This is a huge test for an unsettled Bears offensive line — and nowhere more than at left tackle, where rookie Braxton Jones will be starting and likely to get a heavy dose of 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, who had 15.5 sacks and an league-best 21 tackles for loss last season.
Jones, a fifth-round draft pick from Southern Utah who at this time last year was preparing for Tarleton State, has met every challenge so far since earning the initial look as a starter in OTAs. He knows what he’s up against — as best he can know — but isn’t selling himself short, either.
“He’s a great player,” Jones said. “Obvious a vet in this league. Everybody knows who Nick Bosa is. You’ve got to respect what he does. I think it’s a good chance to go out and attack a player and have a great game.”
The Bears were 3-0 in the preseason, but preseason is not much of a barometer. For what it’s worth, the Colts were 0-4 in season openers when Matt Eberflus was the defensive coordinator –allowing an average of 28 points in losses to he Seahawks (28-16) in 2021, Jaguars (27-20) in 2020, Chargers (30-24 in overtime) in 2019 and Bengals (34-23) in 2018.
The 49ers are 2-3 in season openers under Kyle Shanahan, including a 41-33 victory over the Lions at Ford Field last season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
A year ago at this time, Justin Fields was a backup to Andy Dalton in an ill-fated apprenticeship plan that seemed doomed from the start. Now he’s the unquestioned starter, a team captain and the player who sets the tone not only for the offense, but the defense as well.
“There’s a lot more confidence knowing it’s his show, he’s the guy we’re looking at,” veteran defensive end Robert Quinn said. “And everyone else is embracing it around him, making sure they do their jobs but helping him be successful as well. It’s a joint thing. Everyone’s gotta do their part.”
Though Fields has had moments of being spectacular — including a 22-yard touchdown run against the 49ers last season — much of his success at this stage is likely to depend on his supporting cast. If the Bears can run the ball and protect him, he’ll have a chance to reach another level.
Eberflus has looked the part of NFL head coach. But game-day management is a new challenge, one that vexes even the best head coaches. Eberflus knows that’s a work-in-progress like everything else.
“We’ve been working on that since the last preseason game,” Eberflus said. “We’re continuing to educate and go through scenarios. Somebody once said those situations are like snowflakes –they’re all different. Time, time outs, score, field position, all that. I think it’s important we keep educating ourselves so we do a good job on game day.”