LAKE FOREST, Ill. — With a fourth-and-1 inside the Bears defense’s 5, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy went with a play that’s been in place since organized team activities.
Quarterback Justin Fields rolled left and quickly found receiver Darnell Mooney for a touchdown. It capped a successful team drill for himself and the starting offense. Fields’ unit went 55 yards in 10 plays against the starting defense.
“We get extra reps with that play as quarterbacks, just the rollout play and stuff like that,” Fields said afterward. “So that’s just timing and reps. So that was kind of a pitch-and-catch, like you say, kind of easy.”
Camp hasn’t always played out that way for Fields. But the second day in pads was better than the first for him and the starters. There were still mistakes. Cornerback Kyler Gordon dropped an interception during the first of five team drills. The defense snuffed out some screens. And defensive tackle Justin Jones might have had a sack — maybe two — in the fifth team period against Fields.
But the good plays by Fields and the offense — see more on all five team periods below — seemed to outweigh the bad that occurred.
“It’s tough because you want to know everything right now,” Fields said. “You want to be successful at everything right now, so it’s really just knowing that there are going to be mistakes, knowing that you’re going to have to learn and just making sure that you don’t make the same mistakes twice. That’s one big thing.”
The first-team offense had three drills of 11-on-11 working on specific situations with down and distance. The fourth drive was a “move the ball” drill, a realistic drive. And then they finished with a two-minute, end-of-half situation.
Five for five
The offense opened with two runs and an incomplete pass from Fields to Cole Kmet over the middle that looked like a drop by the tight end, though the coverage was tight.
But a chunk play came on the fourth snap as Fields found receiver Equanimeous St. Brown for a big gain. It was the start of a productive practice for St. Brown.
“He’s been in this offense for a number of years, so he really doesn’t make mistakes when it comes to running the plays,” Fields said. “He’s definitely always in the right spot and knows where to be on certain plays. He’s a weapon in this offense for sure.”
Equanimeous St. Brown: “New team, new building, new everything. It does feel like a fresh start to put my best foot forward and make plays, turn this team around, turn my career around.”
More on the new Bears receivers https://t.co/td4NmlHyMQ
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) August 1, 2022
On Fields’ next pass attempt, which followed a run, Gordon nearly intercepted Fields’ pass to rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr. Gordon appeared to get two hands on the ball. Fields finished the first team drill of the day with a quick throw to Mooney for a short gain.
One of Fields’ best throws might have been the short, quick one he had to Mooney to open the second team period. It appeared to be a hot-read throw with the Bears defense blitzing. The Bears’ reporting rules limit details about the blitz, but Fields’ throw beat it, then Mooney beat a would-be tackler to take off for a first down and more.
It was followed by a pass that was not only behind Kmet but also rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, who was covering him. Brisker got a hand on the ball. Fields’ next completion was a shovel pass to receiver N’Keal Harry that came during a scramble to his left. He has attempted several back-handed throws like that during camp.
“It just happened organically; it just happened naturally,” Fields said. “So I mean when the checkdown is right there, I’m running this way, it’s faster for me to get the ball out like that instead of turning my whole body.”
It’s important to note that the first three team periods were different from the final two below. The downs and distances changed as the Bears worked in various plays.
“Of course, (the fans) want to see big plays and that, but we’re playing situational football,” Fields said. “Third-and-4, we’re getting the first down, we’re not worried about a touchdown at the moment. We’re trying to get the first down first, and if a touchdown comes out of it, then yeah, that’s what it is.”
The third team period was the shakiest of the five for the offense. It opened with Fields slipping for a sack. There were a couple of screens that the defense snuffed out. Between them, Fields did step up in the pocket and then took off on a scramble.
After runs by Montgomery and Herbert, Fields checked the ball down to Herbert during a third-and-13.
Montgomery’s 5-yard run on first down set up a second-down play-action attempt. Fields had Harry over the middle, but his pass was low and incomplete.
On third down, Fields rifled one to Kmet for a first down, fitting the pass between Brisker and a linebacker.
The offense had to burn a timeout before a nicely executed slant to St. Brown for a first down.
After a toss play to Montgomery, Fields had one of his more impressive throws of the morning — he adjusted his arm angle to side-arm a pass to St. Brown for a long gain. Linebacker Joe Thomas did put a pop in on St. Brown, forcing a fumble.
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson picked up the free ball and took off for the opposite end zone before being called back.
The drive continued, leading to that fourth-and-1 near the goal line when Fields found Mooney for the aforementioned touchdown, a play that looked like something we’ve seen the Packers do to opponents for years. That capped a 10-play, 55-yard touchdown drive.
Justin Fields’ development is finally everything during Bears training camp. My column from Halas Hall today:https://t.co/TXGiQxFwfD
— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) July 26, 2022
Working on an end-of-half situation, Fields began the drive with a completion to Kmet between Brisker and Thomas.
After an incomplete pass in traffic that cornerback Kindle Vildor broke up, Fields found Harry over the middle for a long gain. Fields made the throw from the pocket, and it was on-point to Harry with Vildor in tight coverage.
