Eight months after a snowy winter-win in Seattle, the Bears and Seahawks reconvene for an ESPN Monday Night Football production on Thursday night. And although preseason football scarcely matters in the grand scheme of the season, I am really looking forward to tonight’s matchup. The Chicago Bears have a bunch of rookies scheduled to play (we discussed why that is earlier today) and frustrating circumstances aside, I’m all for it.
Here’s what I’ll be watching closely.
Braxton Jones’ Time to Shine
It starts in the trenches, where veteran guard Cody Whitehair has me absolutely fired up about Braxton Jones:
Skill is important. That much we know. But teaming athleticism and knowledge can lift a player’s profile. Jones is in the early stages of his football career. But that a veteran is already giving him high praise is certainly noteworthy.
Jones has the inside track on earning the starting left tackle job. No one could’ve predicted this on NFL Draft weekend. And when the Bears signed Riley Reiff right before camp kicked off, it would’ve been easy to simply hand the gig to a veteran with oodles of experience. Instead, Jones has kept plugging along. And the results to this point have been encouraging for his long-term development. We still need to see Jones do it in regular season games. But it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re calling Jones the steal of the Bears’ draft class when we look back at it in January.
Velus Jones Jr. and Kyler Gordon Set to Debut
While Braxton Jones shook his rookie jitters last week at Soldier Field, two other draft classmates will get to experience it for the first time tonight. Wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. and cornerback Kyler Gordon are making their NFL debuts tonight. And their deployment on their respective side of the ball will hopefully give us some insight as to how they’ll be used this season.
Jones, the third-round pick and only receiver the Bears drafted last spring, was everywhere during OTAs, minicamps, and training camp. So much for any notion that he would be solely a gadget receiver as a rookie. He also has a locker right next to quarterback Justin Fields, which will hopefully lend itself to the two building a bond that translates to good stuff on the field. Bonus points if we get to see it today.
As for Gordon, it is fitting that he makes his NFL debut in Seattle where he played collegiately for the University of Washington. Gordon was a stud performer for the Huskies. And while undisclosed injuries have kept him from being a full participant during offseason and summer training, there has been a buzz building around him for quite some time. Soon enough, we’ll see what he is all about,
Jack Sanborn is Your New UDFA Crush
There is always one undrafted free agent who gives Bears fans heart-eye emojis when he steps into a preseason game. This year, it’s Jack Sanborn. A linebacker whose story is so easy to root for, even Disney writers would call it ridiculous.
The University of Wisconsin product and suburban Lake Zurich grad came to Chicago having earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2021. And in his first game with the Bears, he put up the best grade of any rookie defender in Preseason Week 1:
Do I know better than to get too hyped about preseason grades from PFF? Yes. Is it going to stop me from being geeked up about the rookie? Heck no.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind when it comes to players like Sanborn in the preseason. Their job is to put out their best effort this time of year. Put out as much good tape as you can. Do it for the Bears, the NFL’s 31 other teams, and yourself. If you put out a enough good reps, teams and talent evaluator will take notice. Maybe Sanborn doesn’t make the Bears out of camp this summer. But if he flashes enough, he could. And if he doesn’t, maybe another team will like what they see and bring him on board.
So many NFL careers have humble beginnings with splash plays in otherwise forgetful preseason games. Perhaps Sanborn is next.