LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Last preseason, it made perfect sense for quarterback Justin Fields to play in all three exhibition games. Head coach Matt Eberflus and the Bears' new staff wanted to get a sense of what Fields was capable of, and the second-year quarterback needed reps in a scheme he was still learning.
There was reason to believe the plan might be different this preseason. Eberflus and his staff are comfortable with who Fields is and what he needs to work on. Teams with established starting quarterbacks often sit their signal-callers until Week 1.
That won't be the case with Fields. Eberflus announced Wednesday that the third-year quarterback will play a limited number of snaps in Saturday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans at Soldier Field.
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"I just think you gauge it year by year," Eberflus said Wednesday when asked if he thought about sitting Fields until Week 1. "And you make an educated decision based on what your offensive coordinator’s saying to you and what your quarterback coach is saying to you and what you see with your eyes as the head football coach. And you just take in all the information and make a decision. And that’s the decision we made."
The Bears' offensive line has dealt with a few injuries early in camp. Starting right guard Nate Davis has missed more than a week outside of Tuesday's limited participation in an unpadded practice. Backup right guard Lucas Patrick left Sunday's practice with an injury and has missed the last two practices.
While the Bears want to be careful with Fields, they also believe facing live bullets will help him develop.
"You're always mindful of that certainly with your starting quarterback, you know, who's aligned in front of him?" Eberflus said Wednesday. "You're always mindful of that. And what types of plays. So, we're always discussing that. He's gotta be in there in playing."
What do the Bears want to see out of Fields in what likely will be no more than 10 snaps? It starts with command and execution.
"I would just say when you're looking at the quarterback position, you know, the operation No. 1." Eberflus said. "Can we get in and out of the huddle crisp and, you know, execute the play if we have any run to pass or pass to pass, run to run stuff going on? We gotta make sure we look at that. Can he make all the protection calls that he needs to make? Make the adjustments. Just the operation. That's what we're looking for."
Eberflus said "select starters" will play Saturday. He didn't have a definitive answer about the number of snaps those select starters will play. He plans to talk with each position coach on Wednesday to gauge where each player is after 12 practices.
Last preseason, Fields played 18 snaps in the preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. His snap count dropped in the second game against the Seattle Seahawks. He played the entire first half in the preseason finale.
It's fair to expect "selected starters" to play between seven and 12 snaps on Saturday, depending on the player.
The Bears also have a lengthy injury list that likely will see key players Davis, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, safety Jaquan Brisker, and defensive end DeMarcus Walker not play Saturday. Wide receiver Chase Claypool injured his hamstring early in Wednesday's practice and did not participate in team drills, putting his status for Saturday's game in doubt.
But Fields will be out there for a handful of snaps Saturday. The Bears think the opportunity to grow, no matter how small, is too important to pass up.