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8 Bears reserves to watch in preseason finale

Bears rookie running back Roschon Johnson and defensive end Terrell Lewis
Bears rookie running back Roschon Johnson and defensive end Terrell Lewis

Bears starters are expected to play in Saturday's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field. But when they exit, there will still be plenty of intrigue with promising young players looking to impress. With that in mind, here are eight reserves to watch in the game: 

Offense

The undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University displayed poise and confidence last Saturday against the Colts, completing 9 of 10 passes for 76 yards, a 98.3 passer rating and running for a 2-yard touchdown. Bagent played two series in the second quarter. On the first possession, he orchestrated a 17-play, 92-yard drive that burned 9:25 off the clock, connecting on 7 of 8 throws for 61 yards before sprinting into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 2 to tie the score 7-7.

"I think he's shown some poise," said quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko. "I think he's shown a little bit of moxie to him. When you talk to him, he carries himself like somebody that's very confident, confident in his abilities, and he's got a little swagger to him."

Another impressive performance in Saturday's preseason finale could boost Bagent's chances of becoming the Bears' No. 2 quarterback behind Justin Fields. Bagent is competing with P.J. Walker and Nathan Peterman for the spot. 

"I mean everybody has a shot," said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "All three guys have done a really nice job through training camp. Like most of the guys in our training camp, there's been good days and bad days for everybody and those three specifically. So we're taking all that in. I know [Bagent] had a great drive and that's exciting for people, but that's one drive. We're going to make that part of the evaluation, but we're going to take the whole training camp evaluation before we make a decision like that."

The rookie fourth-round pick from Texas has rushed for 76 yards on 19 carries in the Bears' first two preseason games and no doubt will get more opportunities to impress Saturday versus the Bills. A physical, power back who also contributes on special teams, Johnson is competing with veteran running backs Khalil Herbert and D'Onta Foreman for playing time. 

"He's done a good job," running backs coach David Walker said of Johnson, "and probably the best thing he's done is his attention to detail in terms of the playbook, in terms of the little coaching points we put on certain plays. He's been right on top of that stuff, so that's good to see from a young guy."

Johnson plays running back with a linebacker's mentality, telling reporters recently that he likes to use his body as a weapon. The 6-2, 222-pounder was a battering ram at Texas, where he rushed for 2,190 yards and 23 touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 420 yards and one TD in 47 games over four seasons. 

"That's who he has been; that doesn't change," Walker said. "Some people are going to look better in shorts when you're out there in OTAs and some guys are going to look better when the pads come on and you really play football. That's who he is. When he's running around in shorts, he's going to look OK. But then when you put pads on and you try to tackle him, he's able to use his strength and his body."

The rookie fourth-round pick from Cincinnati returns after missing last Saturday's game in Indianapolis with an undisclosed injury. Scott has shown his blazing speed and playmaking ability in training camp and will attempt to transfer that to the field in the preseason finale. 

Asked what he hopes to see from Scott against the Bills, receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said: "Hopefully make some plays with the ball. See if we can get the ball in his hands and make some plays. See his run after the catch ability. He had the unfortunate catch and run and fumble in the first preseason game. Hopefully get him the ball some and make a run after the catch."

Known for a sharp attention to detail that's fueled by his love for the game, Scott is making a smooth transition to a Bears offense that features significantly more shifts and motions than the system the 5-11, 185-pounder played in with the Bearcats. 

"He's a smart guy," Tolbert said. "He doesn't make the same mistake twice. What we like about Tyler is his juice. I like the juice he brings to the room. He brings a little versatility. He plays two positions right now. Tyler is really tough for his size. He'll stick his nose in there and block linebackers and safeties. He's not scared. He doesn't bring a lot to the party [in terms of size], but he brings everything he has."

After missing his entire rookie season with a leg injury, the 2022 sixth-round pick from Illinois has impressed in training camp and the first two preseason games. 

"Doug is doing a great job of developing," said offensive line coach Chris Morgan. "Doug is a tough football player. He's a smart football player. He plays at one speed. He does an unbelievable job of getting guys targeted."

