Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberfluss will abandon the tradition of a meaningless final preseason game and instead play most of the kickoffs Saturday against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Before Tuesday’s practice at Halas Hall, Eberflus announced that quarterback Justin Fields will lead the team’s contingent of starters who will play before the break with the goal of getting 25 to 30 games. He said the Bears could draft experienced players earlier.
The last pre-season game was largely the territory of the reserves fighting for places in the final squad. But the reduction of the preseason schedule from four games to three last year, which coincides with the move to a 17-game regular season, has given teams one chance to get preseason work early in the season.
And with a new Bears coaching staff this season, Eberfluss sees the benefits of more play action coming together, even if the result is ultimately meaningless.
“It’s establishing your personality,” he said, “establishing your style of play, the effort we give, the execution we do, situational football, third downs, when we get two minutes of drive, how we operate in the red zone.” All those things that go into the game are good football.
“We want to play with a good, clean operation and we want to be aggressive in our style and aggressive in our approach.”
In the first two preseason games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, Fields took 27 snaps, completing 9 of 14 passes for 87 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked twice and ran twice for 11 yards.
After leading a field goal drive in Seattle, Fields said he will look at more game work under offensive coordinator Luke Getsey as “an opportunity for me to get better” before the Bears open the season Sept. 11 against the Suns – Francisco. 49ers at Soldier Field.
It’s unclear how many of Fields’ injured offensive playmakers will be ready to go Saturday. Eberfluss said the Bears will evaluate the status of running back David Montgomery later this week. Montgomery sat out the first two preseason games but participated in Tuesday’s intense practice.
Byron Pringle, Tajae Sharpe and N’Keel Harry are sidelined with injuries, while rookie Velus Jones Jr. also missed practice.
Veteran tight end Ryan Griffin echoed Eberfluss’ sentiment that Saturday’s game will be an opportunity for the offense to set the tone and define its identity. Griffin said that mission for the third preseason game is consistent with how Eberflus has been working during training camp.
“It seems like he wants us to be very intense and locked in every snap, so I think that’s what he would do for the third preseason game,” Griffin said. “It is his personality that permeates the entire team, the organization. It will be the “finish” for four quarters. We play at our best for four quarters.”
Eberflus, who said he has informed Browns coach Kevin Stefanski of the Bears’ plans, also said he expects linebacker Roquan Smith to play in his first game since Smith ended the “delay” after contract talks broke down. Smith practiced for the first time Saturday and is building up to more than five practices leading up to Saturday to get into game shape.
While Smith is a fifth-year veteran who could likely be ready for the opener without playing in a preseason game, defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Sunday that it would be beneficial to have Smith working on the field.
“He was at all the meetings. He was attentive. But there’s nothing better than going out there and doing it live,” Williams said. “There is a type of coach and there is a type of player. He was in coach mode in the way he looked at things on film from the walks he wasn’t on.
“Now he’s there, so he just needs familiarity with what we call motions, communication with the defense. He’ll be fine.”