The Chicago Bears went into a weeklong practice mode at Halas Hall, using regular-season practices and meeting routine to prepare for Saturday’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.
The team practiced Tuesday afternoon in Lake Forest and will be back on the field Wednesday and Thursday. Here are three things we learned on Tuesday.
1. Roquan Smith’s presence matters.
Smith returned to practice over the weekend, pushing aside his dissatisfaction with his contract to return to the Bears’ defense as he was asked to play out the final year of his rookie deal. He made an immediate impact during Tuesday’s first-team period, scoring a slot on the play and drilling running back David Montgomery.
With Smith’s contract situation on the back burner for the foreseeable future, his play and production deserve the most attention. For those who played with Smith, his return to the field was energizing.
“Everybody has a different sense of confidence when they’re out there,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “Especially for me, playing with him for two years, there are some things that are kind of unspoken. We don’t always have to communicate some things. We just see things the same way.”
Bears coach Matt Eberflus plans plays with his starters and main regulars in the first half Saturday in Cleveland. And, yes, that means Smith figures to play.
Johnson praised Smith’s football intelligence and physicality as qualities that enhance the respect Smith has earned from his defensive teammates. Johnson also has slight concerns that Smith will be able to separate his aggravation with the front office from his push on the field to become a better defensive player.
“He wants to be one of the greats,” Johnson said. “He has to keep the main thing, the main thing, and now it’s a ball game. He had been doing this ever since he went back. He is a true professional. At the end of the day, he just wants to play ball and play with us.”
2. Receiver Dazz Newsome was among five players cut when the Bears trimmed their roster to 80.
The biggest wave of cuts will take place next week, with teams having to form their initial 53-man rosters by 3:00 p.m. on August 30. Newsom was among those released by Tuesday, when 80 people ran out.
General manager Ryan Powles also waived tight end Jake Vargas, defensive end BoPete Keys and defensive back LaKyle London and terminated the contract of veteran offensive tackle Julien Davenport. A movement towards rejection Newsome was the most notable, sending another one of former GM Ryan Pace’s draft picks. In 2021, Newsome was selected in the sixth round.
Pace made 46 draft picks in seven years as the Bears’ GM. As of Tuesday morning, 17 remained on the roster, but only five were selected through 2020: Montgomery, Smith, quarterback Eddie Jackson, guard Cody Whitehair and defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson.
Newsome broke his collarbone in the spring of his rookie season and never broke through to become a bigger part of the team’s offensive plans. He spent most of the year on the practice squad and made the gameday roster twice before being activated to the 53-man roster for the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings.
Newsome had two receptions for the Bears: a 10-yarder in a Week 16 win over the Seattle Seahawks and a 13-yarder in the Finals against the Vikings. He also returned six punts for 75 yards last season. Now, his career is on a new path as the Bears’ rebuilding efforts under a new regime continue.
3. Thirteen players did not participate in practice, including rookies Jaquan Brisker and Velus Jones Jr.
Brisker will be out until September after surgery to repair a right thumb suffered during the Aug. 13 preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs. However, there is hope that the rookie can play in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers.
Jones, another Day 2 draft pick who missed the preseason game against the Chiefs with an undisclosed injury, was unable to practice again on Tuesday. His 48-yard punt return against the Seahawks last week provided a special spark to the teams which was the Bears’ first touchdown in the 27-11 victory. His availability in Saturday’s pre-season finale is worth watching, with Eberfluss promising to play in the starting line-up and key regulars throughout the first half.
Other players who missed practice were Byron Pringle, N’Kill Harry and Tajae Sharp; defensive backs Tevon Young, Thomas Graham Jr. and Jaylon Jones; running backs Khalil Herbert and Treston Ebner; defensive tackle Angelo Blackson; midfielder Caleb Johnson; and center Lucas Patrick.