The Chicago Bears held their fourth practice in full pads Saturday morning at Halas Hall, and for the first time this summer they went live with tackling, leading to an injury on the first snap.
Wide receiver N’Keal Harry had to be helped off the field, unable to put weight on his left leg after linebacker Nicholas Morrow and free safety Eddie Jackson tackled him on a wide receiver screen that was stopped near the line of scrimmage.
The team ran one more live play and that was it for tackling on the day during a practice in high heat and humidity that lasted about 1 hour, 50 minutes. Here is more about Harry, the depth at wide receiver and three more things we learned.
1. The Bears suddenly were short on wide receivers after N’Keal Harry suffered what could be a left ankle or foot injury.
Byron Pringle, signed to a one-year, $4.125 million contract, was sidelined for the first time this summer. Coach Matt Eberflus revealed Pringle has a quad injury and will be out for some time. As has been the case, Eberflus declined to put a timetable on a potential return but indicated there is hope Pringle’s absence will not bleed into the regular season.
Because Harry’s injury was so recent, Eberflus didn’t have anything to share. It’s not a good sign when a player cannot put weight on a leg. The Bears last month traded a 2024 seventh-round draft pick to the New England Patriots to acquire Harry, thinking the 2019 first-round draft pick from Arizona State could benefit from a new environment with an opportunity to compete on a wide-open depth chart.
If Harry misses considerable time, he’s going to be hard-pressed to push for a job. Rookie Velus Jones and Dante Pettis also sat out Saturday, leaving Darnell Mooney and Equanimeous St. Brown to get the majority of reps with the starters. Eberflus said Jones, who has impressed with versatility and his ability to absorb information, should not be out long. Stepping up with an opportunity was Tajae Sharpe, who made a nice catch over the middle after Justin Fields identified the blitz in a period when the offense was driving for a field goal with time running down.
2. Matt Eberflus said the tempo of practice and application of his ‘HITS’ principle would be the biggest challenges for players.
After the last two practices, both in full pads and both lasting just shy of two hours , Eberflus has believers, with some saying they were stretched out in the locker room afterward.
“We used to practice in the morning (in Las Vegas), so (the heat) was a little different,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “It’s so humid here. You walk outside and you just want it to rain because it is so humid. That’s one thing. But the intensity going from period to period, having to run to the ball and like the way we go about things, it’s a lot harder than what I have usually done for sure.
“He said it here — it’s going to be the hardest thing you have ever done, right? He’s keeping his promise, that’s for one, and then two, he wants to make it hard enough that when you get to the game it is not as hard or maybe you’ve had that intensity before than you can adapt to it.”
Eberflus said this is an element of training camp he believes is required each summer, not just in his initial phase when he and the staff are putting protocols in place.
“Every year you come in, you have to build that mental and physical stamina,” he said. “You’ve got to reset it and it’s going to (happen) because your team changes every year. You get new free agents, you get new rookies. It’s a big flip every year. Not as big as this year, but it will be new every single year. We’ve got to reteach it and redo it.”
3. Eberflus isn’t in a rush to make decisions regarding the depth chart.
The Bears will play their first preseason game Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field, and as they get deeper into the month, they will want a better idea of who the starters and backups are across the board. But it’s not an issue the coaching staff is pressing to find answers for because of so many openings across the board and so many players to evaluate.
“When it comes to light, it’ll be there,” Eberflus said. “Yep, this guy’s making a move. He’s made the move. He’s been consistent. This guy is clearly the starter now and let’s let it play out. If you let that happen, then it happens naturally. You have situations like that. And a lot of times, coaches force the issue a little bit and anoint certain players, ‘Hey, he’s the starter here and he’s the starter here.’ And the other guys goes, ‘Oh, I’m just a backup.’ We don’t want to put ceilings on guys. We want to be able to complete — leave it open, let ‘em compete and a guy might rise up at the end to take the job. We’ve got to let that happen.”
4. Rookie Braxton Jones, who spent most of the week with the starters at left tackle, exited practice early.
Eberflus said Jones would be fine seemed to indicate he would be back in the mix soon. Riley Reiff and Cody Whitehair were in uniform but did not participate in team drills. Eberflus said coaches wanted to rest the veterans, which of course allowed them to evaluate some younger players like Larry Borom at right tackle and Ja’Tyre Carter at left guard. Rookie center Doug Kramer continued to have occasional issues snapping the ball.
The team was thin at cornerback again with Kyler Gordon, Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley and Thomas Graham (hamstring) sidelined. It was the second straight practice Gordon and Vildor missed. Greg Stroman got more opportunities to run with the first unit and made a nice breakup of a pass deep down the sideline intended for Equanimeous St. Brown.
Linebacker Joe Thomas made a nice breakup over the middle on a pass to tight end Rysen John. Thomas has been working with the first and second teams as Roquan Smith remains out of practice.