Questions the Bears need answered in their preseason opener
While we wonder whether the Chiefs’ new quarterbacks coach will ask mentor Andy Reid to dial up something special against his former team Saturday, we present questions the Bears must answer in their preseason opener.
Roquan Smith’s presence on the Soldier Field sideline in Saturday’s exhibition opener will be more compelling that almost anything that could happen on the field against the Chiefs.
Earlier this week, the Bears linebacker issued a trade demand accusing his bosses of negotiating in bad faith. He was upset about the lack of progress on a contract extension, though one team source said a report of proposed salary de-escalators salary was overstated. Smith wants a deal worth around five years, $100 million, roughly what linebackers Shaquille Leonard and Fred Warner got last year.
Complicated matters: Smith is not represented by an NFLPA-certified agent, leaving him to negotiate by himself. Smith’s trade demand Tuesday escalated the standoff. He was taken off the physically unable to perform list a day later but refused to practice Thursday.
While the Smith issue hangs over the Bears, here are four questions they can actually answer Saturday:
Can they protect Justin Fields?
Justin Field should play 15-20 snaps. The Bears need to protect Fields on every single one of them.
They’ve already had a downer of a training camp, between Smith’s “hold-in” and Teven Jenkins missing more than a week of practices. Nothing, though, could be worse than Fields getting hurt in a preseason game.
Fields’ starting offensive line is more settled than it’s been at any point in camp. Rookie Braxton Jones has been playing left tackle, with Cody Whitehair at left guard and fellow returning starter Sam Mustipher at center. Michael Schofield and Riley Reiff, veterans the Bears signed on the eve of training camp, are slated for right guard and right tackle.
Eberflus, though, was pleased with how he connected with backup receivers in Thursday’s practice — and, even more critical, how quick he got rid of the ball.
“His timing is getting better,” he said. “And it’s really, for him, that’s really good, because, how do you get the timing down with different receivers? For him to be able to do that, that shows a lot, to me. We’re excited where he is on that front.”
Can Getsy show off the run game?
There might be no more important coach inside Halas Hall than Luke Getsy, who will call his first-ever game as an NFL offensive coordinator Saturday.
Even with starter David Montgomery expected to sit, Getsy will lean heavily on his outside zone run scheme Saturday. For one, it’s impossible to properly practice the run game in a practice setting. They need games.
Getsy’s rushing offense requires offensive linemen to use their athleticism to attack defenders when the running back gets to the edge.
“Seeing people get off the ball and playing a lot faster than we have in the past,” backup tackle Larry Borom said. “And just run through people.”
Can they survive despite depleted depth?
Five projected starters are likely to sit: Montgomery, tight end Cole Kmet, cornerback Kyler Gordon and defensive tackle Angelo Blackson have all been held out of practices because of injuries. And, of course, Smith.
Other regulars unlikely to play because of injuries are receivers Byron Pringle, Velus Jones, N’Keal Harry and David Moore; cornerbacks Kindle Vildor, Tavon Young, Thomas Graham Jr. and Greg Stroman; tight ends Ryan Griffin and James O’Shaughnessy; and defensive linemen Angelo Blackson and Mario Edwards Jr.
With the Bears down so many players, keep an eye on rookie running back Trestan Ebner, cornerback Lamar Jackson, tight end Rysen John and veteran receivers Dante Pettis and Tajae Sharpe.
What will Nagy do?
Matt Nagy is big on symbolism. The first play he ever ran as the Bears’ head coach was from the franchise’s famed T-formation. For the season opener the next year, Nagy walked into Soldier Field wearing a fedora that belonged to George Halas.
Perhaps the Chiefs’ new quarterbacks coach will ask mentor Andy Reid to dial up something special against his former team Saturday.