Saturday is the preseason finale for the Chicago Bears. They visit the Cleveland Browns, the locale of second-year quarterback Justin Fields’ “welcome to the NFL, rookie” moment. Cleveland sacked him eight times and hit him a bunch more. This time around, Fields should be better prepared and therefore equipped, albeit in what is still an exhibition setting.
Fields leads the way in our questions that remain after training camp and most of the preseason. But he is not the only one. These are also questions that, most likely, are not going to be answered in Saturday’s finale.
But it will be another set of data to better inform our outlook on what is most likely going to be a rocky season in terms of results.
3 Burning Questions Ahead of the Chicago Bears Preseason Finale
1) Is Justin Fields Ready?
The answer to this has to be yes. There is no real alternative for the Bears. So, by default, Fields will be “ready” when he takes his first snap during the 2022 regular season in this new offense. But for all of the consternation over the offensive line and wide receiving corps, Fields’ readiness had the longest way to go because of the position he plays.
Wide receiver Eqinameous St. Brown said himself that Fields has the “most to learn” in having to understand the responsibilities of the entire offense.
Add that to needing an understanding of what defenses are trying to do to him and it could get sketchy quickly in Week 1 against Nick Bosa and the 49ers. Hence the handwringing over the lack of high-profile additions to the offense in the form of wide receiver help.
The Bears added a pair of veteran offensive linemen who figured to fight for the starting spots.
But they were quickly relegated to reserve roles in camp with the emergence of some younger players like 2021 second-round pick, Teven Jenkins, who has been starting at right guard. That is a lot to overcome for any quarterback. So, yes, Fields will be “ready” for Week 1. He will certainly have to show an ability to elevate those around him, though.
2) How Good is the Defense?
One of the most prevalent themes of training camp is how quickly the defense has come together. Head coach Matt Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principle has taken hold and the defense has been flying around in practice and for much of their two previous preseason wins. But if we are to question the Bears’ offense, then we have to temper excitement over the defense
They will be starting two rookies in Jaquan Brisker (injured) and Kyler Gordon as well as a player in Nick Morrow that missed all of last season at MIKE linebacker. Not to mention their starting defensive tackle Justin Jones has dealt with injuries too. That is aside from questions over Kindle Vildor who has played a lot with the starters while Roquan Smith just returned.
"He hits extremely hard…Most importantly he's a smart football player. Hear him back there talking and leading by example."
– #Bears DE Al-Quadin Muhammad on what it's been like having Roquan Smith back on the field.
— Cassie Carlson (@CassieCarlsonTV) August 25, 2022
There is also a question of how this pass rush will look. Robert Quinn is still on the team (for now). But how will Trevis Gipson, Al-Quadin Muhammad, and even rookie Domonique Robinson handle the adjustment? Gipson goes from getting nine starts last year in relief of Khalil Mack to the full-time starter.
Muhammad has the most experience in Eberflus’ and defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ scheme with 17 starts last season. That produced six sacks. Will he put pressure on Gipson for that starting spot?
Robinson has the least experience as a fifth-round rookie out of Miami (OH). That could also be interpreted as the highest potential. Regardless he is a wildcard in the rotation across from and behind Quinn.
3) Returner (and WR3) by Committee?
This one should be simple. The Bears selected Velus Jones in the third round of the draft and sold his ability to impact the game on offense as well as special teams. But Jones has been nicked up in camp limiting his exposure in either phase. He is an older prospect at 25. But it would seem too lofty to expect him to be able to do either out of the gates.
The Bears may still opt to have him return kicks, something Jones acknowledges is a strength of his. But his injuries to this point could make the decision tougher. Especially if they truly want him to be a weapon for an offense without many options that create natural mismatches on the field.
They have Nsimba Webster who has shown some pass-catching ability as well but has primarily been a returner in his three-year career. And they have trotted out several options throughout camp, again, as Jones has been unavailable. But it’s hard not to wonder about the long-term plan for a role that can be a tremendous boost to the offense in terms of starting field position.
This is a similar argument to WR3. It was presumed that St. Brown and Byron Pringle would alternate between that and being the WR2 in the attack. But Pringle has dealt with injuries as well this summer along with early camp standout Tajae Sharpe and N’Keal Harry whom the Bears traded a draft pick to the New England Patriots for leaving unheralded Dante Pettis as the most recent body to show life in practice.
Bears Preseason Finale Questions
These Bears’ preseason finale is a dress rehearsal and they are treating it as such. The starters are expected to play the majority of the first half with certain players pulled at different points throughout. The real test won’t come until Week 1. But this should be a reasonable facsimile for what we can expect to see during the regular season.
Given what has transpired in practice, there should be an expectation for some hiccups along the way.
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