Matt Eberflus told media that Justin Fields and the majority of of the Bears starters will not play on Saturday Night, and with that declaration the 1st team offense and defense are almost certainly done until Week 1.
This decision is completely understandable — both Bears starting units have seen 2-3 players miss time with minor camp injuries, so making an effort to preserve the team’s health in lieu of a pivotal Week 1 matchup makes sense. Eberflus will look to make a statement with the Bears’ 2023 season, and he can’t do that without a healthy roster. To me, this feels like the right decision.
The absence of the starters, though, will create plenty of opportunity for young players on the roster to shine — with that in mind, here’s the 6 players on each side of the ball that I’ll be watching as the Bears take on the Colts:
1) Ja’Tyre Carter
No second unit Offensive Lineman shined brighter than Carter against Tennessee, and as the second OL unit should see plenty of action throughout Saturday Night’s game he’s one of the primary players to watch tomorrow night.
Carter displayed sound footwork, clinical hands, great form as a pass protector, and a healthy dose of violence within the run game — with Lucas Patrick sidelined, Carter has an opportunity to take Patrick’s spot as the first Offensive Lineman off the bench and I’m curious to see if he’ll make the most of his chances. He likely doesn’t need to elevate his performance from his Tennessee game, simply show that he can be consistent and the job may be his. Keep an eye on #69.
2) Doug Kramer
Not all opportunities are created equally, but with Cody Whitehair and Lucas Patrick sitting out of tomorrow’s game Doug Kramer will have a major opportunity to prove himself after a rookie year marred by injury.
Kramer got his first action against Tennessee’s 2nd & 3rd string defensive line, but the second-year center played well all the same — if anything, I’ve done him a disservice not highlighting him sooner. He looked strong when moving in the run game & athletic as a pass-blocker, so if the 2022 6th round pick continues to show out in extended action against the Colts he may just earn a bigger role in 2023.
3) Alex Leatherwood
Of all the 2nd unit Offensive Linemen we’ve listed so far, I thought Leatherwood was the least impressive — his feet look slow when he’s on the move (even when blocking zone runs that simply have him climbing to the 2nd level) and his balance is all over the place in every phase of his game. He’s got power in his hands that have become his saving grace, but can the former 1st round pick show improvement against the Colts?
Leatherwood, Carter, and Patrick are likely brawling for 2 spots on the roster (assuming the Bears keep 8 OL on the 53) with Borom as the incumbent swing tackle, so Leatherwood will have to prove that he’s either better outright than Patrick or shows more promise than Carter. Either option could prove to be a tough road for him, but he’ll make his case with his play Saturday Night and I’m excited to see what he’s got.
4) Roschon Johnson
It felt as if the Bears built the entire 2nd half offense around Roschon Johnson last weekend as he received touch after touch, both as a rusher & receiver. I think the Bears were testing his flexibility in preparation for a larger role than 3rd/4th string RB, and after a week where he cracked off a long run and caught multiple passes he’s reportedly getting a handful of 1st team reps — it seems to me that he’s been promoted.
With Herbert sitting, Roschon should get more rushing opportunities behind the Bears’ 2nd string Offensive Line — the same line that helped him crack off his long run in his debut. I imagine the Bears will again ask him to show off his versatility (likely asking him to pass block on Saturday night) and if he’s up to task we may see him duel directly with D’Onta Foreman for the RB2 role in Week 3.
5) Tyler Scott
Sitting the starters already meant that Tyler Scott was going to receive plenty of playing time, but now that Velus Jones is reportedly nicked up I imagine Scott may see a full half of action or more. Can he take a step forward from what he showed against Tennessee? We’ll find out this weekend.
6) Tyson Bagent
The young QB from Shepherd made a strong statement against Tennessee in a performance that, realistically, only included one big throw — but how much bigger does a throw get than a 4th and 7 slot fade to extend your lead late in the game?
With PJ Walker seemingly struggling and Nathan Peterman representing the NFL’s benchmark QB3, the UDFA QB might actually have a shot at making the Bears’ roster if he continues to prove himself. His processing and footwork looked quick and clean in limited action against the Titans, so I’m curious to see if he can keep things up tomorrow.
1) Gervon Dexter & 2) Zacch Pickens
Dexter and Pickens have been just about discussed to death, so I won’t keep this section long — the two lineman entered the NFL as projects and both need more time to develop. Opportunities like tomorrow night are perfect for exactly that.
Both Pickens and Dexter made flash plays last weekend, but each needs to improve their consistency on a down-to-down basis. There’s only so much improvement we can expect from a player in a single week’s time, but maybe the young DTs impress us — we’ll have to wait and see.
3) Terrell Lewis
Trevis Gipson stole the show last weekend, but Terrell Lewis would not be denied — the former 3rd round pick had 2 sacks of his own and bent the corner beautifully a number of times while rushing the passer, so I’m sure the Bears will look for more from him in his 2nd game.
I have no idea which defensive starters will or won’t be playing, so Lewis may start at DE tomorrow night if the Bears deem Raseem Green and Dominique Robinson ‘starters’. If he starts, he should get opportunities against Anthony Richardson and whatever Offensive Line the Colts field around him — for a player looking to make a statement, there’ll be no better opportunity.
4) Terell Smith
Smith has clearly caught the eye of the coaching staff, so much so that he and 2nd round pick Tyrique Stevenson openly competed for the 2nd starting CB spot before a minor injury sidelined him for a critical week of practice.
Smith’s debut could go any number of ways given the various positions the Bears have worked him at — will they play him at safety? Outside corner? Wherever he plays, I can’t wait to see how his spatial awareness, length, and anticipation translate to an NFL football field. The better your DB depth is, the better equipped you are to handle modern passing attacks late in the year.
5) Elijah Hicks
One of the most under-discussed Bears storylines leading into the 2023 season is Chicago’s lack of a backup safety — as things stand, 7th round pick Elijah Hicks seems to be the 3rd safety on the depth chart and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that made me extremely uncomfortable.
Safety is an extremely difficult position and it takes time for the instincts and anticipation a great safety needs to develop, but so far Hicks seems to get lost in coverage when defending deep space and routinely fails to disrupt deeper routes send his way. He should get plenty of action on Saturday night, so I’d love to see him step forward — the Bears may need him late in the year.
6) Noah Sewell
Sewell looked like your typical NFL preseason SAM linebacker for most of last weekend’s game — he filled his gap in the run game well enough, looked sound (but not anticipatory) in coverage, but ultimately didn’t do anything that swung the game one way or another… until he lined up on the line of scrimmage and manhandled a Tight End.
Sewell is strong when brawling physically, and the Bears made use of that by deploying him on the line of scrimmage and forcing opposing Tight Ends to honor 1 on 1 in the run game. I imagine the Bears will want to build on his, so keep an eye out for #44 and his development throughout the Colts game.
Interesting rep from #Bears Noah Sewell — his physicality shined on the line of scrimmage. The TE can't move him.
He's got a ways to go as a zone-cover linebacker, but his violence & power in the ground game stands out. If he keeps this up, he may earn snaps at SAM. pic.twitter.com/yGyCTGA7yg
— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) August 14, 2023
Your Turn: Who are you looking forward to watching in tomorrow’s game?