CHICAGO – Traditionally there is one reason this moment gets football fans excited in August: The simple fact that a National Football League game is being played.
The first preseason contest is usually the first time a team has been on the field in at least seven months, signaling that the regular season is not that far away. That’s certainly the case for the Bears as they open up their three-game exhibition season on Saturday against the Dolphins.
But there are a few other reasons that make this one something to see for spectators and, of course, the team itself.
First and foremost, the Bears will finally be able to host fans at Soldier Field after the COVID-19 pandemic kept them away for a full season. The stadium will be open to 100 percent capacity for the game on Saturday, next week’s contest against the Bills, and then eight regular season home games starting with the Bengals on September 19th.
This will be the first time the Bears have been able to host any fans since their home finale of the 2019 season against the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs on December 22nd of that season.
That’s just what’s around the game, but inside of it comes an even more intriguing storyline: The first game for rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
Per Matt Nagy, the quarterback will take over in the first half once Andy Dalton has taken the starter snaps with the first team. Fields will then come out to start the second half and could even play into the fourth quarter when third-string quarterback Nick Foles takes over.
His appearance on the field comes with plenty of anticipation that’s been building since he was selected by the team with the 11th overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. The team is insistent that Fields will start the season as a backup, but he could speed up the timeline to start playing in regular season games with strong performances the next three weeks.
Of course, he’ll need his offensive line to get the job done, and that’s very much a work in progress as training camp continues. The team is looking to replace both tackle positions after the offseason departures of Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr.
A back injury has kept second round pick Teven Jenkins, considered by many to be a frontrunner to get one of the spots, out of workouts since July. At the moment, Elijah Wilkinson and Lachavious Simmons are listed as the starters on the outside with guards James Daniels (right) and Cody Whitehair (left) along with center Sam Mustipher.
Plus the defense will get their first time to show what they can do under new coordinator Sean Desai, who is the team’s third defensive coordinator in the Matt Nagy era.
Those storylines, like others, has a few weeks to be sorted out before the Bears open the season against the Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 12th. But the first game certainly has a little intrigue as football games return in 2021.