Following a sack, the Bears called a timeout. Fields checked it down to Montgomery, spiked the ball and set up a Cairo Santos field goal.
“Better operation, improving from (Tuesday),” coach Matt Eberflus said. “I thought it was good. We had one timeout; we utilized that timeout. I thought it was good with the coaches. Coaches were on the side and functioning more like a game.”
Fields was pleased with the result but would’ve communicated the situation better before Montgomery’s catch.
“In that situation, it’s on me to just tell them, I think we had like 19 seconds at the time so, no timeouts, so he could have got more yards and even a first down,” Fields said. “We could have clocked the ball and maybe have gotten one more shot at the end zone, so that’s just on me to tell him, ‘Hey, we don’t have to necessarily get down right after you catch the ball. You can try to get as many yards as possible.’ … Twenty seconds on the clock, that’s still a lot of time to be on the ball and clock it.”
Who gets the blind side?
Fishbain: As Teven Jenkins missed his sixth consecutive practice, the focus on the tackle situation has intensified on three players: rookie Braxton Jones, veteran Riley Reiff and second-year tackle Larry Borom. For the second day in a row, Jones took all the reps on the left side, while Reiff — who has played both in his career but has more experience at left tackle — was at right tackle, rotating a bit with Borom. One week in, the staff’s confidence from the spring in Jones, a fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah, remains high — high enough to put Reiff at right tackle. What should we make of this development?
Jahns: It’s definitely a good one. General manager Ryan Poles’ first draft class has made an impression over seven practices in camp. But that’s also a continuation of the offseason program. The Bears’ secondary looks significantly better with Brisker and Gordon added. The same might be true for the offensive line if Jones continues to develop and assert himself now that the pads are on. He’s facing defensive ends Robert Quinn, Al-Quadin Muhammad and fellow rookie Dominique Robinson. Those are worthy reps and learning experiences for Jones.
Fishbain: It could be a matter of the Bears feeling comfortable with Reiff on either the left or right side, and then they determine which is better — Jones starting at left tackle or Borom starting at right tackle. In the end, they’re both fifth-round picks, but the major difference is who drafted them. If Jones leaves camp as the Week 1 starter and is able to hold his own this season, it’d be a major win for the new personnel staff. Even if they decide to go to Reiff and keep developing Jones, they definitely have a potential Day 3 find at a premium position.
Jahns: You don’t want to think too far ahead. But there are only six more practices before the Bears’ first preseason game against the Chiefs at Soldier Field. The first two padded practices seemed to go well for Jones, too. He didn’t really need to win over the coaching staff; he’s a draft pick and will be afforded time to develop. But it’s clear he’s impressing them more and more. Here’s what Eberflus said on Wednesday: “When you come in as a rookie, sometimes the spots are big, and not to say that he’s been perfect because he’s a rookie and he’s had his moments, but he’s doing a good job. We like where he is, we like where he’s progressing and he’s got a long way to go, but we like where he’s at.”
Montgomery opens up
David Montgomery told us last week that he’ll be a father this January, something that has helped shape his perspective heading into the 2022 season.
We learned Wednesday just how much it has already changed his life.
Bears running back David Montgomery shared that he has had some mental health struggles in his three seasons with the Bears. (Matt Marton / USA Today)“I wasn’t in a good place, like the last three years I hadn’t been in a good place mentally,” he said. “And I’m open to say like how I was and where I was at and what I was facing and what I was kind of going through mentally, but it wasn’t a good place for me.
“But me knowing that I got a child on the way and me knowing that I got to be the best version of myself for my girl and be like a better man for her, I want to be able to be the best father I can be for my child, so whatever it takes and whatever steps I got to take to be the best version of myself for my child, I’m willing to do.”
During the challenges he and the team have faced over his three NFL seasons, Montgomery has at times alluded to the struggles — he is not shy with his emotions. But he expounded on how difficult it has been.
“I was just mentally depressed. I was depressed. I was,” he said. “Since I was here as a rookie, it had nothing to do with the coaches, it was more so with myself, not having met the standards or the expectations that I put on myself going back to creating those unnecessary pressures for myself.
“You know, a lot of people don’t understand being in the NFL, like us as individuals, we go through a lot of mental battles on a daily basis, but since we’re athletes and we’re professionals and we get a lot of money, that gets overlooked, but at the end of the day, we’re still human beings and people forget about that.
“So for me, for a while, I masked it, I let it be what it was. … (But) I could not continue to live my life unhappy, so I was just in a bad place like mentally, like how I was looking at life, how I viewed it. I was unhappy, but it’s on the up and up now and I’m grateful and I’m blessed that God brought me here and I’m here where I’m at.”
• Jenkins continues to work with trainers, Eberflus said, adding that the offensive tackle’s absence is 100 percent injury-related.
• The Bears have a day off Thursday before three consecutive practices over the weekend. Two of those sessions will be in pads, but Eberflus said they’ll determine how the team comes out health-wise, whether or not it’s back-to-back padded practices on Friday and Saturday or sandwiching them around a practice in shells.
(Top photo of Justin Fields: Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via AP Images)