It’s coming people. Real actual football is coming. The official start of actual NFL games began with always hyped, always terrible Hall of Fame Game. All of preseason football is terrible. It’s meaningless, it’s vanilla, watered-down football made to actually look like football but we all love it so much. Preseason football represents the hope of things to come. This week the Chicago Bears will play the Miami Dolphins at 1 PM EST at Soldier Field. Here are three things to watch for in the Chicago Bears preseason opener:
The Offensive Line
What I’ll be watching is how does our ragtag offensive line prepares for Saturday’s contest. The talk of training camp (other than Justin Fields, I’ll get to him) has been the offensive line. Or rather, the injuries to the offensive line. As much as the Bears have been properly maligned for their quarterback disarray, the Bears have also fielded some awful offensive lines throughout the years.
The Bear’s offensive line has been shaky since 2018 really. Now add in the loss of Bobbie Massive and Charles Leno the Bear’s offensive line has some major question marks. With Tevin Jenkins, the Bears 2nd round pick who Ryan Pace traded up to land sidelined the entire training camp to date, Bears fans have once again begun to panic. This is reminding folks a little too much of the Chris Williams situation back in 2008.
Similar to the Tevin Jenkins saga, Chris Williams went through the same drill. He was a first-round pick of an offensive tackle-loaded draft. Williams battled a tight back that raised questions going back to his Vanderbilt days and he never recovered, eventually having back surgery. He made his debut in late 2008 was all but a journeyman for the Bears over the next 3 seasons. He was released in 2012.
Will Have to Wait
Tevin Jenkins will not be suiting up for the first preseason game and at this point, he may not be seen at all in the preseason. No one knows what is happening with injuries. Are teams overcautious? Is it more serious than they are letting on? Who knows. But for a player that needs reps, he is missing out. The Bears need his talent. Tevin Jenkins looks like a great player on film from his Okie State days. The Bears are hurting at the left tackle position and getting Jenkins back sooner rather than later will be a boon for the starting offensive unit.
The player I’m most looking forward to seeing is Larry Borom. The word out of camp is that he has been great. He has been versatile and lighter on his feet than his massive frame would suggest. Nagy talked about Borom having a 2nd or 3rd round grade, so the Bears landing him in the 5th round could be another Ryan Pace steal.
Alex Bars have been another versatile lineman. He is getting looks at right tackle and as of right now the offensive starting group looks to be Elijah Wilkerson, Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher, James Daniels, and Alex Bars at right tackle. I’m very interested to see how the two former Golden Domers in Mustipher and Bars play in 2021. Mustipher is the starting center and when he and Bars took over late in the 2020 campaign, the offensive line gelled. They had an indented and they helped David Montgomery become the best back in football over the final 6 weeks. I will be looking for more out of those players and praying this is a unit that can handle a nasty Dolphins defense.
Backup Wide Receivers/Running Backs
I doubt we will see much of Allen Robinson or Darnell Mooney in the first preseason game. Preseason is about staying healthy as much as it is about playing against the competition. The Bears know what they have in Allen Robinson and Mooney. They may get a series or two with Andy Dalton to improve chemistry and get the rust off but that’s about it.
What I’m interested in is seeing the newfound speed on the Bears for their backup wide receivers and running backs. For running backs, I’m very interested in seeing Khalil Herbert. Herbert can fly. He ran a 4.4 forty and he was extremely productive for Virginia Tech in 2020. He could be an excellent backup piece for the Bears in 2021 and beyond.
All reports say that Damien Williams is exactly as advertised. He is a professional that will help the Bears spell David Montgomery and will be worked into a few packages as the Bears wait for Tarik Cohen to recover from an ACL tear in week 3 of the 2020 season. Cohen may start the season on the PUP list, which would mean he couldn’t play until week 7.
If Cohen were to miss time the Bears now have options with Williams and Herbert. I’m looking for Herbert to have extensive time playing much of the 2nd and 3rd quarters before a few camp bodies take over. Herbert has excellent burst,
Need for Speed
Once an overlooked area of the Bears offseason is all the speed they brought into camp. Looking at the starting day-wide receives in 2020, the Bears had Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Javon Wims, Ted Ginn, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Riley Ridley.
The Bears were hoping to unlock some of Ginn’s patented speed but his 2020 season was derailed and he ended up retiring this offseason. Ryan Pace understood that in order to unlock Robinson underneath, along with his tight ends and running backs, the Bears needed to upgrade their speed at wide receiver. Darnell Mooney can fly but he is slowly becoming an all-around wide receiver with star potential. The Bears are looking for a zebra wide receiver that can fill the void left by Taylor Gabriel’s success in 2018 and 2019. Ryan Pace quickly pounced on a few players with legit track star speed.
