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Dalton aims to make most of 'great opportunity'

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With the preseason over, starting quarterback Andy Dalton is excited to focus solely on the Bears' regular-season opener Sept. 12 against the Rams.

"Now it all begins," Dalton said Monday at Halas Hall. "This is what everything that we've done up to this point has been leading up to."

An 11-year NFL veteran, Dalton will lead the Bears into their Week 1 Sunday night contest in Los Angeles after completing 13 of 21 passes for 164 yards with one touchdown, one interception and an 82.2 passer rating in the preseason.

Dalton signed with the Bears in March after spending his first 10 seasons with the Bengals (2011-19) and Cowboys (2020). He has appeared in 144 games with 142 starts, connecting on 62.2 percent of his passes for 33,764 yards with 218 touchdowns, 126 interceptions and an 87.5 rating.

"He's a veteran," said receiver Marquise Goodwin. "He's played a lot of football, started a lot of games and won a lot of games. I'm confident in his ability, I'm confident in him as a leader and a ball thrower.

"Just the way he commands the huddle, the way he calls his plays, you can tell somebody who's confident just by how they approach things. You can kind of feel that energy, and I like the energy that he gives."

After spending nine seasons as the Bengals' No. 1 quarterback, Dalton signed with the Cowboys last year to back up Dak Prescott. But Prescott sustained a season-ending injury and Dalton ultimately made nine starts.

A year later, Dalton signed a one-year contract to be the Bears' starting quarterback. Although he has welcomed the opportunity to mentor promising young first-round pick Justin Fields, Dalton is focused on making the most of his chance.

"I'm in a great opportunity right here," Dalton said. "I knew coming in that I'd get a chance to start here. That's my focus, is on this year. The rest of my career is going to take care of itself, but my focus is on what I'm doing now. This is a big year for me and I've got to go just play like I know I can play."

With the NFL eliminating the fourth preseason week this year, Dalton and his teammates have an extra week to build cohesiveness heading into the regular season.

"Going into Week 1, it's the longest time you have to prepare for a game," Dalton said. "It's just more time to watch tape, more time to just learn the opponent. That's just kind of where we're at now is making sure that you're spending that time because you do have the extra time going into Week 1."

The Bears' first-team offense never played together as a unit during the preseason. Skill position players saw limited action in the first two games before sitting out last Saturday's finale, while left tackle Jason Peters, right guard James Daniels and right tackle Germain Ifedi didn't play in the preseason until the last game.

Despite their lack of game reps together, Dalton believes in the offense.

"That's the confidence that we have in our group," Dalton said. "When we're all together and we're all playing like we know we can play, there's a lot that we can do."

“I’m in a great opportunity right here … This is a big year for me and I’ve got to go just play like I know I can play.” Bears QB Andy Dalton

Much of that confidence stems from how well the offense has performed in practice.

"That's been big for us to know the potential of what we can be and to be excited about what we have," Dalton said.

Dalton was happy to see the starting offensive line play the entire first half together in last Saturday night's preseason finale in Tennessee. Peters, Daniels and Ifedi were joined by left guard Cody Whitehair and center Sam Mustipher.

"With our group, just getting them more opportunities to mesh as a unit, I think that's the biggest thing at this point," Dalton said. "The more time that they have together, the more time that they're able to work as a unit, it's going to make us better."

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