Bears OTA takeaways: Justin Fields’ 2-minute drill, young corners stepping up (2023)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Making a drive look effortless wasn’t always easy for the 2022 Bears offense, in practice or in games.

Usually, an explosive Justin Fields run was needed to spark things.

It’s late May/early June, there aren’t pads on. Players, including starters, are absent. It’s voluntary OTAs. But it can still be notable to watch Fields lead the offense in a two-minute drill to a touchdown, completing four passes along the way — two to wide receiver Dante Pettis, including the score, and two to DJ Moore, who showed off his hands to pluck one away from his body.


The backups looked good, too. Quarterback P.J. Walker found rookie receiver Tyler Scott on back-to-back completions, the second an anticipatory throw.

A year after finishing with the worst passing offense in football, it should be a pleasant sight, even in the spring.

At Halas Hall on Wednesday, we heard from several Bears coaches, cornerback Kyler Gordon, center Cody Whitehair and running back Khalil Herbert. Here are 10 takeaways from practice and media availability.

1. Sole focus on the nickel

Head coach Matt Eberflus said he has seen Gordon’s confidence growing. As a rookie, the team’s 2022 top pick was asked to play both outside and inside cornerback during games — 100 percent of the snaps split between two positions.

This year, the plan is for Gordon to be the slot corner.

“That nickel position is a hard position,” Eberflus said. “You do a lot of different things in there, a lot of different techniques. Things happen fast in there. You have to fit the run. So there’s a lot of things that you have to do in there as a football player, and we’re fortunate to have him in there.”

Gordon said he does miss the outside corner spot. He’d prefer playing every snap — who wouldn’t? — but as someone who likes to blitz and help in run support, he appreciates the nickel role in this scheme.

Cornerbacks coach and passing game coordinator Jon Hoke said he did pre-draft work on Gordon in 2022 when he was on the Falcons’ staff and he appreciated Gordon’s versatility, athleticism, physicality and instincts. He also sees a skill set that meshes well inside.

“He’s a good blitzer because he’s physical, understands the timing, understands how to beat a block,” he said. “In zone coverage, he understands how to route-match based on what he’s got. He understands the concepts that he’s being attacked with.”

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2. Jaylon Johnson’s absence

There was no No. 33 on the field with the defense, as the Bears’ top corner from the past two seasons remains away from the voluntary practice. Jaylon Johnson is entering the final year of his rookie contract.


He has been engaged, virtually, with his position group and his new coach.

“He Zooms with the meetings and stuff like that,” Hoke said. “He texts me almost every other day. He’ll ask questions because he watches practice tape.”

The scheme hasn’t changed, but Hoke said Johnson misses out on learning the subtle changes in the way Hoke teaches technique by not being at OTAs. He said he isn’t concerned about it being a prolonged absence, though.

“I think he’ll be here sooner than later,” Hoke said.

Eberflus seemed to echo the optimism that Johnson will be in the building before the team takes its summer break.

“He’ll probably be here for mandatory minicamp,” he said. “Hopefully next week, potentially.”

3. What about Nate Davis?

There isn’t as much clarity about the Bears’ new starting right guard, who hasn’t been at either practice open to the media. Nate Davis’ 2022 season ended with an ankle injury, so he could be recovering like wide receiver Darnell Mooney and safety Eddie Jackson, but Eberflus wouldn’t offer any details.

Davis has familiarity with the scheme from his time with the Titans, and the Bears’ new assistant offensive line coach, Luke Steckel, was in Tennessee with Davis.

“We certainly feel a little bit more comfortable knowing he has been in the system and he knows the zone schemes and the down schemes and really similar in terms of the line coaching,” Eberflus said. “Again, we’d like everybody here, we feel it’s invaluable to be here, we’ll coach the guys that are here.”

Whitehair will be playing alongside Davis in the interior of the Bears’ offensive line.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Whitehair said. “He’s a veteran guy. He’s played in this system for a long time, coming from Tennessee. A lot of the stuff is the same. Just seeing where he is in combinations and where I am, I don’t think it’ll be a very hard transition. It’ll be pretty smooth.”

4. Attendance notes

Wide receiver Chase Claypool was present at practice but not participating. Based on Eberflus’ response to a question, it was likely nothing major.


“I’m not really going to talk about the injuries, but this time of year you get some soft-tissue stuff and there’s no reason to risk anything at this time,” he said. “So you know he just felt something like a lot of guys have, so we just let him sit out for the day.”

A few other players were in the present-but-not-participating category: running back D’Onta Foreman, linebacker Jack Sanborn and offensive linemen Lucas Patrick and Alex Leatherwood.

5. The Fields view from the defense

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams described what he’s noticed during OTAs from the Bears’ quarterback, watching how Fields attacks his defense.

“A couple things. Leadership. Because that’s what you want in your quarterback,” he said. “I see good decision-making. That’s what you want in your quarterback. I see improved accuracy. That’s what you want in your quarterback. And how fast he’s processing. … I see how he has grown from last year to this year, and practice by practice by practice, he’s growing. So you have to be encouraged when you see those things.”

