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Nine Bears Points of Preseason Interest

The first Bears preseason game since 2019 creates plenty of intrigue because Justin Fields will play for the first time, but there are several other themes to follow.

It's been a while.

Bears fans haven't seen a meaningless preseason game since 2019, so perhaps a refresher course is in order before Saturday's noon game at Soldier Field against the Miami Dolphins.

The point of preseason is to test players and see how they look against an opponent in live circumstances for evaluation.

No one cares if the Bears win, although it's always better to say they have. What's more important is if they win and the first team or key players are effective. If the entire team plays well in a preseason loss, count it as a win.

There is an added twist to this preseason game. 

DOLPHINS AT BEARS: Saturday, noon, NFL Network, Fox-32 

It's possibly the most important preseason game they've ever played.

This is because it's the debut of Justin Fields in a Bears uniform.

In past years, a rookie quarterback might get a quarter or quarter and a half of play. Coach Matt Nagy is hinting at something different for Fields. He wants to see Fields under game conditions as much as anyone else.

"I would think and I would say that for Justin, yah know, for sure past the halftime," Nagy said. "I'd hate to say anything is 100 percent. But the mindset going into this is that he's going to get a lot of reps.

"Does that take him into the fourth quarter? Maybe. Yah know. Yeah. Who knows? We'll see. But the more reps we can get out of him right now the better. It's only going to help him."

Nagy isn't about to stick the franchise out on the field with players who will be cut because he needs targets and blocking, so it could mean some unusual mixes and longer playing time for a few better players to help Fields.

"It's kind of going to be a little mixture of how we do it," Nagy said.

Here's what to watch and who to watch in preseason game No. 1, the beginning of the Justin Fields era at Soldier Field. 

1. Justin Fields in the offense

Is Fields locating targets in time within the offense and getting the ball on point downfield. The Bears want to see Fields display some of that athleticism he is known to have, but more important at this point is mastery of the attack. He has to locate targets from in the pocket an hit them. They know he can scramble around and playground it. That's not a winning NFL approach. Even Patrick Mahomes found this out in the Super Bowl when he was hounded and had to do everything himself.

2. Andy Dalton's efficiency

The Bears think Dalton has this offense down and he's operating it with the ease of someone who has been in it a long time. Can he show this? The encouraging aspect of Dalton's play within the offense at practice has been his willingness to send it downfield after he'd been producing meager yards-per-attempt averages the last four years. The Bears need this. They need the offense to work efficiently, without penalties or turnovers and it's on Dalton to get it done even in only a few snaps of playing time.

3. Elijah Wilkinson's flip

The idea wasn't to use Wilkinson against the Dolphins or anyone else as a starting left tackle but here they are. Wilkinson might be the Day 1 starter at left tackle because of Teven Jenkins' back injury and he's never played left tackle in an NFL game, just right side. The Dolphins are going to blitz some. It's what they do. Can the line and particularly Wilkinson make adjustments and pick it up. The Bears will want to closely examine film afterward on any of the other players who get time at left tackle to see if they're capable, from possibly Badara Traore to Lachavious Simmons and Arlington Hambright. Larry Borom would have benefited greatly from seeing time this week but he's in the concussion protocol. Even if he gets out of it by game time it might be a reach to just stick him in at left tackle after he's missed a week out of a two-week camp. These first two games will be critical to the Bears personnel evaluation because they need to know if they must pick up someone's discarded left tackle when final cuts come, or even trade for a left tackle should Jenkins' back not come around.

4. Receivers who make an impact

Don't expect Allen Robinson to play because of hamstring tightness but if he does feel well enough to go then it won't be for long. The same goes for Darnell Mooney's amount of time. The Bears are going to look at all their other receivers extensively. Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Rodney Adams, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Chris Lacy and tight ends like Jesse James, Jesper Horsted and Scooter Harrington should get long looks.

5. Duke Shelley and his competition

So far Shelley has retained the nickel cornerback spot and no serious challenger has taken away reps with the first team, although last year he didn't stand out when given the chance to play there for injured Buster Skrine.

Defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend likes how Shelley is fearless and plays like he's 6-4, 215 instead of 5-8, 183. Can he cover the slot and avoid being an easy mark for veteran quarterbacks looking for cheap yardage over the middle? It must start show. The Bears really need to see the other possible slot corners step forth, like Thomas Graham Jr. So far Graham has been beaten too many times in practices. The Bears have tried DeAndre Houston-Carson and Marqui Christian at the spot, as well. It's essentially a starting position since the slot cornerback is on the field more than half of snaps in today's NFL.

6. What Khalil Herbert can do

David Montgomery won't like it because he always wants carries, but he's a starting running back and not someone the Bears will risk for long if at all. Expect Herbert to get the bulk of the carries, although Artavis Pierce could take some later. C.J. Marable might get a share in the fourth quarter. It's possible Damien Williams will get a few early, as well. He missed a year of football so they might want to shake off his rust, but it seems he's been doing this in practices. Herbert runs with power and speed even though he's not a huge back, and he shows better hands so far in practice than some predraft scouting reports suggested.

7. Left cornerback battle

The Battle lines were draw by the "unofficial" depth chart released by the team. Does Kindle Vildor continue to hold the starting left cornerback spot or can challenger Desmond Trufant make in-roads?

8. Special (teams) guys

They really can't work much beyond walk-through level on special teams coverage and returns in camp but games are totally different. The Bears lost a couple players capable of playing the gunner spots on punt coverage and need to replace them. Wims might first crack at one of these. There are a few other veterans trying to earn one of these. Herbert will be tried as a kick returner and it will be interesting to see who the others are doing it because they've given numerous others tries in practice but no one else consistently has had opportunities. Will they let Dazz Newsome return some punts after his broken collarbone. They put Hebert back for some punts in one practice and previously few would have thought of him as a punt returner. He didn't do it in college. Another possibility on returns is Damien Williams, although he hasn't had to do it much in recent years.

9. Nick late

Nick Foles will get into the game in the fourth quarter, if not the third. This could be important in that Indianapolis, Dallas, the Jets and maybe others could be watching him closely to see what he has.

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