All eyes will be on Justin Fields when he takes the field Saturday afternoon for the first time in a Bears uniform and that’s how it should be for the No. 11 overall pick.
But elsewhere on the field, many other players will be battling to win jobs and prove themselves at the NFL level. With the 2020 preseason wiped out by COVID-19, some second-year players will be seeing their first NFL action. In some ways, it’s almost like there are two rookie classes to evaluate.
With that in mind, here are six key players other than Fields that I’ll have a close eye on Saturday when the Bears host the Miami Dolphins:
OT Elijah Wilkinson
In a perfect world, Wilkinson would be the swing tackle with second round pick Teven Jenkins starting at left tackle and Germain Ifedi starting at right tackle. But the Bears’ offensive line world is far from perfect right now and it’s starting to look likely that Wilkinson will be the starting left tackle in Week 1 against the Rams. Wilkinson played 1858 snaps for the Broncos the last three seasons, so he has experience, but most of that came on the right side and he never solidified his role as a starter. If Wilkinson is really going to be a starting left tackle for the Bears, he needs valuable reps and that starts Saturday at Soldier Field.
OT Lachavious Simmons/OG Arlington Hambright
I’m cheating and putting these two offensive linemen together, because they were both drafted in the seventh round in 2020 and are both being asked to fill important depth roles right now. Simmons is currently the No. 4 offensive tackle, but with both Jenkins and Ifedi out, that means he’s the starting right tackle. That’s asking a lot for a guy who didn’t see a single snap last year. In fact, because there was no preseason last year, Saturday’s game will be Simmons’ first NFL action.
Hambright, meanwhile, is also being thrown into the starting offensive line after Alex Bars – who was already filling in for James Daniels – left practice with a knee injury Thursday. Hambright started one game at left guard last year as a rookie and probably wasn’t quite ready. Against the Dolphins, we’ll get a chance to see Hambright and Simmons next to each other on the right side of the line and it will be interesting to see how they look.
CB Kindle Vildor
Vildor has had a strong offseason, but still appears to be behind veteran Desmond Trufant as they compete for the starting cornerback spot opposite Jaylon Johnson. But Vildor will likely play a ton of snaps Saturday and if he continues to make plays on the ball, he could make a strong argument that he should be the starter.
EDGE Trevis Gipson
Another 2020 draft pick, Gipson essentially went through a red-shirt year last year as he transformed his body and made the transition to outside linebacker. Now he physically looks the part, but still needs game experience. There haven’t been many splash plays from Gipson in training camp, but perhaps that will change in these preseason games.
RB Khalil Herbert
Herbert has made a push in the last week or so and is receiving more reps with Justin Fields and No. 2 offense. Considering David Montgomery won’t play a ton Saturday, Herbert should receive a good amount of carries in the game. He was a huge part of Virginia Tech’s offense last year – some would say he was the offense – and he’s looked pretty good in camp. Herbert should also see a kick return opportunity or two as well.