The long football drought is finally over for the Chicago Bears. Pre-season action is officially underway, and where the scores don’t count, early impressions do. These glorified scrimmages will provide entertainment and brief glimpses of what we should expect come September.
That last statement is magnified by the fact this is our first chance to see what the Matt Eberflus-coached Bears has in store for 2022. It’s even more impactful given the opportunity to go against a well established bunch in the Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid and his star QB Pat Mahomes lead one of the most obvious contenders for the Super Bowl. The Bears... well, aren’t quite there yet. Not by a longshot.
Still, there was plenty of good — if not great — moments and performances on display. All while the turf looked like a sandbox I wouldn’t take my dog to relieve themselves in.
Speaking of which...
I don’t care for any excuse the Chicago Park District may create for the conditions at Soldier Field. Recent concert this. “Eventually planned maintenance” that. It’s a disgrace. And worst of all, a hazard for the players on the turf. Players, including the franchise QB, opposing coaching staff, and NFLPA President had immediate comments on the poor quality of the surface. That’s not something to be proud of. Get this fixed.
Ah, who am I kidding? The move to Arlington Heights — and a modern stadium with turf worthy of playing NFL games on — seems imminent anyway.
Breaking News: NFL Refs Still Can’t Officiate the Game
Justin Fields takes a late hit when he slides, no flag thrown pic.twitter.com/eLrmU1QTBB— Gustavo (@iamvega1982) August 13, 2022
Okay, so perhaps this could be a headline written in the last decade. The point remains standing - the play posted above was the biggest whiff by the officials all afternoon. One of the line judges stared at the play and did nothing to uphold the NFL’s requirement to protect the players. Justin Fields started to slide, and only after he initiated the slide did Juan Thornhill commit to launching themselves into the now-defenseless player.
No, I do not agree with Jim Miller or the crew that Thornhill tried to get out of the way. Or, if he did, he chose the worst path possible. That is a textbook example of when to throw the flag for unnecessary roughness. It’s a losing battle to complain about the refs. This is a play that is worthy of discussion nonetheless.
After the game Justin Fields commented, “maybe after four or five years,” will he start getting those calls. I’ll throw in another caveat - once he wears the number 12 and starts acting like a certain schmuck from up north, the refs will take notice. Just kidding, Justin. Don’t be like that guy.
Back on Topic... QB1 has grown Just(in) Time for 2022
It’s hard to make long-term judgments off eighteen total snaps on offense. It’s also not hard to notice improvements compared to one year ago. Justin Fields was sharp with the undermanned squad on first-team offense.
Where several expected contributors were held out — Riley Reiff, Cole Kmet, David Montgomery, and half the primary unit at receiver — QB1 still did his best to make plays happen. This includes landing two significant strikes downfield and a nice scamper to pick up a first down between three series. His apparent comfort under Luke Getsy as the play-caller stood out the most. A coach catering the calls to fit his QB’s strengths? What a novel thought!
Justin’s processing and decision-making are much quicker than what they looked like in his final game during his shortened 2021 rookie campaign. His ball placement also improved with anticipatory throws to Darnell Mooney and Tajae Sharpe as evidence. His chemistry with Darnell Mooney, in particular, looks superb.
As Jim Miller noted during the live broadcast, the Bears ran a switch concept between Darnell Mooney and Equanimeous St-Brown. Justin saw man coverage before the ball was snapped and went straight to his top receiver for a 27-yard chunk. He placed the back-shoulder throw in a spot where only his guy could make a play—a tough play, at that. A big boy throw for a QB we all want to see succeed in the Windy City.
Luke Getsy kept his hand close to his vest but looks the part as well
Overall I felt the play-calling was a good mix of basic (vanilla at some points) and progressive in key moments. I will say OC Luke Getsy absolutely looked cautious with his calls during the eighteen plays with his first-team offense. And for good reason.
As previously mentioned, the Bears kept a large group of major players on the sidelines for the entire afternoon. Instead, the game was used to practice fundamental concepts against new looks and build familiarity for the players projected at the bottom-half of the depth chart. Considering all these factors, it’s no surprise that Saturday afternoon was a run-heavy day on offense.
It’s a likely reflection of who Luke Getsy is, anyway.
He’s not the extreme opposite of Matt Nagy. After all, his own offense is a branch of the west coast school of concepts, just like Matt Nagy’s... interpretation. However, the mix of run and pass, along with designed roll-outs and bootlegs, and the layered mid-high route concepts themselves stood out as markable differences in preferences. Luke Getsy learned under Matt LaFleur, Joe Moorehead, and Mike McCarthey. The first two coaches love to run the ball. The latter, not so much.
The run game did struggle to get going with the starters. However, I can’t help but notice the same plays designed for Khalil Herbert really took off once Trestan Ebner lined up in the backfield. Yes, Ebner mostly went against a bunch of guys not likely to make the final roster for the Chiefs. He also saw a handful of snaps with the starters. I can’t wait to see what the full scheme looks like when David Montgomery returns as well.
Once the regular season rolls in, and the offensive line is entirely figured out, we’ll start seeing the foundation of Luke Getsy’s offense.
The Competitions on the O-Line are wrapping up... or are they?
It was a mixed bag for the Bears’ entire depth chart at O-line against the Chiefs. On one hand, the first team offense appears to be rather firm in the trenches, at least when figuring out who the best five hogs will be. On the other hand, a combination of performances — both good and bad — have made the picture a bit fuzzy. Let’s get the most obvious performance out of the way.
