With top players’ availability uncertain, Bears not making most of preseason

Roquan Smith will be in Seattle with the team but won’t play. Tight end Cole Kmet and running back David Montgomery likely will return, but it’s unclear how long quarterback Justin Fields will play. And the full offensive line still hasn’t arrived.

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A photo of Bears linebacker Roquan Smith at a recent preseason game.

The Bears would get better preparation for the upcoming season if they had star linebacker Roquan Smith on the field.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

SEATTLE — If the Bears are truly trying to use their preseason games to get rolling with an all-new offense and defense, it’d sure be helpful to have their best players.

Instead, for a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen last week and still won’t happen Thursday against the Seahawks.

Most notably absent is linebacker Roquan Smith. Actually, he won’t really be absent, but he might as well be. Bears coach Matt Eberflus said Smith would make the trip as a spectator on the sideline, like he was for the Chiefs game Saturday.

Smith isn’t doing anything of note until he gets a new contract or gets traded, of course. Yet, in the meantime, this continues to be a bizarre standoff in which Smith is with the team every day, legitimately participating in meetings, chatting up teammates off to the side and talking with Eberflus on a near-daily basis.

All of that continues despite Smith blasting general manager Ryan Poles in the message explaining his trade request and the Bears playing hardball by taking him off the physically unable to perform list.

Smith should be at the forefront, a bright light shining toward a hopeful future during what could be a dreary season for the Bears, but instead the impasse between him and Poles is casting a long shadow.

Three weeks into this, there’s no doubt it has become a burgeoning distraction.

“I see the guys are focused,” Eberflus said as a rebuttal to that assertion. “I see that they’re ready, focused on Seattle. Focused on our first road trip together. And wired in.”

That’s Eberflus maintaining his public stance that the Bears are carrying along with business usual despite this situation being wildly unusual.

He defaults to “next man up,” but the next man up is Matt Adams. He spent most of the last two seasons playing special teams for the Colts, where Eberflus was defensive coordinator and didn’t see a role for him. Smith spent the last two seasons making his case for a nine-figure contract.

Offensively, it’d be ideal to get quarterback Justin Fields a better and longer run as he adjusts to the new scheme and tries to build chemistry. He played 18 snaps last week, and none of them were with the actual starting offensive line, tight end Cole Kmet or running back David Montgomery.

Of the 10 players who started with Fields against the Chiefs, just three were virtual certainties to be opening-day starters.

There was optimism that Montgomery and Kmet would be good to go Thursday, but pessimism about how much work Fields would get. Eberflus said some starters would get 6-10 plays and others would play as many as 20.

He acknowledged, though, that a lot could be gained in live action.

“We need to play them because we have a young roster,” Eberflus said. “We have to see how they work with each other, how they work and perform under the lights, and how they do in the game-day operation.”

Kmet and Montgomery are a little more experienced than Fields, but still could use the snaps to make sure everything is as crisp as the Bears need it to be when they open the season Sept. 11 against the 49ers.

“It’s all about execution, getting your points correct, being technically sound and doing all the things coaches want to see,” Kmet said. “That execution aspect is probably the biggest deal.”

It’s a big deal for him, but also Fields. Fields needs snaps where the right people are in the right places.

Part of what worked against him last season was spending so much practice time with second-stringers he ultimately wasn’t going to play with once he got promoted to starter. It’s not that drastic of an issue this summer, but it’s still a concern if the Bears can’t get Fields real snaps with the full offense.

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