Thoughts on Thursday’s Practice (Closed to Public)
Jason Peters practiced for the first time and Larry Borom returned to practice. Strong chance these are the starting tackles Week One, if Ifedi is unable to return on time.
Andy Dalton is slated to play a quarter and a half Saturday, per Nagy. That means Justin Fields will see a ton of useless action. Having Fields play with backups, against third stringers, achieves nothing. (I hope my disappointment is resonating in those sentences.)
Looking Ahead to Saturday’s Practice Game
Dalton is the story. The Bears could name Justin Fields the starter right now and that decision would be entirely warranted. Fields has done everything a rookie quarterback needs to do in the off-season to start on day one. The reason he’s not the starter is the presence of Dalton but that presence has to come with production. If Dalton plays poorly Saturday, the volume of the Play the Kid Chorus will grow louder, and louder, and louder.
There really aren’t that many positional battles to watch on this roster, but there are a few areas possibly worth looking at:
With Khalil Herbert receiving Matt Nagy’s praise this week and having a strong camp, his roster spot is safe. Will they end their open call for kick returners and let Herbert settle into the gig this week? Does Artavis Pierce have any path to this roster?
Is Dazz Newsome ready to start returning punts? If not, this is a battle worth watching.
Robinson, Mooney, Goodwin, Byrd and Dazz are locks for this roster. Is there space for another wide receiver? Are these the final days in a Bears uniform for Wims and Ridley? Can Adams or Johnson make their way onto the practice squad? (You would think an endorsement from Fields would almost guarantee it.)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE FIRST LADY OF DBB, SARAH K. SCULLY.
I have never approached any preseason game with anticipation. That changed Saturday. Here are notes on what could prove to be an important weekend in Chicago Bears history. (Side note: They should knock off one more of these preseason games. Get that schedule to two games, one home and one away.)
The Story is Fields
Penalties and drops around him. Losing track of the play clock. Spin move in the open field, taking unnecessary contact, fumbling the football. It was the definition of a slow start.
But what did Fields say in his post-game presser? “So after that, I think I’m going to officially retire the spin move.”
None of the struggles bothered him. Fields maintained his composure, displayed his command of the offense and let his athleticism take over the football game. Yes, he was playing with backups. Yes, he was playing against backups. But Fields did what he is supposed to do in that scenario: he was clearly the best player on the field.
From a Brad Biggs tweet: “Justin Fields on adjusting to speed of the NFL in preseason debut today: “It was actually kind of slow to me.”
This was my favorite play from Fields on the day. (The 3rd and 9 roll-out. I don’t know why I can’t embed just that play.)
On 3rd-and-9, Justin Fields showed how his game can be such a headache for defenses. Rolled out and his running ability baited a defender, which opened up the passing opportunity to Rodney Adams for a 13-yard gain. This is really a great play. pic.twitter.com/Z65ah8WBIG
On the 8-yard touchdown run: “They were playing man coverage. My man Jesse got tripped up. I was looking to go to him,” Fields said. “Of course, I knew my routes were coming my way backside, but I knew they were in man coverage so I knew nobody really had me so I just went to the left.” Does anyone think this kid isn’t ready for regular season action?
“Keep stacking days like he had today and understanding that in this whole process and this plan, as we go, what’s the ultimate goal for us as an offense? Scoring touchdowns, right? So keep leading the team down, keep getting first downs, keep getting touchdowns,” Nagy said when asked what Fields needs to do to be named the starter.” This is Nagy leaving the door open for Fields to be the Week One starter. This is the first time he’s done that, to my recollection.
Bears have no choice. Fields should be throwing to Robinson and Mooney today. He’s got to be given a chance to win this job with the folks who will actually be on the roster.
Too often building around a quarterback and building around a quarterback’s strengths are confused. When the Bears first acquired Jay Cutler, they thought deep threats were the best way to build around the strong-armed passer, without realizing throwing deep passes wasn’t necessarily his strength. The same is true for Mitch Trubisky who was one of the worst deep passers in the league last year, but one of the best on shorter completions.
The drafting of Riley Ridley was an example of the Bears trying to play to the strengths of their quarterback.
Ridley doesn’t have the speed to consistently blow by defenders, but he is considered an excellent route runner, which should help him get open on underneath passes. He also has a big frame to win the so-called 50/50 balls. Ridley adds to bigger targets that include Allen Robinson and Javon Wims as the Bears look to eat up the middle of the field while still being able to beat defenses over the top, on occasion.
Of quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts, Trubisky is ranked 27th with a passer rating of 61.9 on passes traveling 15 or more yards down the field, according to Pro-Football-Reference. He ranked slightly better than Blake Bortles and worse than quarterbacks like Josh Rosen, Case Keenum, Sam Darnold and Alex Smith.
But Trubisky was elite on short passes.
He had a passer rating of 107 on passes that traveled less than 15 yards in the air – fifth among quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts, behind only Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes.
Despite clearly being better on short passes, 22 percent of Trubisky’s attempts were 15 or more yards down the field. For comparison sake, the very best quarterback at throwing deep — Russell Wilson (131.8 rating) — had just about 21.5 percent of his passes travel that far. The second best — Drew Brees (125.5) — had just 17 percent of his passes go that far down the field. Heck, even the cannon-armed Patrick Mahomes came in with just 21.4 percent of his passes going 15 or more yards down the field.
In years past, Ryan Pace drafted relatively raw players like Jonathan Bullard, Adam Shaheen, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, James Daniels and, of course, Mitch Trubisky early. He seemed to prefer potential over immediate production. The 2019 Draft was a stark contrast. With their first two picks — and only two in the first five rounds — the Bears drafted RB David Montgomery and WR Riley Ridley, players who should be ready to make an impact right away. This is a team ready to compete for a Super Bowl and in order to achieve that goal they’ll need everybody on the roster ready to play.
Neither Montgomery nor Ridley were necessarily explosive game breakers in college and surely won’t be in the NFL — both struggled to break 4.6 in the 40-yard dash — but they’re polished players. They both seem to have a natural feel for the game that should help them make an impact right away.
There is no question that third-round pick Montgomery has the body and all-around skill set to play in the NFL. While he may lack the explosiveness of the league’s elite backs, at 5’10”, 220 pounds, the Iowa State product is built for the NFL punishment. And he showed polish as a receiver in college, with solid route-running and soft hands.
A year ago the Atlanta Falcons draft Calvin Ridley to replace Taylor Gabriel, a free agent signing with your Chicago Bears. Now, somewhat ironically, the Bears may have drafted Calvin’s brother to do the same. Ridley likely won’t replace Gabriel as a rookie, but he shouldn’t have a problem winning the fourth receiver job and could move into a starting role sooner than later. (Anthony Miller should replace Gabriel in the Zebra role by 2020.)
The draft is over, and a lot happened that could impact this roster both in 2019 and beyond. Let’s take a look at the major moves made and put them into perspective.
David Montgomery & the Running Back Position
Easily the biggest Bears move of the weekend. Not only was he the team’s first pick, but Ryan Pace showed just how much he valued Montgomery by trading up to get him.
As I mentioned last week, RB was clearly the biggest need on the roster going into the draft, and it was one of the few spots where a rookie could make an immediate impact. Accordingly, we should expect to see a lot of Montgomery on the field from pretty much day one.