Fields vs. Lance headlines four things to watch vs. 49ers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The wait is finally over. The 2022 NFL season arrived Thursday when the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills pantsed the defending champion Los Angeles Rams in primetime.
On Sunday, the next era of Bears football begins when Matt Eberflus makes his head-coaching debut against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field.
The Bears have spent the past six months installing new schemes and perfecting the H.I.T.S (hustle, intensity, takeaways, and smart football) principle. The buy-in from everyone is high, and there's a confidence in the Bears' locker room as Sunday approaches.
There are also a lot of unknowns about the 2022 Bears. We'll start to get some answers Sunday.
Here are four things to watch when the Bears open the season against the 49ers:
"I don't think anything personal. And I'm glad to be here, so I'm glad that they passed on me. Just ready to play this weekend."
That's the company line from Justin Fields ahead of a Week 1 date with Kyle Shanahan and Trey Lance, the man the 49ers picked to be their franchise quarterback over Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Outside of two spot starts for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, Lance held a clipboard during his rookie season while Fields was thrown into the fire with a bad offensive line and suspect offensive game plan.
Things are different in Year 2.
Shanahan gave Lance the keys to the 49ers' Maserati this offseason, while Fields got the gift of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and a scheme tailored to what the Bears' second-year signal-caller likes to do.
The Bears still have issues on the offensive line and are thin at the skill positions. But the addition of Getsy and the implementation of his Shanahan-style offense has many around Halas Hall excited for the season that awaits the hard-working Fields.
"I just think he's ready to go," Eberflus said of Fields. "I think the coaches have done a great job of preparing him to be ready and he's excited. There's different levels that you get into the game. We use that word a lot.
Excited means that you're ready, you're focused, you're prepared and you're ready to do it. That's where I think he is and that's where I know he is. He's done that on the practice field and we're all excited to watch our whole football team go out there."
While the matchup against Shanahan and Lance might not be on Fields' mind, it's undoubtedly something his top target is thinking about as Sunday approaches.
"There's things that he's shown. I've seen exactly what he can do," Mooney said of Fields. "He's gonna shine for sure. He's gonna blossom. He's gonna prove everything that everybody doubted him on – especially Week 1. That team passed on him. So they're gonna have to pay a little bit for that."
Matt Eberflus has worked up the coaching ladder for 30 years to get to Sunday at Soldier Field.
The Bears' first-time head coach arrived in the offseason and quickly got to work building a culture based on his H.I.T.S principle. Eberflus and his staff measure everything the Bears do. Everything.
But with the Bears entering the first season of a lengthy rebuild, how will Eberflus and his boss, general manager Ryan Poles, measure success?
"Resilience," Poles said. "It's a team … Again, I've been on teams, a Super Bowl team and teams that, ya know, anywhere in between and the teams that can just stay level and look at 'What are the solutions?' instead of just pointing at the problem and being negative with like, 'Look at that! It's not good.' No. How are we going to fix it? So as an organization, as a team, as a locker room, as a staff, just being resilient through the ups and downs and just continuing to fight and have that arrow pointing up."
Eberflus' record is 0-0. He'll get his first mark on the ledge Sunday against the 49ers. How does he handle the game-management duties? Have the Bears been meticulously prepared for their first game?
Eberflus is one of the Bears' many unknowns. We're about to get our first glimpse of what the man tasked with rebuilding the Bears is like as a head coach.
"I feel confident, I feel ready, and I feel focused on the job at hand," Eberflus said. "I think that's where we are. We've prepared a long time to do this and we're all in that ready, that state of readiness."
What you got Braxton Jones?
Fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones quickly ascended from developmental draft pick to starting left tackle during the offseason program and training camp. But outside of practice battles with Robert Quinn, Jones went relatively untested during the preseason.
Now, he gets the pleasure of trying to keep Nick Bosa from wrecking the Bears' offensive game plan.
The Bears know Jones won't win every rep against Bosa and the 49ers' talented defensive front Sunday. But it's about flushing the losses and winning enough to keep the offense on track.
"One hundred percent," Jones said about trying to stay confident even when he loses reps. "I think that's a big thing I've worked on since the spring just going up against Robert Quinn. I have not won every rep. I have lost quite a few reps. So just being able to go to the next play, and I've had times where I had a bad play, and then I had a little tweak on the next play that I could have been better on. But I think that's the thing is that after a bad play, just refreshing it, going straight to the new play. One play at a time."
Jones has focused most of his prep on the 49ers' defensive front as a whole. He understands they have eight bodies to throw at the Bears' offensive line, and Bosa will move all around Sunday. It's not just about stopping Bosa.
"The mindset is the same," Jones said when asked how he'll mentally approach Bosa. "I think all these players in the NFL are here for a reason, you know. Obviously, when you're going against a pass rusher like that you might be a little more alarmed, but I think even the rushers that don't have the biggest names will get you because you aren't preparing the same way. You have to prepare the same way for everybody."
The Bears are incredibly high on Braxton Jones. If he can perform at league average or above during Year 1, Poles should take a bow for potentially finding a franchise left tackle on Day 3 of the draft.
Open it up
The Bears' offense showed little during the team's 3-0 preseason run.
Vanilla. Vanilla. Vanilla.
Now, they are ready to open it up.
"I'm tired of the three to four plays we ran in preseason," Mooney said. "I'm ready to open this thing up and get everybody off our back."
Getsy's offensive scheme has remained a relative mystery throughout training camp and the preseason. We know the base concepts of the attack and got a glimpse of its simplistic lethality in the preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.
Fields' skill set and Getsy's scheme appear to be the perfect blend. After a rookie season in which the Bears' offensive staff refused to alter the game plan to let Fields do what he does best, Getsy has built an offense tailored around who his quarterback is – an elite athlete who wants to attack deep.
After months of install, the Bears are finally ready to show what they've been working on for the better part of six months.
First impressions aren't everything, but the anticipation for what Getsy and Fields can do together is palpable.
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