Coming in and performing well in training camp practice is important for any player fighting for a job, or fighting to move up the depth chart. Performing well in preseason games is essential. Saturday marked the first time Bears coaches got to see how their players fared not only against a real opponent, but how they fared with live tackling. As expected in any preseason game there were plenty of mistakes and some sloppy reps. There were some encouraging showings, too. These are the guys who helped themselves the most in the preseason opener, and who will want to improve next week against the Colts.
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Herbert and D’Onta Foreman entered camp ready for a legit competition to earn the bulk of running back reps this season. Herbert had the first crack with the starters on Saturday and made the most of his opportunity. Herbert made it a point to focus on his pass protection over the offseason and got to show it off on the first snap of the game. He cracked a pass rusher on a play action play, which gave Justin Fields just enough time to hit Khari Blasingame in the flat for a completion. On the team’s second series, Herbert was back out with the starters and took a screen pass for a 52-yard score. It looked like Herbert was going to be caught shy of the goal line, but he muscled his way through two would-be tacklers, then dove past a third for the touchdown. Great first showing for Herbert.
Baskerville is an undrafted free agent rookie out of LSU who’s slowly earned more reps as the summer has gone on, especially after Tremaine Edmunds was sidelined with an injury. On Saturday, Baskerville was the second middle linebacker for the Bears, behind Jack Sanborn. Baskerville didn’t come away with any splash plays, per se, but he had his hand in several stops and was credited with a sack when Will Levis stumbled right in front of him. Baskerville also had a few solid reps when asked to drop into pass coverage. That kind of reliable play is important from the Mike LB.
Jones was a surprise performer as an undrafted free agent rookie cornerback last season, but his stock with the team took a dip when Ryan Poles drafted both Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith this year. But Jones made a great case to stick around on the 53-man roster with standout special teams play on Saturday. Jones made the tackle on the Bears’ first two kickoffs of the game, then was the first man to the ball on a punt that ultimately bounced harmlessly out of bounds. Those are the types of plays that will ensure he wins a job out of camp, regardless of what he brings on defense.
TREVIS GIPSON AND TERRELL LEWIS
One of the biggest surprises in the Bears’ initial depth chart of the year was seeing Gipson buried at the bottom of the defensive end position group. He’s flashed at times throughout training camp, yet found himself listed behind undrafted free agent rookie D’Anthony Jones. The slight must’ve lit a fire under Gipson, because he terrorized the Titans offensive line routinely on Saturday. Gipson finished the day with five tackles, including a particularly impressive stop chasing down a ball carrier from the back side of the play. He also had a sack, three QB hits and several more pressures.
Not to be outdone, Lewis seemed to make a big play of his own every time right after each Gipson highlight moment. Lewis didn’t have as many tackles, but stuffed his stat sheet in the big ticket columns. He finished the day with two sacks, including a strip sack.
VELUS JONES JR.
It’s no secret what Jones Jr. needed to improve upon this year to turn the page from last year’s debacle: ball security, ball security, ball security. Things looked improved in camp, but on Saturday the same issues Jones Jr. had on punt returns popped up again.Jones Jr. got two cracks at returning punts, and both times let the ball hit the ground before fielding it. He muffed the second punt, and the Titans recovered. This is a recurring issue for Jones Jr., so one would imagine he’ll have a short leash on punt return this year. And since the wide receiver room is far more crowded this year than it was last year, Jones Jr. will have to be better on special teams this year.
To be clear, Walker really isn’t in danger of losing the backup QB job at this point, but his summer struggles continued on Saturday. Walker and the second team offense got out to an ugly start with an interception that had no Bears wide receiver in sight. It was so bad that it’s unclear if the pick was a miscommunication with the wide receiver or just a horrendous throw. From there things did not improve much. Walker was inaccurate on some short game layups, had a ball batted down at the line, and finished the day with a paltry 4-8 for 19 yards line.