It’s only been four practices without pads and the pads come this week, but Sunday’s off for the Bears offered time to take stock of the first segment of training camp.
Five players in particular stood up to be counted in these opening practices.
None of them are linemen, offensive or otherwise. It’s nearly impossible to judge linemen based on fake contact.
The upcoming practice segment will talk more about this once pads are used and one-on-one pass blocking occurs.
What’s most encouraging for Bears GM Ryan Poles is that three of the players who made strong first impressions were 2022 draft picks he brought here.
1. WR Darnell Mooney
Sleek, polished and ready to prove he should retain his status as the team’s No. 1 receiver, Mooney truly has his sights set on something bigger as he impresses on a daily basis with route running and an expanded catch repertoire. He looks more capable of going up for a catch this year.
“I don’t think about any statistics, any personal statistics, any individual,” Mooney said. “I want to win. The most important thing is that I want to win. Winning will take care of everything, no matter what — the Pro Bowl, all those individual honors — everything will help us by itself when we’re winning.”
Make no mistake, Mooney has goals, but not numbers. His main is tall.
“I still want to be great,” Mooney said. “I still want to be the best player, the best receiver in the league. And I will get it.”
2. WR Velus Jones Jr.
In particular, he has beaten rookie Kyler Jones. Three times he got ahead of Jones for the catch, but Gordon’s play was so exemplary it’s like the proverbial flea on the elephant.
Jones’ speed is evident, and when the pads are on, his power should be as well.
There hasn’t been much presence in intermediate routes for him, but on deep routes his 4.31 second speed is quite evident. The surprise was his ability to fake on those deep routes as a veteran.
3. DB Kyler Gordon
Beaten by Jones, of course, but he’s always on the ball during a full team in the red zone or seven-on-seven work, and if he’s beat in those, it’s a hard contested catch. Gordon made a heads-up pick on Justin Fields after a hand-picked pass from Mooney on a red-zone scrimmage. It was the type of heads-up zone play that a linebacker or nickel back would normally make, so it’s no surprise that he’s being looked at both on the outside and inside.
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“I don’t know why,” said Gordon. “They just told me, ‘learn the nickel. You’re going there.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready.’
“And I just smiled and I was just excited.”
4. S Jaquan Brisker
Fields’ interception in Friday’s practice was probably the defensive play of the camp. It was the kind of heady interception the veteran produces. He appeared to almost bait Fields into throwing over the middle to Cole Kmet before moving, stepping in front of the starting tight end to pull the ball and fly upfield.
“I like playing next to him,” Gordon said of the Penn State safety. “I know he’s a big, physical dude and we talk about him being physical all the time.
“I mean, you definitely see him out there swinging his arms and always hitting the ball. Guys with long arms and getting physical, that’s what I like. It’s just nice to know that someone plays with the same physique that I like to play with. His energy will bounce off of me and make me raise my energy. So I really enjoy playing with him.”
5. QB Justin Fields
Improved footwork, accuracy on intermediate and shorter passes, and better vision when receivers are actually open are all evident. The interception he threw to Brisker was the only blip on the radar. He also seems to have a better feel for when to dump it where no one can reach it but his target near the goal line and in the corners of the end zone.
“Forget the whole athletic part,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsey said. “This guy, with the way he attacks every day and his approach and leads by example, and you know, he doesn’t ask anybody to do anything that he doesn’t expect himself to do. This guy, he is a born leader type of person. So we’re lucky to have a guy like him running this thing.”
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