There have been reports that Damiere Byrd has looked great in camp and I can’t wait to see him put together with tape with Justin Fields and the 2nd unit. He may even get looks with the first unit. Marquis Goodwin is another flyer, bringing legit track star speed to the outside. With Anthony Miller’s trade to the Texans the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth wide receiver positions are wide open. I want to see how these players fit into the offense and if they can make some noise this year.
The Chicago Bears have lacked explosive plays the last few seasons. The Bears were dead last in explosive plays, plays defined as pass plays going 20+ yards and run plays going 15+ yards. Following 2019’s dreadful performance, the Bears were 25th in total explosive plays in the NFL last season. Only having 42 explosive plays is a direct correlation to the Bears finishing 23rd in scoring offense in 2020.
The Bears only put up 22.4 points per game and this lead to an abysmal showing in their playoff game against the Saints. Put simply, the quarterback could not hit the deep ball. The deep ball inaccuracy displayed by Mitch Trubisky in the last three seasons has derailed the Bear’s offense. That should change with Justin Fields and the new speedy wide receivers. I am l looking forward to some deep ball action in the preseason. Speaking of Justin Fields…
You Know – Justin Fields
Come on now. The entire offseason has been about one thing. Justin Fields. We can comment on the offensive line and their injuries, the question marks in the secondary. Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy possibly being on the hot seat, Robert Quinn’s terrible contract, or really anything else, but when it is all said and done, Bears fans want to see their shiny new toy in the preseason.
Reports are that Bears fans will get their wish. Nagy has stated that Fields will get a lot of work in the preseason. I understand this from a development perspective but I’m not a fan from a health perspective. Fields can do things Andy Dalton can not. He is the future and risking his health in practice games does not seem like a winning strategy. However, this may be the last preseason action Fields ever sees.
In a way, I feel bad for Andy Dalton. If Bears fans only realized he may the best QB the Bears have had since Sid Luckman. I said what I said. Dalton is definitely the most accomplished. Nick Foles Super Bowl MVP aside, Dalton is a four-time pro-bowler that went to the playoffs four years in a row. His playoff numbers are atrocious so he gets torched. But Dalton from every metric was a franchise QB. He’s had a more productive career than Jay Cutler, he’s certainly better than Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, or Mitch Trubisky ever were. Dalton in his prime was a top 12QB. He is a solid option that in this writer’s opinion should have been signed last year instead of trading for Foles.
The Red Rifle
Now, Andy Dalton is a placeholder. His time will be short. He was insurance against the Bear’s nightmare scenario of not landing one of the top 5 QB’s in the 2021 draft. He would have been solid in that capacity. That equation has changed. Dalton has had a solid camp. He is a consummate pro that has jived well with Allen Robinson. It is a strange dynamic, he isn’t bad enough (yet) to be replaced by the electric Fields but everyone knows he is not Justin Fields. Not on his best day did he have the god-given talent of Justin Fields. It is only a matter of time until the Justin Fields experiment begins and people can’t wait for Dalton to get out of the way.
I am torn at this point. I have seen greatness come from rookie QB’s learning right away and adjusting to their mistakes and I have seen great QB’s sit and wait their turn at greatness. Aaron Rodgers comes to mind. Dalton is better than people give him credit, knowing he isn’t the long-term answer. The Coaching staff will have to make a determination if Justin Fields is ready. That starts with the first preseason game. Fields will show flashes and he will struggle. This is a marathon. I am not concerned with Field’s confidence, unlike Mitch Trubisky. If Fields struggles, I believe he has the mental makeup to bounce back. Time will tell and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for Bears fans.
Beware the Preseason Hero
I will caution and Bears fan or NFL fan. Beware of the preseason hero. The preseason is a mirage. It looks like a real NFL game but it is far from it. There is no game plan, starters are shuffled in and out at will. Guys who look great are not going up against the competition they will face on Sundays in September. As fans, we love to see guys be great on game day. But far too many preseason heroes’s have been anointed only to get cut three weeks later.
Talent, draft capital investments and coaches subjectivity rule the day. In the end, the coaches will determine the best 53 man squad. The three things I will watch for are the inexperienced offensive line, the speedy playmakers at WR and RB, and the man the City of Chicago is ready to crown; Justin Fields. There will be plenty of entertainment so get your popcorn ready. Preseason is one more step to the glory we know as the NFL regular season. It’s here, come enjoy the show.