No matter what happens, you always have to take preseason performances with a grain of salt. And the Chicago Bears preseason opener in the Hall of Fame game against the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday — a game in which no Bears starters played — is no exception.
And while there were some really nice performances to take in, including a few encouraging debuts from late-round rookies Kylie Fitts (sixth round) and Javon Wims (seventh round), you want to be careful not to overstate the numbers.
Is it nice that Wims caught seven balls for 89 yards? Definitely. And should we be happy that Fitts stayed healthy and notched a sack in his first NFL action? For sure.
But given the competition they were facing, you’d hope that they would show out. It would have been a concern if they didn’t make an impact.
That said, not everything that happens in a preseason game has to be meaningless. And if you look hard enough, you might be able to find some interesting signs that a player, especially a young guy, is “getting it” — or not.
In the case of Wims and Fitts, it wasn’t really about the numbers they put up last Thursday. It was about watching them take in the game situations they were facing and seeing how they adapted in real time.
And on that note, both players gave fans something to smile about. With Wims, it was about showing off his growth and the developing maturation of his craft. For Fitts, it was bouncing back from a slow start and showing that he knows how to not make the same mistake twice.
Wims shows us something new
First of all, after watching Wims play live football — albeit against lesser competition — it seems clear to me that this man is not a seventh-round receiver.
Sure, he doesn’t have elite speed, and he did struggle at times with concentration drops in college — he also had one on Thursday night. But he can straight up make plays, showing off a little of Alshon Jeffery-like GUAGI ability (trademark of Matt Spiegel) and making the catch of the night thanks to some excellent concentration and effort.
But what really caught my eye on Thursday was a fourth-quarter play that demonstrated something that I didn’t realize Wims had in his arsenal.
And let this be a warning to other teams: if Wims makes it on the field, never put a linebacker on him.
More than anything, I’m impressed by the quickness, savvy, and confidence in the route that Wims runs here. Not many rookies would patiently stalk their prey, set them up, and simply annihilate them in this way. And while Matt Nagy explained that Wims still has a ways to go as a receiver, he did hint at being impressed by his route-running.
Also, does this route look familiar to anyone? Because when I saw this play, I immediately thought of one of Wims’ new Bears teammates, training camp sensation Anthony Miller.
Anthony Miller makes the game look so easy. His releases off the LOS and route-running are 🔥pic.twitter.com/w12MfS91Kd
— J Reid (@JReidNFL) November 30, 2017
Obviously, none of this is to say that Wims couldn’t do this before coming to the Bears. But it also can’t hurt that he gets to practice with a few stellar route-runners every single day and compare notes.
And if he’s going to keep picking up tricks like this and utilize them throughout the preseason, there’s no way he doesn’t make this team.
Even though it’s just one game in, it’s looking like he’s well on his way. And the more facets he adds to his game, the more chances he’ll get to show it on the field.
Fitts learns on the job
Watching Fitts for the first quarter or so, you could tell he was thinking a little too much. And his game speed reflected it.
He played slow, didn’t get off his blocks, and was thoroughly outplayed by his outside linebacker running mate Isaiah Irving, who was simply on fire last night off the edge. Plus, he drew a penalty for jumping offsides (though Irving did as well). Whatever learning curve he’s facing, he still needs to stay focused on the basics.
But once he was on the field for a little while, you started to see the sixth-round pick’s natural pass rushing instincts kick in. He racked up a sack and contributed to another by forcing Ravens quarterback Josh Woodrum into the arms of Nick Williams.
That said, I was most impressed by Fitts’ ability to learn on the fly and make adjustments.
Case in point: Fitts got caught with his feet stuck in the mud on the Ravens’ first touchdown, a pass from Robert Griffin III to Maxx Williams. Though he didn’t get sucked in on the (admittedly unconvincing) play fake, he made two mistakes: staying too flat to the line of scrimmage and not attacking Griffin quickly enough when he recognized pass.
The result: Griffin outran Fitts to the outside just enough to fire the touchdown pass to Williams in the flat.
But he wasn’t fooled the next time around. On a very similar play in the red zone on Baltimore’s next drive, Fitts recognized the boot action, sprinted at Woodrum immediately, and put his arms up into the throwing lane to force an incompletion.
If these two rookies can stay healthy, their abilities to adapt their game and convert what they learn into positive plays for their team will go a long way, both for simply making the team in the first place and for their NFL careers in general.
Follow Khari on Twitter: @kdthompson5 –Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune