I had the chance to attend Bears practice today, and wanted to share a few observations.
Before we go too far, here’s your obligatory reminder not to read too much into one unpadded practice in the early days of training camp. None of these observations are meant to be absolutes about what is going to happen this season.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to it.
- I’ll start with Justin Fields, who is far and away the most interesting Bear this year. I spent more time watching him than I should have, and thought it was a mixed bag overall.
- First the good: Fields was totally in control during team drills. The 1st string offense seemed to dominate their red zone 11 on 11 session (though I didn’t have a great view of it), and they were 2 for 2 in two minute drills to end practice, including consistently getting the ball snapped with about 30 seconds left on the clock when . I especially loved seeing Fields rip a quick slant to Claypool right at the top of his drop to pick up an easy 15 yards. He needs to really improve in the quick game this year, so that play – while not a huge highlight – was my favorite of the day.
- Now the bad: in all of the QB drills where they were throwing the ball into nets with no defenders present, Fields kept doing a double or triple clutch before letting the ball fly. That’s an issue in the quick game, and I’d like to see him just get the ball out quicker in those situations to practice what it should look like in a game. His accuracy on short passes was also not super consistent, which has also been an issue through his first 2 NFL seasons.
- One other QB I was interested in seeing was undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent, who is making the jump to the NFL out of division 2 Shepherd. The ball has a really nice spin coming out of his hands, and his accuracy on short and medium passes was quite solid, but his lack of arm strength really showed up on anything deep. He also looked really skinny next to the other QBs, so if he sticks around on the practice squad this year, he’ll need to spend some serious time in the weight room and improve his arm strength to have any chance at making it in the NFL.
- The Bears did a lot of red-zone work, and Robert Tonyan kept showing up everywhere. He was on the field with the 1st and 2nd string offenses, and was probably their most targeted player. I’m not sure if that was just a product of the day or a sign that they want to feature him as a red zone weapon.
- The red zone sessions also featured a ton of motion, which was great to see. It’s something that provides the offense with an advantage, and it’s something that the Bears didn’t use much of last year, but almost every play in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 featured somebody motioning before the snap.
- They also had a lot of designed QB runs in the red zone session, and not just with Justin Fields. PJ walker and the 2nd string offense had a good number of them too. I expect that will be a real part of their red zone offense this season.
- Rookie WR Tyler Scott was incredibly impressive today. He consistently got open, whether in one on ones or team drills, and caught everything thrown his way. That latter part – catching the ball – has been an issue for him in both college and the first week of camp, but he looks like a legitimate NFL WR if he can get the drops under control.
- Scott and Equanimeous St. Brown were really the only backup WRs to rotate in with the starting offense, so it looks like those are the two most likely to get snaps on offense this year (at least as of right now).
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, 2nd year WR Velus Jones Jr. had a rough day. He didn’t really do much of anything in 1-on-1s or team drills, and then bobbled two straight targets that went his way when he was on the 2nd string offense in the 2-minute session. On the first target, he bobbled a ball while going out of bounds, which meant he was out of play by the time he secured the catch. On the 2nd, he was in the middle of the field, and the ball was intercepted after bouncing off of his hands.
- I don’t really have anything to say about the offensive line, which is impossible to evaluate without pads on. The only thing I can really comment on was who played where.
- The 1st string OL was as expected, from left to right: Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Nate Davis, Darnell Wright.
- The 2nd string OL was mostly expected from LT to RG, going Larry Borom, Alex Leatherwood, Lucas Patrick, and Ja’Tyre Carter. RT was a bit of a surprise though, as newly signed Aviante Collins has already moved up to 2nd string. Collins has bounced around the NFL for years, appearing in a total of 7 games since 2017. The fact that he’s apparently OT4 2 days after signing means the Bears really don’t have anybody after their top 3 OTs.
- I spent most of my time focusing on the offense, especially Justin Fields, since that is who I was most interested in getting a good look at. Accordingly, I don’t have a ton to say about the defensive performance. Overall, they dominated the red zone 7-on-7 drill, but otherwise seemed behind the offense most of the day.
- A few nuggets I found interesting about where guys seem to be on the depth chart:
- Safety Eddie Jackson got a veteran rest day, and 2nd year man Elijah Hicks was with the starters in his place. So he seems to be the top backup safety for now.
- Rookie CBs Tyrique Stevenson (2nd round) and Terell Smith (5th round) rotated pretty evenly with the 1st string defense. That should be an interesting battle to watch this preseason, as one of them likely ends up starting.
- 2nd round rookie DT Gervon Dexter was playing with the 2nd string defense, which is expected at this point since the Bears have veterans Jaylon Jones and Andrew Billings with the 1st team. What was surprising was the other 2nd string DT, Donovan Jeter. I had figured that would be 3rd round pick Zacch Pickens, but Jeter – an undrafted player in 2022 who appeared in 1 game for Washington last year – is apparently ahead of him on the depth chart for now.
- DE Terrell Lewis, who is making a position change from outside linebacker this offseason, rotated with free agent signee Rasheem Green with the 1st team defense in the 2 minute drills. I did not see Trevis Gipson with the 1st string in any of those drills.
- 2nd year DE Dominique Robinson was on the 1st team kick coverage unit, which I very much did not expect. That squad is usally full of smaller players, mostly LB, TE, RB, WR, CB, and S, but Robinson was right there alongside him. It is possible that providing special teams value will improve his chances of sticking on the roster.
Odds and Ends
- WR Darnell Mooney and LB Jack Sanborn, who are both working back from injuries, practiced in full today. That’s good news for the Bears, as both guys have been easing back into things as the week has gone on.
- The Bears seem remarkably healthy right now, as only WR Dante Pettis was an injury scratch today. Here’s hoping that continues.
- One thing you can really appreciate in person is the relative size of individuals. DT Gervon Dexter and LB Tremaine Edmunds both stand out as being absolutely huge relative to other guys at their position. DT Andrew Billings is also noticably wider than the other defensive lineman. K Cairo Santos, on the other hand, looks tiny even next to the other specialists. I didn’t realize until today that he’s only 5’8″.
Bear Bones podcast
If you’re looking for more thoughts from practice, or would prefer to watch/listen to a podcast instead of reading, I was on the Bear Bones podcast with Windy City Gridiron’s Dr. Mason West shortly after practice today. Special shout out to Dr. West for graciously giving me one of his extra practice tickets so that I could attend.