4 things we learned from the Chicago Bears, including a potential change on the offensive line and N’Keal Harry’s likely season debut


The Chicago Bears on Thursday returned to the practice field for the first time since their Oct. 13 loss to the Washington Commanders, refreshed after the extended time off in what coach Matt Eberflus termed a “mini-bye.”

Eberflus opened up everything to scrutiny after the 12-7 loss to the Commanders, including scheme and personnel, but only so much can be accomplished in-season. Many have focused on possible changes on the offensive line.

Here are four things we learned Thursday.

1. Matt Eberflus said multiple times ‘we’ll see where it goes’ in regard to potential changes on the offensive line.

The Bears can make only so many changes, especially with left guard Cody Whitehair sidelined for at least two more games on injured reserve with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The Bears likely want to keep Teven Jenkins at right guard as he continues to settle in at a new position, and tackles Braxton Jones and Larry Borom don’t figure to be moved at this point.

The most discussed possibility is moving Lucas Patrick — who has had some tough times at guard — inside to center. That is the position the team said he would play when Patrick signed a two-year, $8 million contract in free agency. A broken right thumb on his snapping hand at the outset of training camp changed plans for the beginning of the season, but now he’s healthy.

“There are some serious things I have been working on trying to work out kinks, which side I have been playing. I am trying to get in a rhythm,” Patrick said. “I have to be better for this team. What I was brought in here to do and perform … I haven’t been playing to my standards, point blank.”

If Patrick slides to center, that would leave the Bears with maybe three options at left guard:

  • Michael Schofield has 81 career starts, by far the most experience of any interior lineman on the Bears with the exception of Whitehair. Schofield struggled in training camp and preseason and was released in the roster trim to 53. The Bears re-signed him in Week 2 when Alex Leathewood was placed on the non-football illness list.
  • Leatherwood last week began a 21-day window for the team to evaluate him in practice after he was sidelined four weeks with mononucleosis. The Bears can put him in action once he’s moved to the 53-man roster. Leatherwood played exclusively on the right side at tackle and guard as a rookie last season with the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s fair to assume the Bears will want to look at him at some point this season, but he has had fewer than 10 practices with the team. “We like where he is,” Eberflus said. “Mentally in the meetings and giving feedback to C-Mo (offensive line coach Chris Morgan) and our offensive line coaches. It’s been great. And he’s in a good spot. He’s working himself back in there, and we’ll see where it goes physically. But we’re certainly excited to have a talent like that and really start to evaluate where he is.”
  • Rookie seventh-round pick Ja’Tyre Carter is on the active roster, so in theory he’s a potential candidate. It’s unlikely coaches would want to have rookies alongside each other on the left side of the line. A more likely scenario would be the Bears waiving Carter to create a space on the 53-man roster for Leathewood and then re-signing the rookie to the practice squad.

2. Wide receiver N’Keal Harry figures to make his season debut Monday against the New England Patriots.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette, whom the Bears waived Monday, was on the field for 44 of the 107 offensive snaps in the previous two games, which might be a little more than Harry is ready to bite off considering the time he missed since suffering a high ankle sprain early in training camp.

“We’re excited where he is physically,” Eberflus said of Harry. “We’ll see where it goes this week. Obviously we’re going to evaluate the week’s practice as we go through it. We are certainly pleased where he is.”

Quarterback Justin Fields said he hasn’t seen much of Harry, acquired in a July trade with the Patriots, since early in camp.

“But I’m excited,” Fields said. “Of course, he’s a big body. He’s great at the catch point. Great at jump balls. Great run blocker, so he’s definitely going to be a weapon for the offense.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday was asked about the 2019 first-round pick.

“Big, talented kid,” Belichick said. “Things didn’t really work out here the way that I think all of us hoped for. Everybody tried, it just didn’t work out. So I’m sure he’ll be ready to go. I’m sure he’ll play hard.”

3. Mac Jones reportedly will be available Monday, but uncertainly about who will play quarterback for the Patriots isn’t affecting the Bears.

Jones, drafted at No. 15 last year — four spots behind Justin Fields — has missed the last three games with a sprained left ankle. ESPN reported he is expected to be available for the game, but whether the Bears see Jones or fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe remains to be seen.

“The offense is the Patriots offense, so I don’t really see a big difference when I watch the tape before or after (Jones’ injury),” Eberflus said. “To me, it’s the offense that they’re running and it’s their style, and they’re going to stick with that. We’re just going to try to do what we can the best we can fundamentally.”

Zappe is 2-0 as a starter since replacing former Bears backup Brian Hoyer, who was sidelined with a concussion. Zappe has played 11 quarters and completed 51 of 70 passes (72.9%) for 596 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. The Patriots defeated the Detroit Lions in Zappe’s first start, and when he went on the road for the first time, the Patriots throttled the Cleveland Browns 38-15. Jones started slowly after a rookie season that offered hope, throwing five interceptions in three starts after throwing 13 all last season.

The Patriots drafted Zappe in the fourth round after he spent one season at Western Kentucky. He started his college career at Houston Baptist.

“Bailey is a rookie, so they might try to keep things simpler for him,” cornerback Kindle Vildor said. “He will take the check-downs and stuff like that. With Mac Jones, you know the playbook will be fully open. But they’re similar in style, so we just have to be ready for whoever is out there.”

4. Extended rest did the Bears good.

The Bears reported a clean injury report as players were able to recharge with a weekend off and then meetings the last few days. Not a single player was listed, which is rare at this point of the season.

The Patriots were relatively clean as well. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor was held out of practice with a hamstring injury. Nine players, including Jones and defensive linemen Christian Barmore and Lawrence Guy, were limited. Maybe the most notable designation was full participation for running back Damien Harris. He missed Sunday’s win over the Browns with a hamstring injury.



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