFC North with a different landscape after the season-ending injury suffered by Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the retirement of Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
"Personnel's better," Cutler said, comparing the Bears to last year. "I think we've cleaned up some stuff from last year (in the scheme) that either we didn't do well or didn't do enough of it or didn't practice it enough.
"We've pared down a few things, added a few things, did some different packages. I like where we're headed."
The Bears ranked sixth in rushing attempts last year with Adam Gase as offensive coordinator, and new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains can be expected to rely on young backs Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey and Jordan Howard extensively in a ball control attack.
"We're going to try to run the ball, we want to run the ball," Cutler said. "There will be some games it's going to be tougher than others, and we're going to have to lean on the pass a little bit."
Facing a defense with Watt, Benardrick McKinney, Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney in the opener will immediately test whether that patchwork offensive line can hold.
"I think our offensive line has improved," Fox said. "I think our running game overall has improved."
The defense hoped to ravage offenses and force mistakes and turnovers to help the offense through potential early problems.
Instead, they've had their own injury problems. The biggest has been the absence of their top pass rusher, Pernell McPhee, due to offseason knee surgery.
With Willie Young and Lamarr Houston over their surgery issues of a year ago, and rookie Leonard Floyd displaying pass rush potential, McPhee's absence for the start of the season might be one the Bears can afford.
"We've got a couple more guys who are more familiar with the scheme this year, including myself and Houston, who obviously got off to a slow start last year," Young said. "But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme.
"So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence."
Inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, and defensive end Akiem Hicks appear to have added a physical presence where it was lacking last year.
The defense does need cornerback Kyle Fuller back healthy after preseason arthroscopic knee surgery, and may need to wait a few weeks. Bryce Callahan might need to fill in there, if he's over his own hamstring issues.
"I don't think I've been through many football seasons or football camps where there aren't things you don't have to adjust to," Fox said. "So what we do for a living is about adjusting."
The adjusting is about to begin for the Bears.
--In their initial cuts to 53, the Bears kept all 2016 draft picks except seventh-round wide receiver Daniel Braverman, and the only undrafted rookie who made the team was cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc. He was claimed off waivers after being cut by New England.
They stuck with experience on their wide receiver corps and kept often-injured Eddie Royal as well as Deonte Thompson, Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy. However, veteran slot receiver/punt returner Marc Mariani was a cut victim.
Notes: Inside linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee), wide receiver Marquuess Wilson (foot) were placed on the physically unable to perform list and will miss at least the first six games. ... Center Eric Kush was claimed off waivers and center Cornelius was waived to make room.