Jones' big test among four things to watch in Bears' preseason finale originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST – The Bears get one final rehearsal before the regular season kicks off. That will occur Saturday night when Matt Eberflus’ team takes on the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in the Bears’ preseason finale.
Eberflus has said most of his starters will play up to the entire first half. However, select veterans likely will see limited snaps.
The Bears have been slowly improving during training camp, but with Week 1 just 16 days away, they need to clean a lot of things up in a hurry before the San Francisco 49ers come to town on Sept. 11.
Saturday’s tilt with the Browns will give us our most complete look at the first-team offense and defense this preseason and should provide us with an idea of this team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into the regular season.
Here are four things to watch in the Bears’ preseason finale in Cleveland.
A gauge for Braxton Jones
The fifth-round draft pick took hold of the starting left tackle job during OTAs and hasn’t relinquished it despite some obvious growing pains. The Bears love how quickly Jones has developed and are set to make him the Week 1 starter unless something unforeseen happens.
Jones has gotten a lot of good work against Robert Quinn and Al-Quadin Muhammad during training camp, but he’ll face his first real test against the Browns. One that should give the Bears and Jones a gauge of where he is heading into a Week 1 matchup against Nick Bosa and the 49ers.
Assuming the Browns give their starters some reps, Jones should have a chance to go against Myles Garrett and/or Jadeveon Clowney on Saturday night.
How the rookie fares against two of the best edge rushers in the business should give us some idea of where he’s at in his development and how much the Bears will have to help him in Week 1. If the Browns don't play Garrett or Clowney, Jones will head toward Week 1 having taken limited reps against star pass rushers outside of practice reps against Quinn.
Find the end zone
Justin Fields and the offense are expected to play most of the first half in Cleveland. Those are necessary reps for a unit that has taken less than 30 snaps this preseason. With an uncertain offensive line picture and several injuries to the receiving corps, Fields and the offense need to make the most of their series against the Browns.
In the first preseason game, the offense hit on a couple of nice plays but was mainly ineffective against the Kansas City Chiefs. In their lone series against the Seattle Seahawks, Fields and Co. put three points on the board thanks to a neutral zone infraction on fourth-and-2.
Eberflus and his staff will want to see proof of progress and production Saturday in Cleveland. Can the offense move the ball consistently and effectively? Can they punch it in once they get into the red and gold zones?
It will be an important 30 minutes for the Bears’ offense.
The return of Roquan Smith has energized the Bears’ defense. That was obvious Tuesday when the star linebacker returned to team drills for the first time since ending his hold-in. On the first play of 11-on-11, Smith burst through the line and put a solid lick on running back David Montgomery, causing multiple members of the defense to yell, “He’s back!”
Smith is expected to make his preseason debut Saturday in Cleveland, giving us the first look at him as the WILL linebacker in Eberflus and Alan Williams’ defense.
Chicago’s defense has been a takeaway machine in practice and has produced solid results in the first two preseason games.
Adding Smith into the equation should only improve the play of a unit that has come on strong during the last 10 days of camp.
Cementing his spot
Teven Jenkins knows he has a golden opportunity Saturday night in Cleveland.
If he plays well and shows he has accelerated his development as an interior offensive lineman, he likely will have earned the starting right guard spot, depending on the health of center Lucas Patrick.
Jenkins was solid in his right guard debut against the Seahawks. He got pushed around by defensive tackle Poona Ford but showed the strength and athleticism to recover enough to allow Fields to get rid of the ball and avoid the sack.
The Bears have been impressed with how Jenkins has taken to the position. In 10 days, Jenkins has gone from third-string right tackle to starting right guard. That’s a testament to his high football IQ, talent, and work ethic.
Three weeks ago, it looked like Jenkins might not be on the Bears’ Week 1 roster. Now, he has a chance to potentially lock up a spot in the starting five with a good showing against the Browns.
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