Justin Fields is embarking on The Most Important Season of his Career.™️ My column on Fields from OTAs.

— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) May 25, 2023

According to Eberflus, “no one has worked harder than (Fields) in this offseason,” dating to February.

Last season, Hoke was on the Falcons’ defensive staff, so he helped prepare a game plan to coach against Fields — a game plan that worked well in containing Fields’ legs.

“He’s an accurate thrower, especially with the deep ball,” Hoke said. “He’s got really good movement. We played him a year ago in Atlanta, so I had a little bit of a feel for him. He’s a little bit more impressive when you just see him on a day-to-day basis.”

6. Home run Herbert

Last season, Herbert was one of the league’s most efficient runners. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry as the team’s No. 2 back.


After David Montgomery signed with the Lions, Herbert’s spot as the clear-cut No. 1 back didn’t last long. The Bears signed veterans Foreman and Travis Homer, and then drafted Roschon Johnson.

“You know how things go in the NFL now. They’re doing things running back by committee,” Herbert said. “You need one, two, three really good guys that really carry the rock and there be no drop-off. I feel like we’ve got a really strong group. We’ve got guys who can take it to the house at any given moment. I’m excited to see what we can do.”

Bears OTA takeaways: Justin Fields’ 2-minute drill, young corners stepping up (2)

Khalil Herbert averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season as the Bears’ No. 2 running back. (Daniel Bartel / USA Today)

Herbert said he wanted to get “stronger in the core” this offseason and did add 5 pounds, but he plans to stay between 215 and 220 pounds. To help improve pass protection, he did boxing “to work on my punch time.”

“Just his ability to hit the home run,” Eberflus said of his impression of Herbert in 2022. “He’s got great vision. He’s got great cut-back ability. He can take the ball outside and bounce it outside, but he’s really good at cutting it back when it’s there. We’re excited where he is.”

7. Whitehair, the constant

Entering his eighth season with the Bears, not only is Whitehair the longest-tenured player on offense (long snapper Patrick Scales has been with the team since 2015), he’s been in Chicago twice as long as anyone else on his side of the ball.

No other Bears offensive player joined the team before 2020.

Considering his cap hit and age, Whitehair was a potential cap casualty, a possibility the 30-year-old did wonder about.

“I mean, it always crosses your mind,” he said. “This will be my eighth year here, and I take a lot of pride in wearing the ‘C’ and the bear on my chest. I’m very glad I’m back and look forward to this year.”

Whitehair is back at center, where he spent most of his time from 2016 to 2020, including a Pro Bowl appearance in 2018.


“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” he said. “I know at first there were some issues as far as the consistency of the snaps. But I feel like I’m past that. I feel like I’m in a good spot. The experience there has helped me.”

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8. Tyrique Stevenson takes it away

Rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson made a big play for the defense Wednesday when he picked off a Fields pass, but Hoke set the bar higher.

“He should’ve caught it cleaner,” Hoke said. “It was a good play, don’t get me wrong. … He dropped one last week that he had in a similar situation because he let the ball come back into his body. He’s got to keep his hands out in front of his eyes. Really a good play, but it could’ve been cleaner.”

The second-round pick should be in line to start at outside corner this season.

“He uses his length well,” Hoke said. “He’s really, really instinctive. He has a way of getting his hands on a lot of footballs. He does know the game of football. It comes relatively — not easy, but he does understand concepts easier than some guys do, so it’s been a real plus.”

9. Praise for the other rookie corner

Hoke also mentioned fifth-round corner Terell Smith as impressing him early.

“He’s got a chance to really help us,” Hoke said. “He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s smart. I’ve been pleased with his progress, for sure.”

Smith played in 48 games with 29 starts during his time at Minnesota, so game experience isn’t an issue.

“He does have reps. He understands concepts,” Hoke said. “He never makes the same mistake twice very often, really at all. I’ve been pleased with his progress. And he’s big and fast. He’s strong, too.”

10. New kickoff rule

The Bears reportedly voted against the league’s new kickoff rule, which allows returners to call for a fair catch and the ball will be set at the 25-yard line.

Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower didn’t want to get into his opinion on the rule change.

“(We’re) trying to figure out strategically how to attack the situation and the best ways to win the ballgame,” he said.

Hightower noted that all four teams in the NFC North finished in the top five in kickoff returns last season, so he’s not really expecting a whole lot of fair catches in those games.

Asked if he could see the league ever getting rid of the kickoff, Hightower responded: “I don’t. … No. I think when you talk about basketball, or you talk about baseball, what do they say? What time is first pitch? What time is tipoff? What do you say for a football game? When’s kickoff? It’s a part of the game.”

Additional Reading

  • The Bears bet big on Justin Fields: Have they finally found their quarterback?
  • Chicago Bears 2023 schedule: New chapter in Packers rivalry begins in Week 1
  • The Bears and Darnell Wright: A 5-part look at how a team falls in love with a draft prospect

(Top photo of Velus Jones Jr.: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)


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Justin Fields
No. 1 – Chicago Bears
NFL Draft:2021 / Round: 1 / Pick: 11
Career history
Chicago Bears (2021–present)
Roster status:Active
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Current Contract

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