LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus put 55 seconds on the clock Tuesday with one timeout and the ball at midfield for the offense.
On the first play, quarterback Justin Fields found tight end Cole Kmet for a long gain over the middle, but the officials flagged Kmet for offensive pass interference.
“They ripped me on an OPI to start it off, so that was great,” Kmet said sarcastically. “I went through that film and, eh, but whatever.”
Add a sack from Rasheem Green two plays later, and the offense had a long way to claw back just to get in field goal range. The type of behind-the-sticks situations that have plagued the offense for years.
Facing a third-and-17 after a timeout, Fields found receiver Tyler Scott for a 20-yard reception. The rookie got open down the seam and adjusted nicely to make the catch. After Fields spiked it, he hit DJ Moore. The veteran receiver adjusted his route as Fields scrambled, was tackled in bounds and then showed some savvy to bring the ball to the center as the offense rushed to the line.
Fields spiked it with less than one second on the clock, and Cairo Santos drilled a 50-yard field goal.
“The thing that I like the most is that ’Flus is … a phenomenal and outstanding communicator on that headset,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “He’s already talking about that moment before the drive starts. We always feel prepared. He’s talking, (director of research and analysis Harrison Freid’s) in there talking, who helps with our game management stuff. We’re always right on the same line. Luke (Getsy)’s there calling the play.
“What I really like about it is there was no panic when we got down to it. I like the fire that I saw in Justin’s eyes when we came off the field, knowing that we had a chance to execute that in practice. So that was awesome.”
After the pass interference, Moore had another catch on a high throw, showing off his strong hands to bring it down.
“Kind of had to fight back through that and we were able to get into field goal range there and get the field goal to win it,” Kmet said. “All of these situations that we are working on are awesome, we got a lot of them and a lot more to go before the end of camp. These are all things that need to be repped so when the moment comes up and these end-of-game situations happen like we’ve had this past year, we can go out and execute and win the game.”
The Bears weren’t in pads on their return to practice but worked on several specific situations, including this end-of-game drill. Santos ended up making five of six field goal attempts, including when the team practiced its “toro,” a hurry-up field goal with the clock winding.
Bears camp: Justin Fields-to-DJ Moore connection on display for fans at Soldier Field
Just getting started
Rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr. knows that his get-off needs work. The “game speed” of camp has tested him.
“The centers, the guards, they’re a lot faster and smarter,” Dexter said “We have great guards and centers on our team that I’m blessed to be able to compete against. Like I said, I just think they’re smarter.”
Eberflus has seen Dexter improve and knows what the potential is when Dexter gets his timing and pad level down.
“It’s not consistent where it needs to be,” Eberflus said Sunday. “Along with that get-off, because he’s such a tall man, his pad level, he’s really got to understand that charge, he is really strong and he can do some things being a little higher and getting away with it. But if he wants to be elite, he’s going to have to learn how to get off consistently and keep his pads down as he does that. He’s starting to do that. He’s looking better and better every single day.”
Eberflus told us in June how Dexter was more of a two-gap player at Florida, which meant the Bears wanted to work on his stance to help his “takeoff” position.
“Just key the ball,” Dexter said. “There’s no real tricks to it. Getting in a stance, getting down and getting off the ball, keying the ball, keying your man and getting out of your stance. … Staying consistent is something that you’ve got to do to play in this league for sure and definitely be dominant in this league. There are good players, and those great players are the ones that do it all the time.”
It’ll only get tougher for Dexter when the games count. Playing in the preseason — and playing well — is important. He’s had his flashes in camp, but against the Titans on Saturday, he’ll finally get to tackle running backs and hit quarterbacks.
“I’m eager to play the game of football,” Dexter said. “I’m eager to fly around. I’m ready to fly around and showcase myself and showcase my talent.”
And he’s eager to show that he can get off the ball — faster. Dexter said he’s comfortable in the stance the Bears want.
“I’ve always known that I could compete here,” said Dexter, who has practiced at both interior defensive-line positions: three-technique and one-technique.
“So I don’t think it’s changed any. But I’ve seen some success and I know that I can play here.”
When the Bears ran the end-of-game drill and had their nickel defense on the field, Dexter was out there with the starters, rushing alongside Justin Jones in the middle.
Intercepting an opportunity
In a full-team period, rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson intercepted Fields, leaping for the pick in coverage against receiver Darnell Mooney. It was a notable play for Stevenson, who is competing against fellow rookie Terell Smith in camp. Smith didn’t participate in practice.
Stevenson also made his play with other would-be starters on the sideline. Safety Jaquan Brisker and nickelback Kyler Gordon joined Smith as spectators.
Bears camp: Matt Eberflus sees an ‘every-down end’ in newcomer Yannick Ngakoue
Backs against the wall
Another situation Eberflus threw at the team Tuesday was starting a drive at the 4-yard line.
The first-team offense failed to convert. After a play-action pass to fullback Khari Blasingame, Fields failed to connect down the field with receiver Chase Claypool on third down. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson had tight coverage on the play, drawing cheers from the defensive sideline.
On the next set of downs, Fields completed a pass to Mooney, then was forced to throw it away. On third-and-long, he scrambled and checked down to running back Khalil Herbert. It looked like receiver Equanimeous St. Brown may have been open down the field.
The biggest play for the second-team offense in the “backed up” drill came when quarterback P.J. Walker hit Scott for a long gain over the middle.
Hightower also said he was pleased with how punter Trenton Gill handled kicking from the back of the end zone and with Velus Jones Jr. for catching the punt cleanly, something he’s been consistent at throughout camp.
“I’ve seen him get to the spot quicker and more efficiently than I’ve ever seen him do,” Hightower said. “And he just looks more relaxed when the ball is coming down. I think that’s just a testament to him reading nose-up or nose-down like when the ball’s in the air. And then it’s also, he’s tracking it better off of the foot.”
The injury list grew despite Monday’s off day. Safety Jaquan Brisker, cornerback Kyler Gordon, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, defensive end DeMarcus Walker and linebacker Dylan Cole remain out. Guard Lucas Patrick, who left Sunday’s practice at Soldier Field, did not practice, along with running back Roschon Johnson and Smith.
Right guard Nate Davis and linebacker Jack Sanborn returned to practice in a limited fashion. Newcomers Yannick Ngakoue and Marcedes Lewis also participated.
Speedy rookie receiver Tyler Scott is proving to be a fast learner in Bears camp
The Bears ended their kicking competition on Tuesday when they cut undrafted rookie — and Vernon Hills native — Andre Szmyt.
“He’s a great kid — a great kid,” Hightower said. “I think Andre is gonna have a great future.”
There was also a tight end swap, as the Bears waived/injured Jake Tonges and signed Lachland Pitts, an undrafted rookie out of William and Mary.
The Bears also added linebacker Barrington Wade, who played his high school football at Niles North. He played in four games for the Broncos in 2021.
(Top photo of Justin Fields on July 26: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)
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