What we learned as Fields operates crisp offense in red zone originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The star linebacker did not participate in practice Thursday despite being deemed healthy by the team. It's clear Smith plans to hold in while he and the Bears either work on a contract extension or a trade.
On the field, the Bears were in shells and without 21 players, including tight end Cole Kmet, running back David Montgomery, and wide receivers Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle, N'Keal Harry, and David Moore.
Despite the lack of offensive weapons, quarterback Justin Fields operated a crisp offense working with Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe, and backup tight ends Chase Allen and Jake Tonges.
The Bears started the day with some work in the low red zone, an area in which the offense has been quite successful early in camp.
Fields had a pass to Khalil Herbert batted down at the line of scrimmage but responded by hitting Allen and Tonges for touchdowns on back-to-back throws. Allen's heels appeared to be on the end line, but the officials gave him the score. On the Tonges score, Fields was flushed right and made a slick off-platform throw to the second-string fullback/reserve tight end.
Next, the Bears moved the ball to the fringe of the red zone and asked the offense to get six.
Fields opened the drive with a pass to fullback Khari Blasingame in the flat. Next, he stepped up the pocket and fired a side-arm bullet to Mooney on a slant to get the offense inside the 25.
Two plays later, Fields was pressured from the edge but took off up the middle for a gain of 7 and a first down. After back-to-back passes to Herbert in the flat, Fields delivered the play of the day.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy dialed up an RPO with the ball around the 15. Fields faked to Herbert, rolled left, and saw Sharpe coming open in the end zone's back corner. Fields lofted a ball over a defender and hit Sharpe in stride. The receiver quickly tapped both feet down before his momentum carried him out of bounds.
Fields' ability to lead the offense to arguably its best day of camp with minimal weapons is another sign of his Year 2 growth.
"The offense came out really well," head coach Matt Eberflus said after practice. "We had that red zone, then we backed him up to the high red, the fringe area, and I thought they operated really good. His timing is getting better and it's really, for him, that's really good because how do you get the timing down with different receivers? For him to be able to do that, that shows a lot, to me. We're excited where he is on that front, for sure."
While the offense was smooth at the start of practice, the defense hit back during the high red zone drill and "move the ball" portion.
On second-and-10 from the 20-yard line, Fields rifled a fastball over the middle to Sharpe. The veteran receiver clearly wasn't ready for the pass but somehow held on to set up third and medium.
That's when the defense stood tall.
On third down, Fields had Mooney breaking open on the left side, but Jaylon Johnson recovered quickly to break up the pass and nearly had an interception that likely would have been returned for a pick-six.
The Bears' fourth-and-5(ish) play had no chance. Khyiris Tonga blew up the middle of the Bears' offensive line and sacked Fields before the play had a chance to develop.
All in all, it was probably the first day the Bears' offense notched a tie with the defense during training camp.
The offense continues to be successful in the red zone, and Fields has elevated his game while working without a number of his top targets.
Here are more notes from Day 13:
-- Kyler Gordon, Pringle, Jones Jr., Harry, Tavon Young, Thomas Graham Jr., Mario Edwards Jr., Kmet, Montgomery, and Ryan Griffin were among those who did not participate in practice Thursday.
-- While Smith didn't practice, he was seen by the training room with Montgomery and Angelo Blackson. Eberflus said the Bears expect healthy players to practice, but it's unclear whether or not the Bears will discipline the star linebacker for holding in.
-- Eberflus told the media that he expects Kmet, Montgomery, and Gordon to return soon. However, he doesn't expect them to play Saturday in the preseason opener against the Chiefs.
-- Wide receiver Isaiah Coulter had another productive day Thursday. He worked mainly with the second team Thursday after connecting with Fields on Wednesday.
-- Eberflus expects the starters to play around 15-20 snaps Saturday. Some will play 10-15 while others play 15-20.
-- Rookie Braxton Jones noted how practicing against Robert Quinn has helped his development as he looks to secure the starting left tackle position.
"I think the biggest thing for me is just the quickness of it," Jones said. "Going against maybe a rookie -- no offense to any of the rookies or anything like that -- they're just not as quick to the point. He's really quick to the point. He's on you like that. That's the biggest thing for me, that might not even be win or loss. I think just getting used to that quickness and his reaction time is amazing. So, I think that's one of the big things too."
-- Dante Pettis returned to practice Thursday after a week-long absence.
-- Harry had tight-rope surgery on his ankle. The Bears didn't give a timeline for his return. Moore also will be out for a while after suffering a leg injury Tuesday.
-- The Bears will be off Friday before Saturday's preseason opener.