The Chicago Bears have concluded their second week of training camp practice at Halas Hall, where the pads finally came on and the intensity was kicked up a notch.
There was plenty to take in from the second week of practice, including the offense still needing work, some development along the offensive line and an influx of injuries.
The Bears return to the practice field on Tuesday for Family Fest, where they’ll hold three straight practices before their preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.
But before we look ahead to the third week of practice, here’s what we learned after Chicago’s second week of training camp:
Matt Eberflus' practices have been intense
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Last week featured two of the most grueling practices that the Bears have participated in since Matt Eberflus’ arrival. Eberflus’ practices are intense, and that certainly showed on Friday.
Tight end Cole Kmet called it ‘‘the hardest practice I’ve ever been a part of.” Wide Receiver Darnell Mooney was laid out in the locker room afterward.
“If you want to be a good football team, you have to have mental and physical stamina,” Eberflus said. “And to build that callus, to build that stamina, you have to go through hard; you can’t do it by going through soft.
“That’s just what our practices do. So the tempo which we practice, how we execute with speed and what we’re asking our players to do, that builds that mental and physical stamina.”
It’s a culture shift from the previous regime, where there’s less standing around and more hustling from period to period. It’s definitely something that Eberflus’ team is getting used to, but they’re rising to the challenge.
“You can do two things – tap out, stop, cry complain or you can step up,” said safety Eddie Jackson. Jackson said no one tapped out.
The offense is going to take some time
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The Bears offense remains a work in progress through the first couple of weeks of training camp, which isn’t exactly unheard of at this point. And according to offensive lineman Michael Schofield, that’s to be expected when it comes to grasping this scheme.
Schofield played in this exact offense during his time with the Denver Broncos, and he said that “it doesn’t click right away.” Schofield recalled his time in Denver, where the offense was struggling even into Weeks 2 and 3 of the regular season. But somewhere between Weeks 4 through 6, “it just clicked.”
“I feel like that’s a big thing with this offense. It’s going to take time,” Schofield said. “The backs have to see it, O-line has to see it. And once we see it, that’s when things start getting special.”
It’s not exactly encouraging to hear that the struggles could carry over into the regular season. But it’s to be expected when learning a new scheme.
The offensive line remains a work in progress
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The Bears have been experimenting with different offensive line groupings dating back to the spring. Through the first two weeks of training camp, it doesn’t sound like they’re close to settling on a starting combination.
“We’re still a ways away for a lot of positions, to be honest with you, and that’s one of them,” said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. “We’ve flipped guys from right to left up front and we’re trying to see whatever combination makes the most sense and which guys are the most flexible for us. So we’ve got a lot of information still to find out.”
With that said, it’s hard not to read the tea leaves at this point of the summer. There’s a pattern forming with the offensive line, where there are clear favorites at certain positions. Rookie Braxton Jones has settled in at left tackle; Cody Whitehair’s always been a lock at left guard; Sam Mustipher is the emergency backup plan with Lucas Patrick injured; Schofield is the favorite at right guard and Riley Reiff has been starting at right tackle with Larry Borom rotating with him.
The Bears might not have settled on a starting combination, but they’re certainly showing their preferences early on in the summer.
The Bears are high on rookie Braxton Jones
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While nothing is set in stone with the offensive line — except maybe Cody Whitehair at left guard — it’s starting to look like rookie Braxton Jones is the favorite to start at left tackle.
The Bears clearly have a lot of trust in Jones, who’s gotten all of the first-team reps at left tackle over the last week. Riley Reiff, who appeared to be in line to start at left tackle, was moved to right tackle to open things up for Jones. Chicago is clearly high on Jones, and he’s made an impression in camp.
“I think Braxton was a guy that is obviously a super athletic kid that we were excited about after spring ball,” Getsy said. “Then you get into the pads and there was zero intimidation. Going against Robert Quinn your very first one-on-one pass rush, right? It’s an intimidating thing. He stepped up and did a great job. He’s answered the bell. He’s done a really nice job us.”
There’s still plenty of competition at the tackle position — between Jones, Reiff, Borom and Teven Jenkins. But, at this point, it certainly feels like the starting left tackle job is Jones’ to lose.
Teven Jenkins still in the mix for a starting job
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After missing seven consecutive practices with an undisclosed injury, offensive tackle Teven Jenkins returned to practice this week. But there are questions about how Jenkins factors into plans on the offensive line.
While things are starting to become clearer on the offensive line, Getsy told reporters that Jenkins is still in the mix for a starting job. There’s been a three-way battle at the tackle position between Braxton Jones, Riley Reiff and Larry Borom — but left tackle looks to be Jones’ to lose at this point. That would leave Reiff, Borom and now Jenkins competing for the right tackle job.
