The key to individual success in the NFL is making the most of your opportunities, especially when you're auditioning for a job. The following three unheralded but promising players accomplished that objective Saturday, producing impact plays in the Bears' 20-13 preseason-opening win over the Dolphins at Soldier Field:
Midway through the fourth quarter on second-and-13 from the Bears' 17, Pierce took a handoff from quarterback Nick Foles and raced 51 yards. The second-year pro from Oregon State initially ran into the back of right tackle Lachavious Simmons, who was blocking Dolphins defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. But Pierce kept his legs churning, breaking a tackle attempt by cornerback Javaris Davis and then bursting up the middle of the field. The Bears running back was eventually dragged down by linebacker Duke Riley at the Miami 32. The run set up Brian Johnson's 44-yard field goal, extending the Bears' lead to 20-13.
"I just saw a small crease, I took it, trusted my read, did what I had to do and kept moving my feet," Pierce said. "Next thing I knew, I popped free, [found] open space, tried to get what I could get and it ended up being a big run."
Pierce joined the Bears last year as an undrafted free agent. The 5-11, 218-pounder showed promise in limited action as a rookie in 2020, appearing in five games and rushing for 34 yards and one touchdown on six carries.
Listed fifth on the depth chart at running back behind David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert and Ryan Nall, Pierce is competing for a roster spot at a deep position. But he insists there's a strong rapport among all the backs.
"We feed off each other," Pierce said. "Everybody's got something different, a different running style. We all pick each other's brains, see each other's running styles, we compete, and then we come out here and cheer each other on. When I made my run, they cheered me on. When Ryan Nall broke [a 39-yard run against the Dolphins], we cheered him on. We're all feeding off each other; we're trying to get each other better."
Rodney Adams, receiver
With veteran receivers Allen Robinson II and Marquise Goodwin held out of Saturday's opener, Adams made the most of expanded playing time. The second-year pro from South Florida led the Bears in receiving with four catches for 57 yards, highlighted by a spectacular 25-yard reception.
On first-and-15 from the Bears' 35 on the opening possession of the second half, rookie quarterback Justin Fields threw a 50/50 fade pass to Adams, who jumped high and snagged the ball over cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. The play helped set up Fields' 8-yard touchdown run that gave the Bears a 17-13 lead.
"I just thought, man, me and Rodney have had a great connection in training camp and I trust him a lot," Fields said. "Threw it up there and gave him a chance. That was an awesome catch by him and an explosive play for sure."
Adams credited his preparation in training camp for being able to make the play.
"We do the same thing in practice," Adams said. "You treat practice like a game, and you do that over and over and over again, and game time it becomes easier. I just went up and made a great play. Justin threw a good ball, and that was all."
Adams was selected by the Vikings in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. He spent part of his rookie season on Minnesota's practice squad and was with the Colts during the 2018 and 2020 offseasons. Adams signed with the Bears last August, was waived during final cuts and spent the season on the practice squad.
Like Pierce, Adams is vying for a backup spot at a deep position that includes Robinson, Goodwin, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, Chris Lacy, Justin Hardy, Jon'Vea Johnson, Dazz Newsome and Jester Weah.
Marqui Christian, safety
Christian generated one of two Bears takeaways Saturday with a stellar individual effort early in the fourth quarter. On the first play of a Dolphins possession at the Chicago 49, quarterback Reid Sinnett completed a pass over the middle to tight end Chris Myarick. As soon as Myarick turned up field, he was hit hard by Christian, causing a fumble that was recovered by Bears cornerback Dionte Ruffin.
"We were in cover three and I just saw an open spot between the hook players and I saw the [pass] come out, so I just tried to break and make a secure tackle," said Christian, a fifth-year pro from Midwestern State.
Christian said "it's always rewarding" to create a takeaway.
"Playing this game all your life," he said, "anytime you can make a play like that, you get hyped and then your teammates get hyped and show you love and the crowd is going, it's always a great feeling."
Christian was selected by the Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He was waived by Arizona in late September of his rookie season and claimed by the Rams. The 5-11, 195-pounder remained with Los Angeles for four years, appearing in 56 games with one start and registering 83 tackles.
Christian joined the Bears last year and was placed on the practice squad. He was signed by the Jets, played in one game and then was waived. Christian rejoined the Bears practice squad before being activated for the wild-card playoff game in New Orleans, playing one snap on defense and eight on special teams.
"We've got a lot of great players in the defensive back room," Christian said. "It's been so fun because the guys just love one another. We push one another to compete. Nobody withholds information from each other; we're all just trying to get each other better. It's a tight-knit room."
See the game unfold through the lenses of our sideline photographers as the Bears face off against the Dolphins in Chicago during the first preseason match.