Bears News

Bears training camp notebook: Justin Fields ‘right on pace’ with expectations

9 months agoChris Emma

WESTFIELD, Ind. — As second-year wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. reached out to haul in a deep ball down the left sidelines, there was some commotion back at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Justin Fields was knocked to the turf at Grand Park and the Bears were confronting the Colts. 

DJ Moore, the Bears’ new No. 1 wide receiver, had to be held back from Colts defenders. Rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson came off the sidelines to defend his quarterback. It may have turned into a full-blown melee if left guard Teven Jenkins wasn’t covering down. 

“I hear a lot of oohs, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?,’” Jenkins said of that scene from Wednesday night. “I turned around and I saw that, and I just came back to what was going on, the altercation.” 

Fortunately, Fields was fine and it was just a clean football play as a Colts defender was knocked into the Bears’ quarterback. But it was one of the few scenarios that head coaches Matt Eberflus and Shane Steichen couldn’t script from their two nights of joint practices. 

On Tuesday night, Eberflus, Steichen and their respective team staffs sat down to design the plan for their two practices at the Colts’ training camp site north of Indianapolis. They created a script for a fast-paced practice divided on two fields and structured the work with game-like scenarios to test each other. 

These two practices produced perhaps the best challenge that the 24-year-old Fields could face during the course of training camp. It’s why Eberflus and the Bears were comfortable electing to rest Fields and “select starters” for Saturday’s second preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Eberflus says Fields and the Bears’ offense are meeting his expectations for this point of the preseason. 

“He’s an elite competitor,” Eberflus said. “He wants to compete every single down, every single play he can. But again, we’re going to do what’s best for the football team.” 

On Wednesday night during the first practice between the two teams, Fields struggled during drills on Field 2 against the Colts’ starting defense. He threw a pair of interceptions (including one that hit off wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown’s hands) and the offense scuffled. But the Bears moved over to Field 1 and Fields responded, throwing a strike to Moore and then later connecting deep down the sidelines to Jones. 

When the Bears worked 7-on-7 drills in the red zone Thursday night, Eberflus noted that Fields finished 8-of-8 with 4 touchdowns. 

Eberflus saw that work as indicative of how effective Fields can be if the Bears’ offense functions as one. 

“That was excellent,” Eberflus said. “Rhythm, timing, he’s getting better there. Sometimes it’s a protection breakdown. It’s always everybody. It’s the other 10 guys that need to operate. Are we running the routes correctly? Are we protecting him the right way (and) giving him time? And doing those types of things it takes to have an efficient passing game.” 

Because of the volume of work Fields received against the Colts, Eberflus made the decision to hold Fields out of action for Saturday’s second exhibition. Last August, Fields played just nine snaps in Seattle for Chicago’s second of three preseason games. Fields worked two series and seven snaps last Saturday at Soldier Field, finishing 3-of-3 for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. That performance included a 62-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Moore. 

Fields and Moore continued to strengthen their connection against the Colts, including some dazzling receptions along the sidelines. 

“As a quarterback, it’s always good to have playmakers like that,” Fields said of Moore last Saturday. 

Eberflus and the Bears have yet to determine how much – if at all – Fields and select starters will play during the team’s preseason finale against the Bills next Saturday at Soldier Field.  

The Bears will return to Halas Hall on Monday with the training camp torn down and begin simulating game weeks behind closed doors.  

For Fields, every day is an opportunity for growth. The Bears are pleased with what they have seen of their promising young quarterback. 

“I think he’s right on pace,” Eberflus said. 

Roschon ready to run 

The Bears have planned to work with a backfield committee and a shared workload at running back. But if there’s a player who could change those plans and take charge of the leading role, it’s rookie Roschon Johnson. 

A fourth-round pick out of Texas, Johnson made quite an impression on the Bears during the pre-draft process. Ever since Johnson has strapped on the full pads, he has reinforced why the Bears believe he can be their running back for several years to come. 

“It means a lot,” Johnson said on Wednesday night. “But at the end of the day, regardless of what string I’m taking my reps with, I try to take it the same way. It’s a blessing, but also, I got to take care of business. 