Braxton Jones did not look like a rookie. At all. He more than held his own against a respectable threat in Frank Clark when setting himself up in pass protection. He also laid a few nice blocks in the run game, including one that sprung Justin Fields for his scamper. Braxton did so well that he was pulled along with most of the starters following their third and final series. That is evidence he’s circled as “the guy” at LT.
There was also one major disappointment in the same unit. Michael Schofield, who I felt was a crucial signing by GM Ryan Poles, got blown up at RG with the ones. To be fair going against All-Pro DT Chris Jones will turn your life into Hell in the trenches. He still had a chance to lock his job up with a solid performance, and he ended his day with more concerns than positives. The job at RG may now be up for grabs, for real. Practice this week will be the best time to see if that turns into reality.
Don’t call it a comeback, but...
Teven Jenkins himself had a mixed bag during his time with the backups. He did get flagged for illegal man downfield. And, he did flop badly during one attempt to bite a defender's ankles. Which, if he made contact, would have netted a flag as well. Even so, I felt more positive than negative about his day as a whole.
This story by Josh Schrock of NBC Chicago is worth the read here. In that same article are some telling quotes by Teven Jenkins on what’s been happening in year two of his career.
“I had to bring myself back down to earth,” Jenkins said after the Bears’ preseason opener. “Like, I’m still here, I’m still doing this, my body is 100 percent, I could do this. I just have to trust myself to be able to perform high.”
He’s had the hardest start to his career out of anyone on Chicago’s current starter. From a touted blue chip draft piece in 2021, to potentially being shipped off in 2022. All the stories around the web must have dealt a heavy burden on Teven’s mind.
A chance arrived on Saturday to put himself back in the conversation for a job on the Bears’ starting O-line. To my eyes, he made good use of his opportunity. Just don’t tell that to Chiefs LB Jack Cochrane.
Recently we have been told Teven Jenkins has worked in with the backups at RG as well as RT. His skill set and nastiness would both work well if he’s kicked inside. Like I said earlier Michael Schofield had a lousy day at RG. Teven Jenkins’ own performance may force an extended look at RG in the coming weeks.
Either way, a welcomed development this is.
Competition at receiver may be warming up
Continuing the trend of “welcomed sights,” I will now look at the M.A.S.H. unit at receiver. We still have no clue what this unheralded group shall look like once camp is over. Key cogs like Byron Pringle and Velus Jones Jr. are out with different injuries at this time. So, who’s going to step up for the time being?
Consider Tajae Sharpe a new contender for some serious playing time on offense.
Sharpe is the most accomplished veteran on the roster for the Bears at receiver, which isn’t saying much at all. His knack for generating big plays downfield did present itself well between his time spent on both first and second-team offenses. He’s done enough to rotate in with the ones on a healthy amount of reps between himself and Equanimous St. Brown.
However, he will need to keep his eyes over his shoulders. Dante Pettis showed out in impressive fashion. The former 2nd-round pick from the San Francisco 49ers is looking for his own Cinderella Story after his outstanding rookie season fizzled out into an early exit from the Bay Area. This explosive play on 4th down will definitely help his cause.
Dime dropped to Dante Pettis pic.twitter.com/0iYxQBR3b7— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) August 13, 2022
That reception may not be Pettis’s best play of the day. The perimeter blocking by the Bears’ receivers looks much better than what we saw in 2021. Dante Pettis had perhaps the best block of the day.
Luke Getsy and receivers coach / passing game coordinator Tyke Tolbert are sticklers for strong efforts when blocking downfield. Something tells me this play will be circled and discussed a ton during meetings between Matt Eberflus and his offensive staff. Make no mistake, I still expect a lot more work to be done in adding real talent at receiver. But I’d love it even more for some of these guys to prove me wrong.
Jaquan Brisker is a damn monster
The first rookie class for GM Ryan Poles looked excellent as a whole. Jaquan Brisker shined at Safety with the first-team defense. A performance that was even more impressive than Braxton Jones’s day at LT.
Just how impressive was Jaquan’s day? Despite missing a tackle early in the first series of the day, he lit up the field on every subsequent drive. There was one series in particular where he forced a 3-and-out by himself. In three consecutive plays he did the following:
- Smacked Sky Moore silly after a quick hitting completion
- Dropped Derrick Gore in the backfield for a TFL
- Nearly picked off Chad Henne while forcing an incompletion
The TFL on Gore was my favorite play from Brisker. It edges his PBU because that PBU could (and should) have been an interception. Plus, the play featured below is rare to see from young safeties in the pros.
Often, young defenders will over-pursue and create an escape path for the back to exploit. Instead, Jaquan Brisker scraped the edge beautifully and blindsided Derrick Gore. I also dug the call by DC Alan Williams to give his young safety a chance to continue his feast.
I would have loved to see a Peanut Punch when he secured the ball carrier. That could be considered a bit too greedy, though. Just a fantastic play that placed an exclamation mark on the first glimpse of a potential stud in the Bears’ secondary.
Have yourself a day, Jack Sanborn!
I can’t wrap this article up without mentioning the insane day we saw from UDFA LB Jack Sanborn. Considering the awkwardness and severity of the Roquan Smith situation right now, it was a great scene to see somebody have a big day at LB. He also contributed on Special Teams frequently, including registering two stops in kick coverage.
There’s no telling when the hold-in by Roquan Smith will end. It’s as nasty of a contract dispute that I can remember in recent memory. Will we see Jack Sanborn early and often in 2022? I doubt that, but there are plenty of people in the know who feel the contract dispute will end with a new deal between Roquan and the Bears.
Now, if Jack could perhaps refer his own agent to Roquan, that would be nice.