INDIANAPOLIS -- Gervon Dexter came screaming around the edge in the first quarter of the Bears' 24-17 preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Bears' second-round pick got good interior push on a critical third-and-long play before disengaging from the block and looping around the left side. Dexter had backup quarterback Gardner Minshew in his sights but overran him and let the quarterback slip through his grasp.
While the sack wasn't to be, Dexter's pressure did force Minshew to dump it off for a short gain and bring out the punt team.
Still, that's one Dexter would like to have back.
"I got to take a better angle," Dexter told NBC Sports Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times after the game. "Break down a little bit, get my pads down, and finish the play. That's something where I'm happy I experienced it now, and next time I'll make that play for sure."
Dexter didn't flash during the Bears' preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans. He immediately returned to the lab to work on his get-off and pad level in preparation for the season opener, which is less than a month away.
The work seemed to pay off as Dexter showed better knockback against the run and nearly notched his first-career NFL sack. But the rookie knows there's still a lot of work to do between now and Sept. 10.
But Dexter knows the pieces are there. He just needs to put them all together.
"I'm super eager," Dexter said. "Last week to this week, I know I got better. I noticed that you get better with repetition and being out there and seeing the mistakes and fixing those mistakes. So I'm super eager. I love the game, so I'm ready to be able to play the game again next week.
"It'll definitely be there," Dexter said later. "Things are slowing down for me. Like I said, today I felt like I got off the ball the right way and was in the backfield a pretty good amount of times today. That was due to just the get off."
Dexter's fellow rookie defensive tackle Zacch Pickens followed up a nice preseason debut against the Titans with another solid outing. Pickens continues to show the quick first step that was his calling card at South Carolina, and the decision to have him focus just on the one technique could lead to success by simplification.
"I feel 10 times better this week," Pickens said after the game. "I was little nervous [last week] because that was like my first game, but I feel good today. The game is starting to slow down for me, and once it does that, I feel good everyday."
Pickens worked to fine-tune his run defense after the win vs. the Titans. The South Carolina product felt he was much better in that area Saturday in Indianapolis.
While Pickens is still learning the nose guard position, his work with veteran Andrew Billings has helped speed up the process. With the real games right around the corner, Pickens is focused on the small, daily grind, knowing that hard work will lead to early results.
"I'm just stacking good days on good days," Pickens said. "Just elevate my game every day."
Pickens has a close bond with Dexter. The two crossed paths at airports during the pre-draft process, and Pickens refers to Dexter as his "twin."
That brotherly bond will lead to some good-natured ribbing over Dexter's missed sack on Minshew.
"I'm going to give him a little bit of a hard time," Pickens said, laughing. "Especially on that one because he needed that one."
Dexter and Pickens will continue to be projects early in the season. But both are confident they can make an early impact while striving to reach their full potential.
Here's how the rest of the rookies fared against the Colts:
DNP: Darnell Wright, Tyler Scott
Tyrique Stevenson, CB
The Bears' rookie cornerback is learning on the job every day.
Stevenson gave up a 30-yard completion on his first snap against the Titans but responded with a good performance that included sure tackling and good instincts. Stevenson also dropped an interception that had him promising to hit the JUGS machine after practice.
There were more lessons Saturday in Indianapolis.
Stevenson got flagged for unnecessary roughness when he threw Colts running back Kenyan Drake to the turf after they had gone out of bounds. Head coach Matt Eberflus immediately yanked Stevenson to give him a talking-to on the sideline.
"Just be a little bit smarter," Stevenson said of the penalty after the game. "I could have been better with my head across the ball, so I could see where I was at on the field. Once I looked up and he was heading to the ground, I realized we were in the white. So just gotta be a better rookie and have a lot more smarter plays and not cause the team any harmful penalties."
Stevenson had a chance to redeem himself later in the drive. On third-and-goal, Minshew dropped back and had all day to throw. He eventually ripped a pass toward Juwann Winfree in the back right corner of the endzone. Stevenson played it right and had a chance to intercept the pass, but it went right through his hands and into Winfree's chest for a touchdown.
"Everything was happening too fast," Stevenson said. "I just looked up and the ball was coming, and just happened to not shoot my hands up fast enough. I should have went up straight forward instead of trying to corral and catch the ball."
Stevenson continues to impress in practice and has a leg up on fellow rookie Terell Smith for the starting boundary corner position opposite Jaylon Johnson.
The lessons will keep coming, but the Bears know that will benefit him in the long run.
Roschon Johnson, RB
With Khalil Herebrt sitting, Johnson backed up D'Onta Foreman on Saturday.
The fourth-round pick rushed seven times for 32 yards (4.6 yards per carry) in the loss. Johnson played a crucial role in the 92-yard touchdown drive that undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent engineered in the second quarter.
Johnson felt he improved on the details and execution Saturday, but he remains in pursuit of his best football at the NFL level.
"Play by play," Johnson said after the loss. "It’s coming along. I don’t think I’m behind. But at the same time, I got a lot to prove. It’s kind of so-so but at the same time, the more and more opportunities I get, the more Ill be able to show that.”
Terell Smith, CB
Smith got his first NFL action Saturday, playing 13 snaps in the loss.
The Minnesota product returned from injury last week and has been ramping up in practice.
Smith was not targeted and did not record a tackle.
Not much to report, but it's a good sign that he was able to get out there after missing a week of practice.
Noah Sewell, LB
With Tremaine Edmunds (injury) and T.J. Edwards (rest) sitting, Sewell played 49 percent of the snaps in Indianapolis.
The Oregon product notched one tackle and two assists on the night but also missed two tackles, per PFF. He also gave up four catches on four targets for 29 yards.
Sewell's competition with Jack Sanborn for the starting SAM linebacker position should go down to the wire.
Travis Bell, DT
The seventh-round pick played 54 percent of the snaps in Indy. Per PFF, he registered two tackles (two stops) and missed one tackle. He did not record a pressure.
Kendall Williamson, S
The Stanford product led all Bears defenders with 39 snaps (58 percent) on Saturday.
Williamson had four tackles, one assist, one miss, and two stops. He gave up two catches on two targets for 37 yards.
Tyson Bagent, QB
While I usually reserve this report for the draft picks, Bagent's performance Saturday makes him deserving of inclusion.
The undrafted rookie was the Bears' backup quarterback against the Colts. Bagent relieved P.J. Walker after two dreadful series and immediately injected life into the Bears' offense.
Taking over at their own 8-yard line, Bagent marched the Bears 92 yards in 17 plays. He went 7-for-8 for 61 yards on the drive before capping it off with a 2-yard touchdown run. He finished the day 9-for-10 for 76 yards.
Bagent was a record-setting quarterback at D-II Shepherd and now has a chance to unseat Walker as the primary backup to Justin Fields.
"I saw poise," Eberflus said of Bagent after the loss. "Delivery was there, the accuracy looked pretty good, timing was nice, decision making was good."
As for the chance to win the backup job? Bagent just wants his coaches and teammates to believe he can get the job done if called upon.
"As a quarterback, I really just would like them to know ... I would really just like to make them as comfortable as possible with the thought of me in the game," Bagent said when asked about potentially winning the backup job. "Just really have them understand that any play that needs to be run, I at least know how to run it. Every play's not going to be perfect, but I know how to run every play in the playbook. That's where I'm at, kind of working tirelessly. I know opportunities will present themselves. I try to be as ready as I am for those opportunities."