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5 takeaways from preseason opener: Bears’ new 1-2 punch full of promise

11 months agoChris Emma

CHICAGO — The Bears opened their preseason with a pair of highlights that electrified Soldier Field, then closed out strong to earn a 23-17 win over the Titans. 

Quarterback Justin Fields capped his two series of action with a 62-yard touchdown strike to new No. 1 wide receiver DJ Moore, then hit running back Khalil Herbert for a 56-yard score. The Bears produced two memorable moments that underscored the renewed hope for this season to come. 

Here are five takeaways from the Bears’ exhibition opener. 

1. 1-2 Punch

During those first practices of the offseason program to some summer days down in Florida and most recently on the back fields of Halas Hall, the connection between Fields and Moore has been evident. It is strengthened with each passing throw and catch. 

But when Fields found Moore on a quick screen pass on the third play from scrimmage, it finally felt different. This one seemed real. Fields hit the quick strike and Moore outraced the Titans’ starting defense down the sidelines.  

Soldier Field erupted as Moore sprinted to the north end zone. 

“As a receiver, first catch going (62) yards, can’t draw it up any better,” Fields said. “I told him that might be legendary right there. I know he was excited.” 

Said Moore: “I was a little bit nervous at first in a new environment, but I settled in pretty quick.” 

Indeed, it didn’t take long. Fields and Moore had been waiting for their moment to shine together.  

Moore, 26, was acquired by the Bears in their March trade that sent the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Panthers. He was the prize that general manager Ryan Poles had to have as part of the haul. Poles turned down a third first-round pick in 2025 from Carolina because he wouldn’t settle for anything less than Moore. 

Moore hauled in 364 receptions for 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns over five seasons in the Panthers but never quite received the attention and admiration of a true No. 1 wide receiver. He produced in Carolina despite a revolving door at quarterback. In Chicago, Fields showcased his own potential but was lacking a premier talent at wide receiver. 

“When you have guys that can take a three-yard pass 50 yards, that just makes my job easier,” Fields said. “It’s always good to have playmakers like that on the team.” 

When Moore landed in Chicago following the completion of the trade in March, he and Fields seemed to understand what they could do for each other and immediately began building that chemistry. It started by attending a Bulls game in a suite at the United Center with the Bears’ wide receivers on hand. They found their personalities were very similar and they shared such lofty aspirations. 

Fields and Moore have clicked since the start. Now, they’re taking that to the field. 

“You love to see the trust between the quarterback and receiver,” Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said of Moore’s development. “They’ve done a really nice job developing that pretty quickly. That’s not an easy thing to do.  

“Hopefully as the season goes along, he’ll find that nice groove and we’ll even see a better version than we see already.” 

Fields played just seven snaps on offense during Saturday’s preseason debut. He finished the afternoon 3-of-3 for 129 yards, 2 touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 rating. The Bears had planned for Fields and the starting offense to work just two series of action against the Titans. 

It doesn’t get much better than what Fields put on display with his vastly improved supporting cast. 

“I’m definitely excited for the weeks to come,” Fields said.

2. Starting job cornered?

During one-on-one drills between wide receivers and cornerbacks Wednesday morning at Halas Hall, Chase Claypool was letting rookie Tyrique Stevenson hear plenty of talk. 

Stevenson was ready to talk back, perhaps something Claypool wasn’t expecting from the first-year player. It created an especially contentious drill between Claypool and Stevenson, but it also proved to the Bears what they have in their second-round pick. 

The 23-year-old Stevenson isn’t some soft-spoken rookie. He’s a confident player vying for his play on the Bears’ starting defense. Stevenson played with that same tenacity on Saturday in his first preseason game. 

“Yeah, I knew that was coming,” Eberflus said. “The reason he’s here is because of that – because of his length and because he’s physical.” 

The Bears selected Stevenson with their second of two picks in the second round of this draft, one that was acquired from the Panthers as part of their deal for the No. 1 overall pick. 

Stevenson was drafted by the Bears with hopes that he would step in as a Week 1 starter at cornerback opposite Jaylon Johnson. Fellow rookie Terell Smith, a fifth-round pick, has challenged Stevenson for that spot. 

