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14 takeaways from Bears’ final day of mandatory minicamp

The Chicago Bears returned to Halas Hall for their final practice of mandatory minicamp, which featured a strong outing as the team heads into the summer.

There was plenty to unpack following Thursday’s practice, including quarterback Justin Fields’ sharp day, honoring the late Brian Piccolo on the 52nd anniversary of his death and head coach Matt Eberflus’ message to his team heading into the summer break.

With the offseason program officially in the books, the team will break for the summer and return in late July for training camp.

Here’s what we learned from the final day of Bears minicamp:

Matt Eberflus’ message to his team as they break for summer

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The Bears have wrapped their offseason program with the conclusion of mandatory minicamp. Before the team broke for the summer, he shared his message for the team:

  1. Come back lean, fit and strong

  2. Be safe

While players are going to take a well-deserved break before the season kicks into gear, they’re going to work to get in shape before training camp.

As for Eberflus, he’s going to take some time to relax. In fact, he already has a few books picked out. But before that, Eberflus, his staff and general manager Ryan Poles will evaluate the roster before breaking for the summer.

Justin Fields was sharp in the red zone

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Following a rough start of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, the Bears offense has rebounded with back-to-back strong outings on the final two days of minicamp.

During Thursday’s practice, the Bears ran through low red zone and high red zone drills. They ended practice early on another “move the ball” drill.

NBC Sports Chicago’s Josh Schrock detailed the outing, where quarterback Justin Fields was particularly sharp:

Quarterback Justin Fields followed up his sharp outing Wednesday with another solid practice Thursday. Fields found the end zone twice during the red-zone period, connecting with Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney for scores.

The defense won the day in the final “move the ball” period, though.

It was certainly a good practice to end the offseason on.

“Overall, I thought it was good execution today, as it was yesterday,” Eberflus said. “That was one of our better practices yesterday of the offseason, and we capped it off today with also another good practice. “

Eberflus loves what he’s seen from rookie Jaquan Brisker

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears have had a number of rookies who have impressed this offseason, including second-round safety Jaquan Brisker. Eberflus couldn’t help but gush about Brisker’s potential.

“We’re so thrilled with his talent, his mental makeup and where he is with his development,” Eberflus said.

One of the things that’s stood out about Brisker is his ballhawking ability, which has been on display throughout the offseason program. Considering that turnovers are a big emphasis with Eberflus’ defense, Brisker has a chance to make an immediate impact.

The Bears honored Brian Piccolo 52 years after his death

Herb Weitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears honored the late Brian Piccolo during Thursday’s practice on the 52nd anniversary of his death. Every players wore a No. 41 jersey in his honor.

The Bears welcomed Piccolo’s family, including Piccolo’s widow and their three daughters, as special guests to Halas Hall.

Eberflus said he spoke to his players about Piccolo in their team meeting this morning, pointing to his courage and being a great teammate.

Kyler Gordon among those who didn’t practice Thursday

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

On the final day of mandatory minicamp, the Bears had a lengthy list of players who didn’t practice. That included second-round Cornerback Kyler Gordon, who didn’t practice all week. Eberflus didn’t shed a light on anything involving Gordon, which should be good news for the rookie.

Here’s a list of players who didn’t practice Thursday, including defensive end Robert Quinn, who was a no-show all week:

  • OL Dakota Dozier

  • CB Kyler Gordon

  • S Elijah Hicks

  • TE Rysen John

  • DB Michael Joseph

  • DE Sam Kamara

  • DE Al-Quadin Muhammad

  • DE Robert Quinn

  • WR Nsimba Webster

Quinn was the only one not in attendance.

Eberflus most encouraged by his team’s culture

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Eberflus was asked about what was the most encouraging thing during this offseason program, and he pointed to the one thing that’s been echoed by his players.

“The culture,” Eberflus said. “The team coming together. I feel most confident in that.”

Eberflus has come in immediately with the intention of changing the culture, which is important as the Bears look to get on a winning track.

The team has embracing Eberflus’ approach. In fact, defensive end Trevis Gipson said that he likes that there’s more accountability with Eberflus in place.