But winning a starting job isn’t unique to just the tackle position. Jenkins would also be open to starting at right guard, which has been occupied by Michael Schofield.
“I’m willing to play wherever they want me,” Jenkins said. “I want to be here in Chicago, so I’m playing wherever they need me to play.”
Chicago has depth concerns at wide receiver
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears wide receivers have been the subject of criticism throughout the offseason. And that was before injuries to four of their top six wideouts during training camp.
Granted, we’re still early into training camp and only N’Keal Harry’s high-ankle sprain is of significant concern. But with Byron Pringle (quad), Velus Jones Jr. (undisclosed) and Dante Pettis (undisclosed) sidelined, it’s certainly shined a light on the depth concerns at receiver.
With the Bears nursing injuries to some of their top wideouts, it’s allowed for other players to see additional opportunities. Someone who’s been taking advantage of that is veteran Tajae Sharpe, who strung together some impressive practices since returning from the non-football injury (NFI) list.
“When you have a guy step up like that, that’s awesome,” Eberflus said. “That’s what it’s all about, right? Guys go down, guys step up and Tajae did a nice job. We’re excited to have him back. He’s back now and he looks good in the drills.”
Trestan Ebner making a strong impression
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Through the first two weeks of training camp, rookie running back Trestan Ebner has been one of the standout performers. His stock continues to soar as he stacks solid practices, where his speed and playmaking ability have been on display.
“He can catch the ball really well out of the backfield, he’s really explosive,” said running back Khalil Herbert. “I’m excited to see what he can do because he’s a very explosive player.”
While David Montgomery and Herbert are the top running backs on the roster, Ebner is someone who is competing for touches on offense. He shown his elusiveness running the ball out of the backfield and in the passing game.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 5, 2022
Exploring different cornerback combinations
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The cornerback position has been one to watch this summer as the team is experimenting with different combinations between the outside and slot. Rookie Kyler Gordon has made a strong impression through these first couple of weeks, where he’s excelled both outside and at nickel.
When Gordon has been outside with Jaylon Johnson, Tavon Young and Kindle Vildor have both seen looks in the slot. But when Gordon is working at nickel, it’s been Johnson and Vildor on the outside.
But the Bears have dealt with some injuries over the last week, including Gordon who’s day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. When Gordon hasn’t been in, it’s been Vildor working with Johnson and Young — or even rookie Jaylon Jones — in the slot.
SAM linebacker job coming down to Matt Adams and Joe Thomas
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There’s no question that Roquan Smith and Nicholas Morrow will occupy the starting weak-side and middle linebacker roles. The unknown has been who will start at strong-side linebacker. And right now, it sounds like it’s come down to veterans Matt Adams and Joe Thomas.
Adams has been the favorite to win the job, but Thomas is making an impression as he leads the linebackers in takeaways this summer. Adams and Thomas have been among the standouts from the first two weeks of training camp, and defensive coordinator Alan Williams said they’re both competing for reps.
“I heard Nick [Morrow] mention the other day in his [press] conference he said the reason why Matt’s here is because he understands the defense, because he plays with high tempo, because he’s physical,” said defensive coordinator Alan Williams. “And then Thomas, he stands out because he’s leading the group in turnovers. We keep track of how many guys have intercepted the ball, how many balls you’ve knocked out, how many scoop and scores and he’s leading the group. So those two guys are standouts right now.”
Adams has been taking reps at weak-side linebacker with Morrow in the middle. Thomas has been on the strong side, but the expectation is Adams will move to the strong-side role once Smith returns.
Where things stand with injuries
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The Bears were relatively healthy through the first week of training camp, but things are starting to catch up to them. As of Sunday’s practice, Chicago was dealing with a number of injuries — some minor and others more concerning.
The team is without four of its top wideouts, including Byron Pringle, rookie Velus Jones Jr., Harry and Dante Pettis. Jones and Pettis appear to be day-to-day. But Pringle’s quad injury will sideline him for longer than day-to-day while Harry has a high-ankle sprain that could hold him out for six weeks.
Chicago also has four cornerbacks sidelined, including rookie Kyler Gordon, Thomas Graham Jr. (hamstring), Tavon Young and Duke Shelley. Although, Kindle Vildor did return to practice on Sunday.
Also not practicing Sunday: Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, defensive tackle Angelo Blackson, offensive lineman Julien Davenport, tight end James O’Shaughnessy, linebacker Noah Dawkins and center Lucas Patrick.