After a come-from-behind 20-13 defeat of the Miami Dolphins last weekend, the Chicago Bears will return to preseason action Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field against the Buffalo Bills.
It will be another opportunity for the Bears to continue sorting through their depth chart and knocking the game-day rust away. It will also offer another glimpse of rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who lit a spark in his preseason debut last week.
Given the Bears’ current developmental plan, Saturday may be Fields’ last game action in front of home fans for a while. But there’s more to keeps tabs on than just that. As kickoff approaches, here’s a snapshot look at Saturday’s game.
Player in the spotlight
Andy Dalton, still firmly holding the title of starting quarterback, didn’t get much work in the preseason opener. The Bears went three-and-out on each of Dalton’s two series, and the his best play — a 15-yard completion to Rodney Adams — ultimately didn’t mean much on a drive that was derailed by an Alex Bars holding penalty.
When Fields came in and eventually led the Bears to 17 points on three consecutive drives, the energy inside Soldier Field was undeniable. Fans are rallying behind the quarterback of the future right now. Dalton’s status as placeholder has created an increasingly awkward dynamic for the veteran, who continues to insist that he’s unfazed.
“You can’t focus on that,” he said. “If you focus on that, then that’s going to beat you down. I know who I am. I know who I was created to be. I know where my identity lies. And so do I want the fans behind me and this team (behind me) and all that kind of stuff? Yes. Do I want them behind Justin? Absolutely, I do. But that’s not my focus.”
Matt Nagy’s plan is to have Dalton play deep into the second quarter Saturday with hopes that much of the first-unit offense can work through three or four possessions to build momentum that they couldn’t generate a week ago.
Dalton is joining fans in their understandable excitement for Fields. “Justin is going to have a great career,” he said.
But he also is directing his concentration to playing winning football for the Bears for as long as possible and probably could use a touchdown drive or two against the Bills to gather some support.
“Right now it’s my time,” Dalton said. “And my focus is on being the best player I can be for this team.”
How will Mitch Trubisky be received when he returns to Soldier Field?
The former Bears quarterback will start for the Bills against the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2017.
Bills coach Sean McDermott told Buffalo media Thursday that starter Josh Allen won’t play as the Bills rest many of their starters. That means Trubisky will start for the second straight week after he played in two series, completing 1 of 2 passes for 10 yards, against the Detroit Lions last week.
Trubisky was a polarizing figure over four seasons that didn’t pan out as the Bears envisioned, as many blamed his inadequacies on the field while others questioned a Bears staff that couldn’t turn him into the player they wanted. Now he’s trying to move on after signing a one-year deal to be the Bills backup with the hope he’ll be a starter again one day.
Saturday’s preseason start means Trubisky will face the starting Bears defense. Safety Eddie Jackson, who was drafted in the same class as Trubisky, said he hopes Trubisky can put his rough stint in Chicago behind him. But Jackson also noted the Bears are not going to go easy on him.
“Going against us, you know, I’m not going to say it’s the best start, but it’s a good start,” Jackson said. “That’s my guy. It’s a good start for him, a new chapter in his life where he can flip the script, start over. But this weekend, I don’t care if he’s my cousin, my brother. If you line up on that other side, we’re going to give you that work. He’s got it coming to him for sure.”
Keep an eye on …
Getting outside linebacker Robert Quinn back to 2019 form would be a big boost to the Bears defense.
But first he has to stay healthy.
Quinn battled back tightness at the beginning of camp and tweaked his ankle during seven defensive snaps in the first preseason game. He was back to practicing by the end of the week, but it will be worth watching to see how much time he gets in the last two preseason games as Bears coaches and trainers try to find the right workload mix to keep him healthy.
As Quinn tries to work back from a 2020 season in which he had two sacks — down from 11½ in 2019 — he said it starts with being in a good spot mentally.
“Like a heavenly peace,” he said. “I realized don’t let the ticky-tack stuff bother you. Don’t let my disappointments or whoever’s disappointments just dwell on you because, once something happens, it has happened. You can’t change it. So how do you move on and grow from the situation? Don’t keep yourself in that type of dark place feeling sorry for yourself. Figure out how you can grow and become a better person and player.”
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai said Quinn is doing the right things to prepare as he works through his injury issues.
“He’s just been extremely humble, really grateful, taking advantage of all the opportunities, taking in all the coaching,” Desai said. “You know for a guy that’s a veteran guy that’s aging, his effort is unbelievable every day, his play speed is unbelievable every day. He just goes at one speed, and that’s what you want all your players to be. He’s a great model because he’s got some stripes on the wall, to be able to bring that effort every day when he’s able to go.”
Odds and ends
Veteran left tackle Jason Peters won’t play Saturday afternoon. But the coaching staff wants to put him through the pregame paces with the offensive line to continue his acclimation process. The goal is for Peters to have a normal week of practice next week followed by a bit of game action in the preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans.
Right now, the Bears are just trying to get him settled.
Said Nagy: “Our No. 1 challenge is making sure he feels good physically and that mentally he gets in the playbook. He’s meeting new people. He’s in a brand-new place. New coaches, new teammates, new everything.”
At this stage, the Bears need to evaluate Peters to have a better feel for where he’s at physically. He’ll turn 40 in January and missed eight games with the Philadelphia Eagles last season with a toe injury. So there are few guarantees Peters will be a definite answer at left tackle.
In the meantime, the Bears will continue to give Elijah Wilkinson and Larry Borom a look at left tackle. After a lengthy stay in the concussion protocol, Borom returned to practice this week and could use some game reps Saturday to help accelerate his growth. Wilkinson, meanwhile, is adjusting to playing on the left side after spending most of his college and pro careers on the right. He had a solid outing in 40 snaps in the preseason opener.
Nagy has seen Wilkinson’s extra push to learn offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s techniques and apply them.
“I’m proud of him for that,” Nagy said. “And again, here it is. This is a great opportunity for him to take it over and see what he can do.”
Fields returned from groin soreness Thursday, and Nagy expects him to play a significant amount after Dalton gets his reps Saturday. Fields didn’t participate in team periods Wednesday.
“Anything could happen, but I think yesterday giving him the day off to help him was good and he feels good,” Nagy said. “We wanted to be able to sacrifice that day of practice to be able to get him right for Saturday.”
The Bears defense was without nose tackle Eddie Goldman (back) and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (knee) this week, and those two players very well could miss the game.
Quinn and inside linebacker Roquan Smith returned to practice after missing time with injuries, so their game status will be worth watching.
On offense, the most significant injury absence beyond offensive linemen Teven Jenkins (back surgery) and Germain Ifedi (hip flexor) was tight end Cole Kmet, who was limited with hamstring tightness this week.
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