Bears Insider

Roschon Johnson's opportunity, Gervon Dexter's growth headline things to watch in Bears vs. Colts

With quarterback Justin Fields and "select starters" not playing against the Colts, rookies and roster bubble players will have a big opportunity in the Bears' second preseason game

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WESTFIELD, In. -- Bears head coach Matt Eberflus and his staff believe the work quarterback Justin Fields and many of the starters got during joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts was enough for the week.

Eberflus announced Thursday after the final joint practice that Fields and some other key starters won't play Saturday in the Bears' preseason game vs. the Colts, opening the door for extended playing time for backups, rookies, and roster bubble guys.

"He's not playing," Eberflus said Thursday about Fields at Grand Park Sports Complex. "He's not playing and selected starters that we have are not playing in the game because of the work we have done here. We decided that last night. That's what we are going with. It's a great opportunity -- I talked to the backups just now, and last night, about the opportunity they have in getting all these reps. It's going to be a great opportunity for those guys."

The other "selected starters" weren't announced, but it's fair to assume wide receivers DJ Moore and Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet, cornerback Jaylon Johnson, and defensive tackle Justin Jones will be among those inactive. Eberflus did announce that safety Eddie Jackson and wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., who missed Thursday's practice, will also be inactive.

With Fields and other key Bears done for the week, Saturday's second preseason game is a golden opportunity for rookies and players on the bubble to make a lasting impression on Eberflus and his staff.

Roschon Johnson's time

It's unclear if Khalil Herbert or D'Onta Foreman will play Saturday. Even if they do, Johnson likely will get the bulk of the work in the Bears' backfield.

The fourth-round rookie had 44 yards on 12 carries in the Bears' preseason-opening win vs. the Tennessee Titans. Johnson wasn't thrilled with his performance, telling NBC Sports Chicago things are still slowing down for him at the NFL level.

"I think it's just a matter of me getting more and more reps," Johnson told NBC Sports Chicago after the game Saturday. "The more and more comfortable I get, the more my head is not spinning, the more I can go out there and just execute. As time goes on, I can feel myself getting more comfortable."

"It's going to keep getting better and better."

Johnsons got more reps with the first-team offense this week in Indianapolis. He showcased his physical running style against a defense he doesn't have to share a locker room with and impressed his veteran teammates with his willingness and desire to bang with the Colts' defensive linemen.

“Yeah, he’s physical man," tight end Cole Kmet said Wednesday. "It was fun. Sometimes I like to just watch other position’s indy or one-on-one drills and I was watching his pass pro stuff and he’ll put his helmet in there. That’s cool to see. You definitely gain some respect for those rookies that put their facemask in there and are willing to hit some guys, especially guys – he’s going against D-ends and linebackers who are hitting pretty hard. That’s been cool to see.”

Saturday's game will be an opportunity for Johnson to continue to show his growth in the system and that the game is slowing down for him. The Bears have high expectations for Johnson. But they also have two quality veteran backs ahead of him in the running back room.

A good performance Saturday, with smoother runs, crisper routes, and no missed assignments, might help him earn more looks with the first-team offense as camp winds down.

Trevis Gipson's opportunity

Gipson finds himself fighting for a roster spot here in the dog days of camp.

The fourth-year defensive end opened the preseason with a sharp performance against the Titans, notching one sack and three hurries in the Bears' 23-17 win.

But Gipson probably needs one or two more games like that to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.

With Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker unlikely to play Saturday, Gipson should get extended time to bolster his case for a roster spot.

Gipson, Terrell Lewis, and Rasheem Green all had good joint practices. Gipson and Lewis seemed to have their way with the Colts' second-team offensive line, while Green continues to give the Bears good reps with the first-team defense as Ngakoue and Walker ramp up.

Another good performance on Saturday is what Gipson needs to climb off the roster bubble as camp winds down.

Gervon Dexter's growth

The Bears' defensive line notched eight sacks in the preseason opener against the Titans. That doesn't mean a lot given that second- and third-team defensive lines -- those that get the bulk of the preseason snaps -- are usually much better than second- and third-team offensive lines.

Still, the Bears undoubtedly loved what they saw from rookies Zacch Pickens and Travis Bell, who brought down the quarterback in the preseason opener.

The game against the Titans wasn't notable for second-round pick Gervon Dexter, though. The Florida product recorded just one tackle and didn't pressure the quarterback.

While he didn't pop on film, the Bears liked the reps Dexter gave them against the Titans.

"Gervon’s been doing great, man, he’s been improving in every aspect of his game," defensive tackle Andrew Billings said. "I mean, did he make plays? Yeah. Did he make tackles? Maybe not as many as you would like to. You know, it’s preseason. What we wanted for them is to feel that NFL game speed. That was the big thing and just go out there and be confident. We don’t really care if he was in his gap, all we really care about is him getting knocked back. That was the most important thing for these rookies. Getting knocked back."

Defensive tackle Justin Jones said the most significant thing about the preseason opener was seeing if Dexter and Pickens would be wide-eyed. They weren't.

"What I learned is the venue isn't too big," Jones told NBC Sports Chicago after the game.

Dexter has been picking Ngakoue's brain since the veteran edge rusher arrived. During one practice, Ngakoue pulled Dexter over to the side and started walking the rookie through his cross-chop move.

"I see a lot of potential in him," Ngakoue said. "I see a lot of myself in him."

Dexter put together back-to-back good practices against the Colts in Westfield, In. On Thursday, Dexter mauled the opposing guard and burst through the line to sack backup quarterback Gardner Minshew. He flew off the ball on the next play to blow up a run play.

Dexter is still working to make his get-off more consistent. He should get a healthy dose of snaps to show where that process is Saturday night in Indianapolis.

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