One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. This is the harsh reality of the NFL. Nothing terrifies a player more than injuries, because he knows there’s a chance someone could step in and steal his job. Andy Dalton discovered it last year. He knew the only way to keep the quarterback job was to not get hurt. Then he injured his knee in the second game. Justin Fields stepped in, and that was about it.
A similar situation could develop in Chicago Bears training camp, this time at wide receiver. When things started, there was a clear hierarchy in place. Darnell Mooney was at the top of the depth chart with Byron Pringle, Velus Jones and business acquisition N’Keal Harry behind him. After two weeks of training, things changed drastically. The first was the unexpected climb of Equanimeous St. Brown. The former Packers wide receiver felt like a deep signing when it happened. Now he is getting more and more reps with the first team offense.
Then injuries hit.
Pringle suffered from quadratic illness, Jones suffered from an undisclosed issue and Harry suffered a sprained ankle. Chances are that Pringle and Harry will be out at least until the regular season opener. This opens a glaring hole at the receiver’s position. Many believe the Bears will soon have to add another body to the mix. While that’s true, it also opens up a great opportunity for others already on the roster to enjoy additional shots. At the sound of things, at least one of them does this, according to Josh Schrock of NBC Sports Chicago.
“On the third and 10, Fields fired a laser down the middle towards Kmet for a 23 gain, setting up a first and 10 on the opposing 47.
After once again failing to connect with Mooney on first down, the Bears offense had just 17 seconds to enter placement range. The drapes have good protection in the pocket and delivered a strike to Tajae Sharpe for a gain of 9 at 38.
This chemistry was not isolated in a single practice. A day later, Fields and Sharpe found themselves in the end zone twice.
“Two games later, Fields rolled to his right and sent a pass to Tajae Sharpe at the pylon for another score.”
The best pitch of the day came from Justin Fields RZ hitting Tajae Sharpe in the corner of the end zone. Nice route, very good throw.
Nathan Peterman had two great shots on the field today during team drills. #Bear
—Zack Pearson (@Zack_Pearson) August 7, 2022
This is an evolution that cannot go unnoticed.
Sharpe showed promise early in his career with the Tennessee Titans, but never moved up. Part of that can be put down to a season-ending foot injury in 2017 and then coaching changes afterwards. This is a trap that many players fall into. Now he is trying to prove that he can play in this league if given the chance. Those injuries to Harry and Pringle may have been the break he needed.
Justin Fields clearly has a preference for the wide receiver.
It’s probably no coincidence that he and Sharpe started hooking up. Fields likes receivers who are sharp road runners. It’s been that way since his days at Ohio State when he and Chris Olave tore defenses apart. The young QB trusts guys he knows will be in the right place at the right time, regardless of size or speed. It’s true for Mooney, it’s true for St. Brown, and it’s true for Sharpe. Although not the biggest or the fastest, it has always been known for its good roads.
The Bears’ first preseason game is a week away. That’s enough time for the 27-year-old to strengthen his connection with Justin Fields. If he can back it up with a few good plays in real games, then the pecking order at wide receiver can undergo a significant change. While you have to feel sorry for Harry after working so hard to get another chance away from New England, that’s the nature of the sport. Always the next man up.
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