BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Fans weren’t allowed in to Tuesday’s practice at Olivet Nazarene University, but hopefully none of you had any FOMO while being kept away. Not a whole lot worth noting happened during a light, non-padded walkthrough with the Bears looking ahead to Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game against the Baltimore Ravens.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Bears will approach the first NFL game to take place since last February’s epic Super Bowl…
OFFENSE: Play the waiting game
Matt Nagy declined to say who will and won’t play on Thursday, but Jordan Howard went on NFL Network later in the day and said he won’t play and doesn’t think Mitch Trubisky will, either. This is hardly surprising: Last year, Blaine Gabbert and Trevor Knight were the quarterbacks used by the Arizona Cardinals (who entered the season with Carson Palmer as their starter); the Dallas Cowboys used Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush (instead of Dak Prescott).
For the Bears, there’s no reason to put their offensive centerpieces into harms’ way on Thursday. Not every expected starter will sit, but a quarterback (Trubisky), a heavily-used running back (Howard) anyone coming off an injury (Allen Robinson, Kyle Long) will, or most likely will. So while that’s sort of a bummer that we won’t get to see a glimpse of what Nagy’s offense could look like a week early, it’s certainly the prudent thing to do.
DEFENSE: Hit somebody else
While the same player-protection strategy will apply to the Bears’ defense, for the guys vying to make the 53-man roster, getting to go live with no restrictions is an awfully welcome change. In particular, Thursday night should feel great for the Bears’ outside linebackers, who will have a chance to chase down Lamar Jackson and actually get their hands on a quarterback for the first time.
“Part of preparing your team for the season is making sure you pick the right 53 guys,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “We’re heavy into evaluation in this game, more so than evaluating scheme. We want to see these guys play, see how they do.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: Make your case
Whatever happens on Thursday will only slightly move the needle on position battles (that’s why, for example, if James Daniels doesn’t play due to a shoulder issue it won’t really change things for him). But for special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, Thursday night will provide him his best opportunity to date to evaluate who could be a part of his special teams units come September.
“I’m going to be able to see guys who really are for what they are,” Tabor said. “I have an idea, but their tape is going to tell me if I maybe need to move them to a different spot. So I’m excited about it.”
So for all the undrafted free agents or fringe guys who are hoping to stick with the Bears — or with any of the other 31 teams — what they put on tape on Thursday night will be a big part of those efforts. For a guy like running back Ryan Nall, rushing for 120 yards on 17 carries would be great, but putting some good special teams work on tape would be equally, if not more, important.
COACHES: Work on clock management
The Bears — like the Ravens — didn’t do any gameplanning for a bonus preseason game that’ll mostly be populated by guys who will have to fight their way onto a 53-man roster or work to secure a practice squad spot. So specific playcalling or anything along those lines isn’t going to be a focus for Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
What Thursday does represent is an early opportunity to treat clock management like a game situation, though.
“There's a test for all of us coaches as far as how we want to go about it, especially me for time management, game management, how you want to do that stuff,” Nagy said. “But as far as game plan, this is about the players and letting them play so they can show off their talents to us so we know who we want to keep.”