Kramer saw extended playing time last Saturday in Indianapolis. Asked what he hopes to see from the 6-2, 300-pounder against the Bills, Morgan said: "Just want to see consistency. Just build on his last performance."

Kramer was a three-year starting center at Illinois who grew up in the Chicago area, attending Hinsdale Central High School. As a senior in 2021, he was named second-team all-Big Ten by the conference's coaches.

Take a look at the best photos taken throughout Enjoy Illinois Chicago Bears Training Camp, including the joint workouts with the Indianapolis Colts and the Meijer Family Fest practice at Soldier Field.

Defense

Battling for playing time as part of the defensive line rotation, the rookie second-round choice from Florida figures to get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do versus the Bills. 

After being asked to read and react in the Gators' two-gap scheme, Dexter is being indoctrinated into a Bears defense that requires tackles to penetrate and disrupt by firing off the ball while still maintaining gap integrity and discipline.

"He's done a great job trying to do what we ask him on the field, in the meeting rooms, and I think it's gotten to a point now where he sees when it's not what it should look like," said defensive line coach Travis Smith. "He feels when all of a sudden, 'Oh, I'm kind of playing more like I used to play,' and 'it's my job to make sure it's consistent the right way.'"

On a defense driven to generate more takeaways, the third-year pro is seemingly creating a role for himself after registering strip-sacks in each of the first two preseason games. 

"If you look at him, the No. 1 thing is get off," Smith said. "Everything we do is based on get off. … Where his quarterback production is showing up, it starts with get off, which starts with alignment. Can you get in an explosive stance? Can you make sure you're keying the right thing and when something moves, you're out of the gate? On his production, that's what's happening. He's beating that guy to a spot and then the ball's not out and he's making sure he wins."

Selected by the Rams in the third round of the 2020 draft out of Alabama, Lewis appeared in 30 games with seven starts over three seasons with Los Angeles, amassing 40 tackles, 8.0 tackles-for-loss and 6.0 sacks. After being waived by the Rams last December, he joined the Bears' practice squad.

Lewis told reporters this week that he's "just making it a focus of just showing the player that I am and being a consistent player day-in and day-out and making it just a habitual thing."

The fourth-year pro from Tulsa has generated a consistent pass rush in each of the first two preseason games, registering 1.0 sack and four quarterback hits. Gipson has also compiled eight tackles. 

"[He's] been very disruptive, physical," Smith said. "Whether the tackle oversets or doesn't set him, he's going to try to get to that X. He fights like heck to get to that X." 

Coaches will be watching to see if Gipson can turn more of his pressures into sacks. Last season he compiled 3.0 sacks and 11 quarterback hits. 

"We've been talking about making sure some of those missed opportunities, we're turning those into sacks, not pressures," Smith said. "He's getting great disruption, he's getting great quarterback pressure, but can he finish? It's about, No. 1, getting him off the spot, getting to the quarterback, seeing the run, not the routes. But then two, when you get to that spot, can you close? 

"We talk about controlled aggression. 'Hey, you beat a tackle [with an] inside move clean.' Well, then it's your job, you've got to make sure it's 'sack,' it's 'ball out.' It's 'quarterback hit.' It's not 'oh no, I slipped off and all of a sudden the quarterback's running for whatever extra yards.'"

After missing the first two preseason games with an undisclosed injury, the rookie fifth-round pick from Minnesota is expected to play against the Bills. Smith first showed promise in rookie minicamp and continued to excel in OTA practices. 

"During OTAs you could see he's a smart player, he's going to do it the way he's asked to do it," said cornerbacks coach/defensive passing game coordinator Jon Hoke. "He's very detailed. He's a detailed note-taker. He'll ask detailed questions. He's got a good physical skillset. He's fast and he's got good size. With him, it's just keep getting more reps under his belt." 

Late last month, Smith's impressive performance in training camp earned him some first-team reps opposite veteran Jaylon Johnson. Asked what he hopes to see from Smith moving forward, Hoke said: "Just consistency of play. Just see him do it down after down. It's been a start and a stop and a start and a stop [due to injuries]. Now hopefully we can get some more consistency of reps under his belt to see where he's at."

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