The Chicago Bears held their final practice of the week on Thursday morning before they play in their preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend. It was a lighter, non-padded practice for head coach Matt Eberflus’ squad, but plenty of players still stood out on both sides of the ball, with the offense looking sharp during the first half and the defense stepping up their play later on.
After taking in the practice from the endzone bleachers, here’s who stood out to me and made an impact on the field.
QB Justin Fields
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
I was impressed with quarterback Justin Fields from the start of team drills. The second-year signal caller was solid from the jump, finding receivers with short and long passes, both inside and outside of the pocket. In fact, for the first two thirds or so of practice, Fields had missed just a few throws, including one that was simply a throwaway.
Fields looks accurate with his throws with varying velocities depending on the situation. One play, he’s standing tall in the pocket, throwing a fastball in the middle of the field that hits his receiver in the numbers. The next, he’s on the move and floating a pass over a defender for a touchdown.
The practice didn’t end the best for Fields as he was pressured more frequently and defensive backs were getting their hands on his passes, but overall it was a solid performance from QB1.
WR Tajae Sharpe
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
With so many of the Bears wide receivers out due to injury, someone needed to step up and it appears Tajae Sharpe is answering the bell. Sharpe had his best practice of the year and showed a strong chemistry with Fields on Thursday. He had two touchdowns, the first of which was an impressive toe-tapping grab in the left corner of the endzone from Fields, who rolled to his left to make the throw.
Sharpe came back in a later series, receiving a missile from Fields for yet another score near on the opposite side of the endzone. He looked strong during redzone work and has a prime opportunity to solidify a roster spot as other receivers like Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr., N’Keal Harry, and David Moore remain out.
FB Khari Blasingame
USA Today Sports
It’s just a small sample size but if the Bears roll out what I saw from Blasingame in camp, it could be a unique opportunity to catch defenses off guard. Blasingame saw quite a few snaps with the first-team offense and was utilized in the passing game, catching a pass on an out route from Fields before sprinting upfield.
Blasingame can be more than just a run blocker, as evidenced during the preseason last year when he gashed the Bears for a long gain when he was a member of the Tennessee Titans. But he could catch some defenses off guard and has more speed to get past defenders than most realize.
OT Braxton Jones
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Braxton Jones already received a shoutout from me last week and even though pads weren’t on for this practice, he performed extremely well against defensive end and fellow rookie fifth rounder Dominique Robinson. Jones and Robinson battled quite a bit on Thursday, with Jones winning the matchup almost every time. He was either able to stop Robinson in his tracks or push him outside enough for Fields to step up or evade pressure easily.
Jones continues to pull away as the team’s top option at left tackle and he’s passing all of the tests that have been thrown his way. Another milestone is on the horizon when the Chiefs come to town on Saturday.
DL Khyiris Tonga
AP Photo/David Banks
The Bears have revamped their interior defensive linemen this year, led by veteran Justin Jones, but don’t forget about some of the holdovers from last season, like Khyiris Tonga. The second-year defensive tackle has been coming on strong as of late and highlighted one of the better plays on defense during Thursday’s practice.
Tonga broke through the interior of the starting offensive line to get to Fields, who would have been walloped had the play happened in a live game. Tonga also battled a ball at the line of scrimmage, using his large frame to disrupt the play. He should see more playing time this year and could be a force to be reckoned with in this new defensive scheme.
CB Jaylon Johnson
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Remember when Jaylon Johnson was running with the reserves on defense that one time in voluntary workouts and it caused panic among the Bears fanbase? Those were fun times. Johnson is clearly the best cornerback on the roster at this point and he’s making life difficult for the Bears receivers. On multiple occasions, Johnson broke up passes, one intended for Darnell Mooney and another for Sharpe.
Johnson is showing he can effectively read a quarterback and has the quickness to break on the ball to prevent a completion. Many eyes are on the rookie defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, but Johnson is still here and is only getting better.
DB DeAndre Houston-Carson
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
One player who always seems to show up at the right time is defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson. Counted on as one of the leaders on special teams, Houston-Carson is always good for a significant play on defense from time to time and he did just that in Thursday’s practice.
On one play against the backup offense, Houston-Carson was in coverage and easily picked off a pass from quarterback Nathan Peterman that was well underthrown in the endzone. The play would have likely gone for a 103-yard pick six in a real game.
Barring injury, Houston-Carson likely won’t get a ton of play on defense, but even with limited opportunities, he’s bound to have a couple of interceptions when the regular season gets underway.