The long-awaited preseason debut for many new faces and plenty of familiar names has come and gone for the 2023 Chicago Bears. With every preseason game, the final score is never the most important aspect. Rather, that aspect is grading the actual performance of the individuals battling in various competitions throughout training camp.
There were several standouts for me when being able to view the game from a distance. Good highlights were balanced by poor lowlights, which are the mark to any preseason game in the NFL. Here are my biggest performances to note from week one of preseason action.
The entire O-line surrendered just three pressures against the Titans throughout the game. Darnell Wright held his own on the right side and looked impressive as a whole. Teven Jenkins, on the other hand, simply dominated while settling in at his new spot as a left guard. I really don’t think it’s even close.
Snap after snap, we witnessed Jenkins reach his landmarks with ease and punished defenders whenever he arrived. His transition from tackle to guard is not simply saving his career. It’s allowing him to thrive, and it shows on the field. Whenever Nate Davis is finally cleared to practice and play, this could be an incredibly solid unit. Teven Jenkins might very well be their best and meanest hog.
Bears GM Ryan Poles pulled out all the stops during the 2023 NFL Draft to add new talent into the rotation at DT. In all, three different players were selected at this very position, including Gervon Dexter Sr.; Zacch Pickens; and Travis Bell. I felt all three did well in their first taste of live action in Chicago. Yet the former South Carolina Gamecocks standout Zacch Pickens stood above the rest.
Immediately upon insertion into the lineup, Zacch made his presence known. He looked natural while demonstrating his quickness being converted into power and winning his matchups frequently. His sack on Will Levis featured a Texas stunt where he successfully defeated a double team by getting skinny and powering through two blockers to land a massive hit. His day ended after recording a sack, a fumble recovery, and several QB pressures. Zacch’s fits against the run were solid, too.
Overall, if he can continue to consistently create pressure from the interior, he may play a much larger role than anticipated during his rookie season.
That loud “WHACK” you just heard was another hard hit delivered by the 2nd year corner who’s settling into their role as a full-time nickel very nicely. Physicality was never missing from Kyler Gordon’s game dating back to his time at Washington. Instead, that physicality has evolved into violence. Kyler chose violence the moment he donned the pads for Saturday’s preseason matchup.
Two gigantic hits, which were both fumbles in my book, woke everyone up at Soldier Field. Kyler also looked excellent in coverage when guarding his individual assignments. As a nickel, one of his biggest jobs is to clean up the mess if one happens within the secondary. I feel he did just that when called upon.
It just wasn’t a good day to be anyone named “Jones” in Chicago, with the exception of teammate Braxton Jones. The amount of reps Justin Jones played was understandably small when considering the tactic of preserving your primary starters during the preseason. Still, out of all the DTs to play on Saturday, Justin was the least impressive. The starting defense simply got run over during the first series of the game, especially the D-line. Pressures were few and far between until the 2’s settled in and wreaked havoc the rest of the way.
Last season, Justin did okay as the primary player at 3-tech DT. Once the rookies between Gervon Dexter Jr. and Zacch Pickens rotated in, Justin Jones was immediately forgotten. It’s not a good look to be viewed as the veteran starter only to be outclassed by the youngsters. If he’s not careful, he could lose his starting job sooner than planned. His production has to improve substantially this coming season.
I will give him props for his assessment of Packers fans and qualify that as a redeeming factor here. I will expand on this at the end.
I’m not overly concerned with PJ having a bad game when considering Justin Fields knocked his own (brief) performance out of the park - more on that later. But... sheesh, it wasn’t pretty. Ending with a paltry stat line of 4-for-8 for minimal yardage and an ugly interception did not leave me with any confidence as a backup QB if we’re basing this off first impressions.
It’s not just Saturday’s live performance that has me concerned. All throughout camp, PJ has struggled to break even with his decision-making and accuracy. It’s only fair to credit the defense with stepping up their play during the dog days of summer. That credit line has a limit, and PJ has to own his mistakes. We can ill-afford to lose Justin Fields for any period of time, especially if we don’t see improvement from PJ Walker. The backup job is PJ’s to lose... and he could wind up losing it.
Velus Jones Jr.
It’s time to get the most obvious grade out of the way. I can’t think of a worse start for any recent mid-round pick entering this season when considering projected roles vs. actual performance. He’s already been passed on the depth charts several times at receiver and kick returner. Velus was even benched last season and had to learn from his mistakes. This preseason and training camp has to be his turning point.
Saturday’s performance was not it.
Right away, he continued to show poor judgment when first allowing the ball to drop in front of him instead of just calling “PETER” and fielding the punt. Then, inexplicably, he decides to attempt fielding the punt after watching the ball hit the turf in the middle of traffic. As predicted, his bad decision becomes worse when he muffed the recovery, turning a dead ball into a live one. Everyone makes mistakes, and that’s okay. When you make the same mistake over and over again, it’s unacceptable.
Is his speed special? Absolutely. Is he “Devin Hester” special? Absolutely not. Either he learns and shows out in a big way the rest of camp. Or, he’s off the roster. The doomsday clock is at 11:59 p.m. for him.
(Good) Honorable Mentions
Frankly, it would be unfair to place QB1 atop the list for performances on Saturday, as he wasn’t asked to do much at all. The staff (wisely) kept him on a very small pitch count, throwing for a total of 3 passes, with none of those concepts designed to be deep balls. There wasn’t any scheming or game planning involved whatsoever. Just get a couple series to get in and knock off a little rust.
Still, he did exactly what he needed to do, and flashed a potential preview of the offense when he escaped pressure to dump the ball off to Khalil Herbert for a 59-yard touchdown. Justin didn’t look to run, instead he kept the play alive and made smart decisions. His two touchdowns might have been a small hair off in terms of ball placement if we’re being overly analytical, but ultimately it didn’t matter. He was literally perfect from a statistical consideration with his 158.3 passer rating. I’m just ready for a much more expansive passing game come game time this season.
For the same reasons as above with Justin Fields, I cannot place DJ Moore’s performance atop the list. On the other hand, I can’t think of a better debut for any Bears receiver in recent years than what we saw in one play involving the 1+2 connection. I mean... this was glorious.
The DJ Moore touchdown was insane, but kudos to the #Bears offensive linemen for blocking here.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) August 12, 2023
Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins and Ja’Tyre Carter all did a great job of getting to the second level and clearing lanes for Moore. Fantastic blocking. pic.twitter.com/O7ocuHda5N
Trevis has seen his career go from one which seemed to be ascending, to a sharp decline, in just his last two seasons. So much so that now he’s listed at the bottom of the depth chart after several additions, namely Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker, were made at DE. As a result, he’s firmly on the roster bubble.
Saturday’s performance will give the Bears’ coaching staff something great to think about. He absolutely crushed it when he was challenged to perform better in year two within the HITS principles. My one major knock on him is he earned his high marks against players not expected to see much playing time in Tennessee. Let’s see if he can continue his redemption story against starting caliber players like he showed in 2021. And not like what we saw in 2022.
(Bad) Honorable Mentions
Various Meatball and Packers fans
(I’m not about to promote a Tweet from a dimwit confusing Justin Fields with PJ Walker)
I do appreciate clowns and their profession. I really do. The circus on social media involving several prominent stooges confusing Justin Fields with PJ Walker, then claiming to “not be serious,” was a real knee-slapper. Justin Jones remains correct with his assessment on Packers fans.
That’ll be all, folks.