It seems that Stevenson has elevated his game in recognizing that he’s facing a position battle.  

“It’s a competition until the end,” Stevenson said. “We both got drafted. For opportunities, it really doesn’t matter where you got drafted at. At the end of the day, he comes in every day with his head down, willing to work just as I am.  

“They didn’t tell me anything, but they made it real clear that it’s going to be a competition. I didn’t earn anything. I have no straps in the league.” 

Smith did not play on Saturday as he continues to manage an undisclosed injury.  

With less than a month to go before kickoff on the regular season, Stevenson has the opportunity to secure his place as the Bears’ starting cornerback. 

“He’s been wired in the whole time,” Eberflus said. “It’s been good to see him.” 

3. Take note of Terrell

It’s a familiar sight to see No. 52 rushing off the edge, working through a tackle and getting home to the quarterback for a sack. But no longer is that player Khalil Mack. 

Terrell Lewis forced a strip-sack of Titans quarterback Malik Willis late in the second quarter, using his speed to get home and bat the football loose. Late in the third quarter, he decked quarterback Will Levis for a second sack. Lewis has made a strong impression on the Bears since he was signed to the practice squad last December. 

Lewis, a fourth-year pass rusher out of Alabama, has consistently created pressure off the edge – and positioned himself to play a role for the Bears this season. Lewis, 24, was a third-round pick to the Rams in 2020. He played in 30 games for Los Angeles and recorded 6 sacks. 

“A lot of good players by him today,” Eberflus said. “Of course, he can rush the passer. We know that for sure. 

“He’s done a really nice job of rushing the passer.” 

The Bears are still working to solidify their pass rush, even after signing veteran Yannick Ngakoue this month. DeMarcus Walker has missed most of training camp with an undisclosed injury. Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson are coming off disappointing 2022 seasons in which they each struggled to produce. Chicago’s defense finished with only 20 sacks over 17 games – with safety Jaquan Brisker (4) leading the way. 

Lewis has put himself in line to not only make the Bears’ roster but step in for a key role. 

4. Velus’ miscue

The reality for Bears second-year wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. is that he likely needs to become a key special-teams contributor to land a place on the roster. 

Jones made a costly mistake on the first play of the second quarter as he approached a bouncing punt. He muffed the return, and the Titans recovered the loose football. Jones had a pair of costly muffs as a rookie last season before the Bears removed him from that role. 

“It comes down to fundamentals,” Eberflus said. “It comes down to technique. We’re going to work on that.” 

A third-round pick to the Bears last year, Jones played in a dozen games but struggled to emerge into a role. He had just 9 receptions and a touchdown as part of the offense – failing to stand out amid a revolving door at wide receiver. 

The Bears selected wide receiver Tyler Scott in the fourth round of the draft this year as the player who could make Jones expendable. Scott lined up as the team’s first kickoff returner and later stepped in for a punt return. 

Jones has an uphill battle to secure a place with the Bears this season. This latest misstep was a reminder of the mistakes he must first overcome. 

5. Hoosier hospitality?

The Bears will embark this week for perhaps their most important work of this preseason as they conduct two nights of joint practices with the Colts at their facility north of Indianapolis. 

The Bears will get the opportunity to line up against a true opponent. Fields and the offense will be tested by an unfamiliar defense running unique fronts and coverages. Players will be able to play beyond the whistle and truly work with physicality. 

Joint practices break up the monotony of training camp and truly test where a team stands. 

“I think it’s really cool because you get to cover (and) go against different skill sets,” Eberflus said. “We’ve been going against the same guy. DJ has been going up against Jaylon (Johnson) and he’s been going up against Stevenson. Now we get to line up against (Michael) Pittman and different guys. Those are some good players. Same thing with our offense going against their defense. There are some good players over there. So, I think it’s going to be an exciting week.” 

The Bears held out key injured players like Walker, Claypool, Tremaine Edmunds, Nate Davis and Lucas Patrick during Saturday’s exhibition opener. Eberflus said each of those injuries are “day-by-day” and indicated none are considered long-term matters. 

Given the physicality of joint practices, the Bears could err on the side of caution and hold out their injured starters for a later period of the preseason. 

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