The best news coming from the Bears’ __-__ __ to the Tennessee Titans is that it marked the end of the preseason and the Green Bay Packers come to town in less than one week, when the real fun begins. Moreover, with the exception of promising undrafted rookie TE Dax Raymond (concussion) and fellow rookie OL Blake Blackmar (ankle) departing early, the Bears appear to have emerged from the preseason relatively healthy — which wasn’t the case last year, when Adam Shaheen and Leonard Floyd suffered injuries that lingered well into the regular season.
The best analysis of Thursday night, however, still requires an asterisk after Matt Nagy sat his top 32 players, who donned caps instead of helmets and pads, in addition to a host of super subs.
Still, we found positives and negatives — and not only the resoundingly positive fact that the preseason is officially over and the unfortunate truth that many players likely put on an NFL uniform for the final time.
AREAS OF OPTIMISM
· After Eddy Pineiro pushed an extra point way left to begin his final test, he drilled 32- and 39-yard field goals straight through the uprights, bringing his preseason tally to 7-of-8. It’s notable that the same week Matt Nagy said he was interested in seeing how the (for now) last man standing in the kicking derby responded in different situations. He missed his first attempt, the extra point, following last week’s 58-yard bomb of a field goal but didn’t let it fester. The upset now would be of Pineiro isn’t kicking Thursday night vs. the Packers.
· Although Raymond was the Bears’ biggest investment in college free agency, Princeton product Jesper Horsted, who converted this year from receiver to tight end, put on an exhibition catching the ball Thursday. He scored his second touchdown in as many weeks, a beauty back-shoulder connection from Tyler Bray, and also had a high-pointing one-hander among his 5-82 receiving. Could Horsted suddenly be the biggest surprise to make the 53? The practice squad still seems more likely, but he’s come on like gangbusters recently, unlike Raymond and Ian Bunting.
· The unfamiliar sight was veteran Aaron Lynch, the team’s No. 3 outside linebacker last season not only playing but playing into the second quarter in his first preseason action in two summers with the Bears. Far more familiar? That’d be fellow edge rusher James Vaughters tallying a sack in his third consecutive game. With the rest of the Bears’ reserves at the position combining for one sack, courtesy of Isaiah Irving, if Vaughters isn’t suddenly pushing Lynch, he’s made a far more compelling case than Kylie Fitts to make the squad.
· Honorable mention: Not to be outsmarted, err, out-shined by Horsted, Hinsdale Central and Colgate’s Thomas Ives was tallied a game-high 4-87 receiving, looking the part as he has throughout the spring/summer. The WR room appears set, but don’t be surprised if the big-bodied Ives (6-5, 215) joins Tanner Gentry on the practice squad, if not unseating him.
AREAS OF CONCERN
· In addition to the Raymond injury and Lynch’s curious evening, preseason hero Ryan Nall being one of only two backs — along with recently signed Josh Caldwell — to tote the rock wouldn’t seem to bode well for his long-shot roster bid. He finished with ____ and appears ticketed for the practice squad for the second consecutive year, with Kerrith Whyte likely securing the fourth and final RB spot.
· With Horsted flashing consistently and Raymond on the sideline, fellow undrafted TE Ian Bunting wasn’t unable to take advantage, drawing his fourth penalty in four games and managing only one catch (on one target) for one yard. Not ideal. After starting fast this preseason, Bunting has likely shown that he needs time to develop on the practice squad and probably isn’t ready to contribute at a thin position.
· Finally, few players seemingly needed to show better after a rough preseason than veteran swing OT candidate Cornelius Lucas. With Rashaad Coward and T.J. Clemmings getting hurt over the past two weeks, it was his job to lose. Yet it appears he already lost it after not getting in the game at all while the Bears gave undrafted rookie Alex Bars the entire night on the blindside. Bars wasn’t perfect, drawing a flag and giving up a bit of pressure. All things considered, though, there was more good than bad, probably securing his roster spot.