INDIANAPOLIS -- The list of inactive Bears for Saturday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium was a mile long. The Bears sat all starters except for linebacker Jack Sanborn, who is in a competition for the starting SAM spot, on Saturday. Rookie cornerbacks Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith, who are competing for a starting corner spot, also played.
Everyone else spent the evening on the sideline.
The first quarter was the football equivalent of a dial tone.
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Bears backup quarterback P.J. Walker struggled in two series of work. Struggled might be kind. The atmosphere was decidedly unelectric.
But things changed when undrafted rookie free agent Tyson Bagent took over at quarterback after Walkers' ineffective two series. Bagent immediately marched the Bears down the field, capping off a time-sucking drive with a 2-yard run to tie the game at seven.
A late touchdown drive by the Colts handed Bears head coach Matt Eberflus his first career preseason loss.
But Bagent was the story.
He only got two series of work, but his 9 minutes on the Lucas Oil turf said something about the Bears' quarterback depth chart after Justin Fields.
Here's what we learned from the Bears' 24-17 loss vs. the Colts.
Backup QB controversy?
As has been the case for all of training camp, Bears backup quarterback P.J. Walker was ineffective and inaccurate Saturday. Walker played two series, going 1-for-4 for 6 yards.
Undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent replaced Walker to start the second quarter and looked extremely comfortable. Bagent marched the Bears on a 17-play, 92-yard drive on his first possession under center. He went 7-for-8 for 61 yards and finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Bagent finished the night 9-for-10 for 76 yards, with 4 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.
Bagent started the summer as a heralded, record-setting D-II quarterback hoping to continue his football career. He arrived at rookie minicamp and immediately set out to learn the footwork required to run the Bears' offense. It led to an inaccurate first day at the office. But his desire to do it the Bears' way and not just rack up completions endeared him to the Bears' staff.
Bagent leapfrogged Nathan Peterman on the depth chart this week. He has been unquestionably the second-best quarterback in training camp. The Bears signed Walker to a two-year contract this offseason. That contract came with $2.01 million of guaranteed money.
But that might end up being a moot point.
The Bears undoubtedly want to keep Bagent. The practice squad was probably their ideal scenario. But that might not be possible if Bagent authors another strong performance in the preseason finale against the Bills.
Is there a backup quarterback controversy brewing in Chicago? There's a case to be made that the high-upside UDFA who led a 92-yard drive Saturday deserves that spot.
Defensive rookies show good and bad
With all of the veteran starters except for Sanborn sitting Saturday, the Bears' defensive rookies had an opportunity to showcase their growth and make some splash plays.
Defensive tackle Zacch Pickens got off to a good start with a pressure and a nice run stop. The South Carolina product showed a quick first step on the first few drives. Pickens finished his day with three tackles, one tackle for loss, and a quarterback hurry.
Fellow rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter looked better in his second preseason game. Dexter had a chance to sack Gardner Minshew on an early third down, but he flew past the quarterback and let him slip through his fingers. Still, that pressure forced Minshew to dump the ball off on third-and-long, forcing a Colts punt.
It wasn't all good for Dexter and Pickens, though. On the Colts' first touchdown drive, both rookies had trouble getting off their blocks on third-and-goal, giving Minshew time to survey and eventually hit Juwann Winfree for a touchdown.
Pickens, Dexter, and Travis Bell had some nice moments, but the consistency still is lacking. The arrow is pointing up, but the ascent might not be as quick as desired.
In the secondary, fifth-round rookie Terell Smith got his first live action. He played two series and didn't give up a completion or record a tackle.
Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson had another eventful game. The Miami product gave up a few early catches and then crossed the line when he threw running back Kenyan Drake out of bounds. Head coach Matt Eberflus took the rookie out after the penalty and gave him a long talk. After the discussion ended, Eberflus sent Stevenson back in.
Stevenson had a chance to redeem himself later in the drive. With the Colts facing third-and-goal, Minshew surveyed the defense and let it rip toward Winfree in the right corner of the end zone. Stevenson read the pass perfectly and appeared to have an easy interception. But the pass went right through his hands, and Winfree secured it to give the Colts a 7-0 lead.
Bubble guys make their case
For a team that went 3-14 last season, the Bears' roster doesn't have many spots open for the taking.
But two guys who appear to be on the bubble, or at least near it, once again made their presence felt.
Both Trevis Gipson and Terrell Lewis had good days in the preseason opener against the Titans' second- and third-string offensive line.
They picked up right where they left off Saturday night.
Late in the second quarter, Lewis came screaming around the left side and hammered Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger, jarring the ball loose in the process. The Colts recovered the fumble, but it was Lewis' second strip sack of the preseason. On the next play, Gipson beat his man to pressure Ehlinger and force an incompletion.
Lewis and Gipson might be battling for the fifth and final edge rusher spot on the roster, but there's a world where the Bears keep both. That's a world we might be approaching after another good night from the veteran defensive ends.
Gipson finished with one hurry and three assisted tackles. Smith had two tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble.
On the other side of the ball, Equanimeous St. Brown and Dante Pettis had an opportunity to make their case.
St. Brown feels like he's on the safe side of the bubble, but he didn't show much Saturday. St. Brown played two series and dropped the only pass that came his way. The Bears like St. Brown's run blocking, but he's a guy who should worry about his job security over the next week.
With Velus Jones Jr. out with an injury, Pettis got a chance to show his value as a punt returner. Pettis fair caught the first punt he fielded and returned the second for a loss of 1 yard. Pettis did catch two passes for 13 yards from Bagent.
Pettis and St. Brown still have work to do to cement their spot on the 53-man roster in the final week.