LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Bears put the pads on Tuesday for the first time in training camp, giving us our first real glimpse of the strengths and weaknesses of the 2023 team.
What transpired at Halas Hall was an uneven performance for quarterback Justin Fields and the first-team offseason. That’s expected as the offensive line puts pads on for the first time in six months, and skill players deal with the defense’s physicality for the first time.
We’ll start with the good:
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Fields and the offense opened the first team period with a bang as the third-year quarterback hit DJ Moore on a 5-yard slant, and the star receiver turned on the afterburners for a 60-plus-yard gain before being pushed out of bounds by safety Eddie Jackson.
The rest of that team period went to the first-team defense. Defensive tackle Andrew Billings mauled right guard Lucas Patrick to blow up a toss to Khalil Herbert, and linebacker Jack Sanborn perfectly shot the gap two plays later to stop a toss to the left. Rookie right tackle Darnell Wright was whistled for a false start between the two unsuccessful run plays.
The Bears ended the day with another two-minute situation.
Fields and the offense started at their own 30-yard line with 1:20 remaining, two timeouts, and the game tied at 10.
On first down, edge rusher Trevis Gipson blew past Wright and flushed Fields to his left. The quarterback bought time before dumping the ball off to tight end Cole Kmet for a gain of 4 yards. Fields hit Kmet for a gain of 4 yards on second down to set up third-and-2.
The Bears opted for an inside zone run to Herbert to try and pick up the first, but Billings and Justin Jones stopped the back after a gain of 1 to give the defense the win.
Unhappy with the offense’s three-and-out in the clutch drill, head coach Matt Eberflus had them run it again.
The second time was the charm.
Fields opened the second drive with a vertical shot down the left sideline to Chase Claypool. The receiver attempted to make a leaping grab, but cornerback Greg Stroman knocked the ball loose.
Fields went back to the deep ball well on second down, this time dialing up a 48-yard completion to rookie Tyler Scott. Fields faced pressure on the play and might have been hit if it were a live game. Still, he did well to move to his left to get the throw off. The ball was a tad underthrown as Scott had to slow up to haul it in, which allowed safety A.J. Thomas to down him at the 22-yard line.
Still, the offense was finally in business.
Fields picked up 5 yards with his legs on first down before being forced to throw the ball away on second down due to pressure from Billings and Gipson.
But on third down, Fields showed some of the growth the Bears have raved about early in camp.
On third-and-5, Fields dropped back and faced pressure up the middle. The third-year quarterback moved to his right but kept his eyes downfield, eventually throwing a strike to DJ Moore for a 17-yard touchdown.
“Yeah, I thought he did a good job of going through his reads to start, so he went through his progression and then he felt the pocket break down and then he did his thing,” Eberflus said of the touchdown strike after practice. “And that’s what we’re talking about. During situations, which is that was a situation right? We’re in a two-minute end of half. We’re trying to score a touchdown, we’ll take a field goal, where he utilized that. And that was real, you know. Again, the D-line likes to say they got him a couple times, but I’m back there, I can see. It was a real play and did a nice job of finding the open guy. So, we got a chance to work our scramble drill there and find open people.”
The Bears’ first-team offense also had some issues during their low red-zone period, but Fields impressed when he avoided pressure from Terrell Lewis from the left, stepped up in the pocket, and threw a rope to Claypool in the back-left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
With Claypool healthy and on the field, the bond the Bears hoped to see between him and Fields is starting to form.
“It’s good. It’s good. It’s been the last couple days, I can see it growing and growing,” Eberflus said of the Fields-Claypool connection. “He’s starting to learn him. Because again, he wasn’t here in the spring. And we think it’s a real positive thing.”
Here are more notes from Day 6 of training camp:
-- Aside from the aforementioned touchdown pass to Claypool, the Bears’ first-team defense won the day in the low red zone. Kyler Gordon blew up a reverse to Claypool, and safety Jaquan Brisker notched a pass breakup on a ball ticketed for Moore.
-- The Bears’ offense had a rough time in the 7-on-7 period in the red zone.
Fields threw behind Claypool on the first rep, but the receiver was able to block out Gordon and secure the catch after a slight bobble. However, the poor throw cost the Bears a touchdown.
Rookie cornerback Terell Smith made one of the plays of the day on the next rep. Smith blanketed Claypool and batted Fields pass up in the air and into the hands of safety Eddie Jackson, who took it the other way.
Thomas and Tyrique Stevenson followed with pass breakups of their own against Claypool and Robert Tonyan, respectively.
Jaylon Johnson ended the drill by breaking up a pass intended for Claypool in the back corner of the end zone. The star corner flexed to hype up the fans after the play.
-- Both Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens had good first days of practice. Both rookies got consistent pressure, and Dexter notched a “sack.”
-- It was a difficult day for first-round pick Darnell Wright. Wright had his hands full with Trevis Gipson, who beat the rookie several times to get pressure on Fields.
-- The highlights from individual drills include a leaping touchdown grab from Claypool against Johnson – the receiver got one foot in bounds, but the refs ruled it a catch – and a brilliant pass breakup by Smith, who blanketed Scott and easily batted the ball away.
-- Darnell Mooney continues to look 100 percent. He beat Gordon twice during individual drills with smooth double moves in the red zone.
-- Sanborn and edge rusher DeMarcus Walker left practice early with athletic trainers.
-- Right guard Nate Davis, running back Roschon Johnson, and fullback Khari Blasingame did not practice Tuesday. All three are working through what the Bears are calling minor injuries.
-- Brisker had a nice leaping interception against backup quarterback P.J. Walker to close practice.