Braxton Jones has benefitted from working with starters

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Fifth-round rookie left tackle Braxton Jones has gotten the opportunity to work with the starting offensive line over the last week of organized team activities and minicamp. It’s valuable experience that he’s been appreciated.

“I was definitely a little bit surprised,” Jones said. “That surprise went away quick. …Overall, jumping in with the ones has been great.”

For Jones, it’s been beneficial in the sense that it’s forced him to “play faster, think faster,” especially when it comes to getting the cadence down. 

Jones got the opportunity to work alongside veteran left guard Cody Whitehair over the last couple of weeks. Whitehair has been hard on him, which he appreciates.

“Getting on me a little more is what I need,” Jones said.

Velus Jones Jr. has been moving around a lot this offseason

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Velus Jones Jr. has the chance to contribute immediately as a rookie in an otherwise unproven wide receiver room. The Bears haven’t held him back, as he’s been moved around at different positions throughout the offseason, which has helped his confidence.

“I’ve been moving around quite a bit,” Jones said. “I’ve had a lot of balls come by way.”

Outside of Darnell Mooney, there aren’t any proven options at receiver for Fields. That gives someone like Jones an opportunity to make a push for a starting job, where his 4.31 speed can be lethal in Luke Getsy’s offense.

Brisker says forcing turnovers is the standard

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Brisker has impressed throughout the offseason program, and he’s expected to start immediately at strong safety opposite Eddie Jackson.

Brisker has been earning a reputation as a ballhawk during the offseason, which is a good thing for a defense that has struggled taking the ball away for the last few years.

He said that he “loves creating turnovers,” echoing Eberflus’ sentiment about the importance of forcing turnovers.

“That is the standard around here,” Brisker said.

Jones is learning how to use his long arms to his advantage

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

Jones has gotten an opportunity to work with the starters over the last couple of weeks, which has benefitted him in terms of playing and thinking faster. But the jump to the NFL has also helped him utilize a previous trait that went undeveloped.

Jones said he’s learning to use his long arms to his advantage, which is something he didn’t do in college. Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan has been working with Jones on that aspect of his game.

Jones Jr. building connection with Fields

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

While Darnell Mooney is Justin Fields’ top target — as the pair have been working together most of the offseason — Velus Jones Jr. is working on building his own connection with Fields.

It certainly helps that Jones sits next to Fields in the locker room, where he’s gotten an opportunity to learn about his quarterback off the field.

Jones understands the importance of that connection and how it makes things easier on the field, where the hope is Jones develops into one of Fields’ favorite weapons down the line.

“He is depending on me,” Jones said of Fields.

Jones Jr. will join Justin Fields and Darnell Mooney in Atlanta this summer

AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

Justin Fields and Darnell Mooney have been virtually inseparable this offseason, and that includes during downtime away from Halas Hall, where they’ve been working out together.

They’ll be back in Atlanta training during this summer break, and they’ll be joined by at least one new face. Rookie Velus Jones Jr. revealed that he’ll be joining Fields and Mooney in Atlanta this summer to get more work in.

Tight end Cole Kmet has also worked with Fields and Mooney this offseason, so the expectation is he’ll get more work in with his QB.

Eberflus hasn’t decided if starters will play during preseason

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

We’re still over a month away from the start of training camp, but it’s fair to start wondering whether the Bears will be playing their starters during the preseason. After all, both the offense and defense are learning new schemes and live reps would help a lot.

But Eberflus said the coaching staff hasn’t made a decision yet.

“Yeah, that’s obviously been discussed several times, and we have not come to that conclusion yet,” Eberflus said. “We want to see the development of the players, and it might be on an individual basis to start that off. So, we’ll see and I’ll visit with the other head coaches to see what they’re doing and go from there to see if we can pair it up the right way. So, we’ll talk about that.”

Training camp is going to kick things up a notch

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Eberflus was pleased with his team’s effort and participation during the offseason program. But he also made it clear that things are going to be kicked up a notch when they return to Halas Hall for training camp next month.

Eberflus asked his players to return ready for camp — because there’s going to be lots of running.

“My main message to the guys, as they prepare for this time away, is to come back lean and in shape.,” Eberflus said. “Training Camp isn’t to get in shape, you should already be in shape when you arrive. Bring your track shoes, because we’re gonna be running!”

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