Bears Players to Watch Ahead of Preseason Week 1

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2021

Bears Players to Watch Ahead of Preseason Week 1

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    While the Chicago Bears only managed to win eight games in 2020, they did make the postseason. Improving that record will be a goal in 2021, but it isn't the only challenge lying ahead for Chicago. 

    The Bears traded up to draft former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields this past April. While they may lean on veteran Andy Dalton to lead them this season, developing Fields will be part of the process. No matter how Chicago fares in 2021, Fields is expected to be the quarterback of the future.

    The two-pronged process for coach Matt Nagy and Co. will begin in earnest on Saturday when Chicago hosts the Miami Dolphins. Naturally, many eyes will be on the top two quarterbacks—Nick Foles is also on the roster, for now—but they aren't the only players worth following throughout the preseason.

    Here are three players fans should be sure to watch this Saturday. 

The Offensive Line

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    Regardless of who sees the bulk of the quarterback snaps in 2021, the Bears are going to need quality offensive line play to succeed. Last season, the Chicago line surrendered 35 sacks while paving the way for the league's 25th-ranked rushing attack. 

    Unfortunately, injuries have been an issue along the line in camp, as projected starters Germain Ifedi (hip) and rookie Teven Jenkins (back) have been sidelined. 

    "All these injuries mean reserves Alex Bars, Arlington Hambright and Dieter Eiselen are likely to see extended playing time when Chicago opens its preseason schedule next week against the Dolphins." ESPN's Jeff Dickerson wrote. 

    Chicago appears likely to run with a patchwork offensive line against Miami. While that may not excite fans, getting a look at depth will be important. Injuries along the line happen, and with the league turning to a 17-game schedule this season, depth will be more important than ever. 

WR Darnell Mooney

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    While watching backup offensive linemen play may not thrill fans, second-year wideout Darnell Mooney should. He flashed plenty of promise as a rookie, finishing with 631 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He's also likely to fill the No. 2 receiver role opposite Allen Robinson II on a full-time basis now.

    Chicago recently traded wideout Anthony Miller to the Houston Texans.

    In camp, Mooney has appeared poised for a big second-year leap.

    "Mooney is on fire with his route-running," Nagy said, per Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times. "He's running some routes right now that I really hadn't seen him running. ...He's putting his own spin and stamp on more routes."

    On Saturday, Mooney should get the opportunity to build on what he's done in camp against a real, live opponent.

QB Justin Fields

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    This, of course, is the obvious one. While Dalton may be the Week 1 starter—as has been Chicago's plan all offseason—Fields is Chicago's quarterback of the future. On Saturday, he'll get his first opportunity to go against an NFL defense in a different uniform.

    Against the Bears defense in camp, Fields has been impressive.

    "He's very smart, throws really good balls, very accurate," cornerback Desmond Trufant said, per The Athletic's Adam Jahns. “He can move around back there in the pocket and make plays with his legs as well. I'm excited to see what he can do, man."

    It remains to be seen whether Fields has done enough to push Dalton for the starting role, but a strong preseason debut could at least spark that conversation.

    At the least, it should provide fans with a hopeful glimpse at their quarterbacking future.