Why Bears are playing Justin Fields in preseason finale vs. Bills originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With five of their top-six offensive linemen either injured, banged up, or ramping up to a return, the Bears faced a dilemma when it comes to Saturday's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field.
In the end, Option A won out.
Bears head coach Matt Eberflus announced Thursday that Fields and all healthy starters will play select snaps Saturday against the Bills.
Eberflus and the Bears' staff considered the offensive line's state before making the decision. While the offensive line's health is a factor, the Bears believe that live game reps are too valuable to pass up, especially after sitting Fields and the starters for the second preseason game.
"Game, get him in the game, get him game experience in there," Eberflus said when asked why they decided to play Fields. "And really just to get him the game feel. He obviously has game experience, but we just want to be able to do that with the unit."
Left tackle Braxton Jones is the only fully healthy member of the Bears' starting offensive line. Left guard Teven Jenkins is "week-to-week" with a leg injury and could miss time well into September. With Jenkins out, the Bears kicked starting center Cody Whitehair back to left guard. Whitehair has been practicing with a wrap on his right hand after suffering a hand injury during joint practices with the Colts. Right guard Nate Davis has missed most of training camp. He returned and started his ramp-up last week but has not participated in the last two practices. Right tackle Darnell Wright suffered an ankle injury during Tuesday's practice and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Top reserve offensive lineman Lucas Patrick returned to practice for the first time in two weeks Monday but is back to being listed as "day to day" after not participating in team drills for the last three practices.
With the offensive line living in the training room, the offensive line in front of Fields on Saturday will likely be Jones, either Whitehair or Alex Leatherwood, Doug Krame, Ja'Tyre Carter, and Larry Borom.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott said he will play his starters, meaning this makeshift Bears offensive line will have its hands full trying to keep Fields clean Saturday.
Given the state of the offensive line, sitting Fields would have been a defensible move.
But after deeming that the offense has "A to Z" issues with execution, detail, and precision last week, Eberflus and his staff feel game reps are needed to smooth out the rough patches.
"Getting the reps in the game," Eberflus said when asked what he wants Fields to get out of the finale. "Being able to function with his teammates and with his receivers, the offensive line and tight ends. Just to get that efficiency down, if it's for a short period of time or a longer period of time, just for that time."
The Bears played Fields and the first-team offense for the entire first half of last preseason's finale in Cleveland. It seems unlikely that will be the case on Saturday.
"I would look at everything there," Eberflus said when asked how much Fields will play. "Everything, meaning the depth chart, the people available, where we are as an offense, where we are as a defense relative to scheme, and all that needs to be looked at to make that decision."
With 17 days until kick-off against the Green Bay Packers, Fields and the first-team offense need live reps to find a rhythm after what has been an uneven camp. The Bears believe work on the back fields at Halas Hall isn't enough to fix the issues that have been prevalent throughout camp.
So Fields will play Saturday against the Bills because the Bears have faith their offensive line won't crumble and believe the offense won't be Week 1 ready without time on turf in the preseason finale.