“I’m a guy who likes to use his body as a weapon and kind of play off of that. That’s definitely a tool in my toolbox that I try to use every day.” 

Johnson was a unique story at Texas, a gifted player who was forced into a backup role at running back behind dynamic rusher Bijan Robinson. A converted quarterback, Johnson honed his craft as a rusher with the Longhorns and became a reliable, physical ballcarrier. 

Johnson has struggled to assert his physical style of running at times during training camp, this as the Bears have often worked at less than full speed – even during full-team drills. But as the Bears hold joint practices with the Colts in Westfield, Johnson hasn’t shied away from running through defenders. 

The Bears are getting to see the promise of Johnson and what he could bring to their backfield this season. 

“He’s a downhill guy that we’re excited about,” Eberflus said. “He’s got good vision. And since he’s gotten in there, we really love the style. We’re just going to keep letting that thing compete out where it belongs, and we’ll see where it goes.” 

Dexter honing his craft 

Bears rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr., a second-round pick in this year’s draft, is one of the more fascinating players on this roster. 

Dexter was a prized five-star prospect to Florida who never quite developed to his top potential in college. That was in part due to how he was utilized within the Gators’ program. Dexter was primarily used as a two-gap defensive lineman more than a true pass rusher. He had just 4.5 sacks over three years in college. 

The Bears believe Dexter can become a disruptive presence for their defensive line and ultimately man the 3-technique for Eberflus’ defense. As Dexter seeks to improve, he has turned to veteran pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue for guidance on getting after the quarterback. 

“I just see a lot of potential in him,” Ngakoue said. “I see a lot of myself in him as well. His first step is quick, he’s a young guy and I feel like he can be a Day 1 guy that can just affect the quarterback, affect the run game, so I just wanted to share my knowledge with him, and you can always learn stuff from the young guys as well.” 

To Eberflus, Dexter must improve throughout training camp by becoming more consistent with his pre-snap stance. That would allow him to win battles more against veteran offensive linemen who rely on their technique. But Eberflus still sees Dexter blowing up plays from the snap with just his sheer size and talent alone. 

Dexter is committed to improving and becoming a consistent performer at the NFL level. 

“Getting in a stance, getting down and getting off the ball, keying the ball, keying your man and getting out of your stance,” Dexter said. “There’s no tricks. Staying consistent is something that you’ve got to do to play in this league for sure and definitely be dominant in this league. There are good players, and those great players are the ones that do it all the time.” 

Kyler’s comfort 

As a rookie last season, Kyler Gordon wouldn’t admit what he was dealing with. But it was a great challenge he faced. 

Selected in the second round, Gordon was forced into the unfamiliar nickelback position – while also working at the outside cornerback role at times. He was left to juggle and struggle in getting acclimated to the NFL game. 

Gordon is now a second-year player who feels the difference this time around. 

“Way more comfortable,” Gordon said. “Last year was a lot. Nothing I couldn’t handle but coming in and playing two positions, playing a position I’ve never played before, having to constantly learn a lot, it took a lot of time for me to go and focus and hone in on my position, a different position, what the offense is doing, what our defense is doing. This year, especially having an offseason with some time, not having the Combine and all that, I really get to sit there and focus. Being on this field, it just feels great. I’m excited to play this season. I’m ready to go.” 

Gordon felt more comfortable late last season as he started to settle in. He finished with 71 combined tackles, 3 interceptions, 6 pass deflections and a forced fumble over 14 games. 

The Bears have kept Gordon working solely at the nickelback position this offseason. 

Injury report 

The Bears were limited on both sides of the football without some key players in action against the Colts. 

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, wide receiver Chase Claypool, safety Jaquan Brisker and offensive lineman Lucas Patrick each remain sidelined with undisclosed injuries. The Bears then lost safety Eddie Jackson and center Cody Whitehair to apparent injuries in Westfield. 

Eberflus has remained with his policy and declined to reveal specifics on injury statuses. The Bears are not required to release a formal injury report until Week 1 of the regular season. 

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