The Chicago Bears continued their preparations for Saturday’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns with a practice Wednesday at Halas Hall that focused primarily on third down work.
Coach Matt Eberfluss wants to get a longer look at his best players and tends to play most of the starters and key regulars in the first half. Here are three things we learned on Wednesday.
1. Eddie Jackson is looking forward to the start of the season.
The veteran safety has been in a positive mindset since camp began, and he made a bold statement after Wednesday’s practice.
“Many people doubt us,” he said. “And we’re going to shock a lot of people. (It’s) the way we continue to work and the chemistry we build, especially on defense.”
Players from all 32 NFL teams make similar promises in August, and many of them never come true. But Jackson has shown a mix of comfort and confidence since the spring, and he hasn’t been shy about expressing his faith in the new system under coach Matt Eberfluss and defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
On Wednesday, Jackson also praised safeties coach Andre Curtis for his ability to teach players to understand the small details of an opposing offense while playing with sharp instincts.
Jackson gets coaching points, but also understands his responsibility to create his own production.
“If I don’t hustle, if I don’t run to the ball, if I don’t read my keys, make the right breaks and look at the target, you’re not going to create turnovers,” he said. . “But that’s what they emphasize — a lot.”
Additionally, Jackson believes he will thrive this season with a chance to play deep more often. He can’t wait for his off-field connection with rookie safety Jaquan Brisker to start turning into game day production. Players’ complementary skill sets should be mutually beneficial.
“That’s my boy,” Jackson said. “He is like a younger brother to me. I’m really excited to see what he can do and see what kind of dog he is. He’s a feisty guy, man. He wants to get into every play.”
2. The rookies have been a revelation for special teams coordinator Richard Hightower.
Hightower had a lot to be happy about in last week’s 27-11 win over the Seattle Seahawks as the young players stepped up across the board. Third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. kicked a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter to get things started.
“He has really good acceleration and good vision,” Hightower noted.
Hightower also highlighted rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon’s block in that game to help Spring Jones get away. Seahawks gunner Darrick Young was perfectly locked down by Gordon and Duke Shelley along the left sideline as Jones burst through the open lane with determination.
It doesn’t hurt the blocking effort to have an explosive returner like Jones on the field.
“Those guys usually get more excited blocking a guy that they know has a chance to go to the house,” Hightower said. “They’re still going to block, but there’s a little extra juice when you have a guy who you know can make a play.”
Seventh-round pick Elijah Hicks added a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half on a muffed punt in the end zone. Hicks caught Hightower’s attention with his attendance at meetings and constant enthusiasm.
“He’s a ball of energy every day,” Hightower said. “He is a sponge. I’m excited about Elijah, so we’ll see. A great first impression.”
Hightower also praised undrafted rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn’s continued practice and play. The Lake Zurich and Wisconsin native was credited with 10 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in the Bears’ two preseason wins, contributions that earn him a roster spot.
“You can’t deny his production,” Hightower said.
3. Braxton Jones continues to reveal weaknesses to focus on.
If Jones wants to be the answer at left tackle, he needs to provide consistent reliability in front of quarterback Justin Fields. After 27 snaps in two preseason games, Jones emphasized that he has work to do against the bullpen.
“I kind of put it on tape that people can rush me,” Jones said. “So that’s what people are going to do. I have to be more prepared for it and put my hands down. I didn’t throw my arms very well in the last preseason game. I have to use my hands more and more effectively.”
As a fifth-round pick out of FCS Southern Utah, it would be foolish to think Jones would be completely polished two weeks into his first NFL season. So the Bears need to be patient with his growth rate while pushing him to get stronger as soon as possible.
Jones also understands that he needs to be patient with himself in the inevitable struggles that come with a rookie competing against established leaders.
“I’m pretty hard on myself,” Jones said. “Usually, when I do something wrong, I realize it right away. … I try to be patient, but it’s not easy in this league. Those corner kicks are really good.”