Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Bears Hall of Fame Game winners and losers: Everyone wins and loses

By Robert Zeglinski

CANTON – The only reason the Bears played the Baltimore Ravens in Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game is because of franchise great Brian Urlacher’s first-ballot Hall of Fame induction this weekend.

The only fact to glean from the game that mattered was Urlacher being set to receive his golden jacket soon and become the Bears’ 28th Hall of Famer: by far an NFL record.

Oh right, there is that (cruel) part about the greatest reality show on television in the NFL preseason. About fringe roster guys literally fighting for their futures, doing anything to show they belong and have value to organizations around the league.

For those that will be major contributors, these games matter little. For those seeking any opportunity to latch on to the side of the ship, it’s accelerated gladiatorial combat in it’s highest form.

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There are four more games to this Bears preseason. Four more shots for players at the bottom of head coach Matt Nagy’s first-ever NFL roster to make a dream come true. Now, responsibly and more than ever, is the time to overreact and break out the anointing oils for those that are only 20 percent of the way through their trial journey.

Well, not quite.

Nevertheless some Bears had a better night in Canton, Ohio than others. Some Bears are wishing they had their first professional audition back. Let’s get to the winners and losers of Chicago’s monumental 17-16 preseason loss to Baltimore.

Winner: Javon Wims

The best receiver on last year’s college football runner-up in Georgia, Wims’ NFL career didn’t get off the launch point he envisioned. Wims, 23, is a proficient red zone weapon and the epitome of a go up and get it target downfield. That apparently wasn’t enough for the 6-4, 216 pounder to be drafted any higher than the seventh round of April’s draft. That, inherently, meant the rookie faced tall odds to make the Bears’ 53-man roster before even considering their additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller in the off-season.

While Thursday’s performance of seven receptions for 89 yards against third and fourth string Ravens defenders won’t cement Wims on Chicago’s roster Week 1 2018 roster, it’s a start. It’s something to build on for a man happy to be here. Most seventh rounders rarely make an impact as rookies. Most don’t even make the team that drafted them.

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If you’re Wims, history matters little, and you take the positive when you can.

Loser: Ryan Nall

Thursday was supposed to be a coronation of the latest Bears camp hero. Thursday was supposed to be the Nall show as he made every team, including the Bears, look stupid for letting him go undrafted. Seven carries (the most of any Bears runner) and a cloud of dust later, and here Nall is left to pick up the pieces instead.

To be fair to the rookie running back slash fullback, it’s not as if Nall was receiving ideal running lanes to take advantage of behind a porous backup Bears offensive line. On the other hand, the defense he was facing was also mostly full of guys who will never see an NFL field aside from this month. In these situations, guys like Nall are expected to shine regardless of circumstances.

Fortunately, Nall has four more shots to create solid tape of himself for other NFL teams. If Thursday’s results were any indication, he better start making an impact on special teams.

Winner: Isaiah Irving

With apologies to 2018 sixth rounder Kylie Fitts, the 2017 undrafted free agent in Irving looked like the best Bears’ defender and young pass rusher on the field Thursday night. He looked like the best player on the field, period, in a game of the best of the rest. Any time you blinked, there was Irving screaming off the edge and pressuring a Ravens quarterback. Any time you turned your head, the 24-year-old was long-arming an offensive tackle and showing off a sophisticated pass rush array.

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Three tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit doesn’t do Irving’s performance justice. In fact, if not for an unfortunate early offside penalty – where Irving would’ve likely made a strip sack anyway – that statistical line looks far improved. Whenever the Bears needed Irving, he came through.

Following several strong outings in last year’s preseason, if Irving can keep stringing along in this dominant manner, he’s going to find himself a place within an incredibly thin Chicago edge rush position group. The Bears don’t have many more options than to give players like Irving a reasonable shot. He couldn’t have picked a better time to have grown up.

Loser: Bears offensive line depth

Let’s put it this way: if Charles Leno Jr. misses any time in the regular reason, Mitchell Trubisky won’t have fun in the pocket. A lot of attention has been paid to the Bears’ defensive pass rush issues in the past several months, but left tackle is arguably just as, if not a bigger need.

Should any of Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, or James Daniels miss action, the Bears are going to be fine because Eric Kush is one of the finer interior depth options in the NFL. If Leno goes down, than brace for impact with Bradley Sowell protecting Trubisky’s blindside. Baltimore had only four sacks of Chicago quarterbacks on Thursday, but that understates how all over the place the Bears’ depth offensive line was.

Leno signed a four-year, $38 million dollar deal last summer making him the 15th-highest paid left tackle in football. Based off Thursday’s results and the expectations of the rest of the preseason, this contract is one of the most team-friendly and best bargains there is.

Winner: Team health

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Look, it’s a preseason game before the meaningless of the preseason has officially kicked off. Sure, guys like Wims and Irving provided a glimpse of what they’re capable of, and that helps their standing with the Bears in the long run. But ultimately in these early summer settings you merely want no injuries and a completely healthy team to leave the stadium. Everything else is gravy.

Nagy has continually insisted “health is the biggest issue” during training camp, and that’s not going to change. Mark Helfrich, the Bears’ offensive coordinator, stated “the goal is the opener” meaning Week 1 at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.

Yes, a lot of the Bears featured in the Hall of Fame Game have no part to play in that eventual goal. Some of them will though, whether it’s as depth or in a more sizable role. It’s crucial they’re in one piece to make it to the finish line.

Loser: Rational preseason opinions

The other side of the coin is to not put too much stock into what happens in any of these exhibitions. Unless my meticulously taken calendar notes are incorrect, it’s August 3rd. The cutdown to 53-man rosters isn’t until September 1st. The Bears and Packers do not kick off in Green Bay until September 9th at 7:20 P.M. CT. exactly. This evaluative voyage has barely left the docks.

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For example, a second round rookie guard like Daniels missing time in the first of five whole preseason games doesn’t mean he’s going to be inactive Week 1. This isn’t the time to jump to ludicrous conclusions of that magnitude.

Strap in for this “thrilling” exhibition ride. There are many twists and turns to come. R.

Robert is a writer and producer. He’ll be with the Bears all through training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. 


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