For the first time in a month, every receiver on the Bears’ active roster was healthy enough to practice Monday.
However, the position group being at full strength shouldn’t be confused with it being a strength. Far from it. There are enough question marks about skills, health and time spent catching passes from Justin Fields to make the Bears’ wideouts even more of a riddle than they were heading into training camp. And that’s particularly alarming, given the Bears’ most important task this season: determining if Fields has what it takes to be their franchise quarterback.
“I feel like every player in this locker room, as far as a receivers standpoint, has got the talent and has got the mindset and the strength to do it,” wideout Byron Pringle said. “Step up at any given time of a ballgame and be able to help Justin out throughout the game.”
But that’s a matter of faith, as half of the Bears’ six receivers have legitimate cause for concern entering Sunday’s season opener against the 49ers.
Pringle practiced Monday after missing almost a month because of a quadriceps injury he suffered in practice in early August. Rookie Velus Jones was back, too, after missing practices and two preseason games with various unspecified injuries. And Ihmir Smith-Marsette, whom the Bears claimed off waivers from the Vikings on Thursday, is still learning the playbook.
The Bears’ and Vikings’ offenses use similar terminology, which makes Smith-Marsette’s participation Sunday a possibility. A 2021 fifth-round draft pick from Iowa who caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Bears in the 2021 finale, Smith-Marsette was asked what part of his new team will allow him to play to his strengths.
“No. 1, the quarterback,” he said. “[Fields is] somebody that can keep a play going and find me late. Then he makes beautiful throws, so he can help me out, and I can help him out.”
Pringle, who said he was limited Monday, sounded more concerned about making sure he’s in game shape than about his quad holding up. Missing almost the entire preseason wasn’t the first impression he wanted to make.
“I know [the Bears] didn’t want the setback,” he said. “I didn’t, either, because I wanted to go out in the preseason and show what I could do on the field.”
Pringle, to whom the Bears gave a one-year, $4.125 million deal this offseason, said he stayed engaged while he was hurt, sitting in the front row during meetings and standing next to receivers coach Tyke Tolbert during practices.
“I’m not trying to be a step behind when I get back on the field,” he said.
He leaned on his four years of experience with the Chiefs, too.
“This is not my first season in the NFL,” he said. “I figure if it was, like, my rookie year, yeah, I probably wouldn’t be ready.”
That’s not encouraging for Jones, the rookie from Tennessee, nor possibly for Smith-Marsette, who’s in his second NFL season but his first week with the Bears.
Of the three, Pringle seems most likely to contribute against the 49ers.
“[He’s] a guy who’s played some snaps, and I think it’ll be easier for him,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “But like I’ve said since the beginning, it hurts when you’re not on the grass and you don’t have that timing with . . . the quarterback and the other guys running a route with you. I think it’ll be a lot of work ahead of him to get that done. And I think he’ll be able to get it done.”
But even if he does, the Bears’ question marks at the position won’t go away.