Bears minicamp observations: Justin Fields, offense still have long way to go

LAKE FOREST – During the final practice of OTAs, the Bears’ offense had trouble gaining traction.

It was much of the same Tuesday during the first mandatory minicamp practice at Halas Hall.

With referees present, head coach Matt Eberflus elected to ditch the scripted plays and let his offense go against the defense to simulate a game-like setting.

That eight-play sequence started with Justin Fields hitting Darnell Mooney on a crossing route for a decent pick-up.

A false start on rookie left tackle Braxton Jones put the offense behind the sticks. But Fields got the offense out of trouble, hitting running back David Montgomery on a swing pass for a short gain before connecting with Equanimous St. Brown on a slant for a chunk play.

Then, the offense stalled.

Fields threw incomplete for Velus Jones Jr. down the left side, and the defense blew up a toss to Khalil Herbert on the next play to set up third-and-long. Fields connected with St. Brown on a curl route that was 1 yard short of the sticks. The Bears went for it on fourth-and-1, but the offensive line was whistled for a false start that ended the period.

Eberflus noted Fields and the offense are still very early in the install. That and the nature of unpadded practices can lead to more mistakes than you might see in a practice where the running game is a legitimate threat.

“I would just say that we’re continuing to work on getting better at everything—the footwork, the timing and just keep working on that,” Eberflus said of Fields and the offense. “I think a little bit of that is because you don’t have so much play-pass in this setting here because you’re not really running the ball. It almost becomes almost like a passing camp at times because you’re working on your passing game, because of the nature of the business.

“So, I think those windows will become more clear and more open once we get the pads on, so I’m excited about seeing that.”

Fields finished with a tough stretch in the 11-on-11 portion of practice.
It opened with Jaylon Johnson jumping an out route intended for Nsimba Webster and taking it back for what would have been a pick-six.

Fields then had a pass batted down by Micah Dew-Treadway before missing on his next attempt to finish the rough sequence.

“How do you respond?” Eberflus said when asked what he wanted to see from Fields after those plays. “Bounce back. Bounce back. We’re all going to get knocked down, right? Every one of us. We all get knocked down in life. What do you do? Bounce back. Just get up, next play.

“That’s what I want to see from all of our players, and that’s important. We’re all going to have adversity. You’ve got to step up and go to the next play. That’s what I want to see from him and the rest of the team, too.”

The Bears’ offense has been bogged down in the sessions the media has been able to view. But some of their struggles could be the product of facing a defense that already seems to have bought into Eberflus’ all intensity, all the time mantra.

“Definitely a lot,” Mooney said when asked how the defense challenges the offense. “We realized that the first couple of weeks when they were getting the ball out, punching the ball out, were all over the place. The way that they run to the ball, it makes you scream and want to finish to the end zone because you have guys screaming at you and running fast at you.

“That will help us, for sure. Just being able to finish and understand that guys are going to continue to come.”

Fields admitted he and the offense have a long way to go but was adamant they will be ready when Week 1 arrives.

“I think, for me, it’s just not making the same mistake twice,” Fields said. “If you make that one mistake on a play, just don’t do it again. If you ultimately keep getting better and keep growing, it’ll be less mistakes each and every day, and of course, you’ll be right where you want to be.”

Other notes from Day 1 of mandatory minicamp:

— Robert Quinn wasn’t present Tuesday. Eberflus seemed disappointed the veteran edge rusher elected not to show up but said he’d leave it up to general manager Ryan Poles to sort out. The absence was not excused.

— Offensive guard Dakota Dozier had to be carted off practice with what appeared to be a leg injury. Dozier, who is expected to compete for the starting right guard spot, saw action mainly as the backup left guard before his injury.

— The Bears’ first-string offensive line Tuesday saw Braxton Jones at left tackle, Cody Whitehair at left guard, Lucas Patrick at center, Sam Mustipher at right guard, and Larry Borom at right tackle. Teven Jenkins worked as the second-team right tackle.

Eberflus said the Bears would stick with that alignment for the remainder of minicamp before deciding how to move forward heading into training camp.

“So, we’re just assessing guys’ talents, assessing their skill level, and going forward from there,” Eberflus said. “You want to start honoring it down. Guys getting the same looks all the time, ‘I’m playing right guard, I’m playing right tackle,’” and getting the same looks, the same mechanics, so to speak. The technical mechanics to play the position. We want to hone that down; the sooner, the better. We just don’t have the answer right now.”

— Jaquan Brisker also picked off Fields, but this one was on receiver Dazz Newsome who let a ball bounce off his hands and into the arms of the Bears’ rookie safety.

— Kyler Gordon and Al Quadin-Muhammad were present but didn’t participate in practice.

— Rod Marinelli watched practice Tuesday and will speak to the team Wednesday.

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