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Bears preseason standouts of yore offer a clear warning

August 3, 2018

The NFL preseason is a proving ground. An opportunity for players to make a name for themselves. But for many players, it might be their only chance to shine. Some might be among their teams’ leading performers, but that’s no guarantee they’ll make the team — or any other team in the NFL.

With that in mind, it’s fair to take a healthy dose of skepticism into Thursday night’s Bears preseason opener against the Ravens and to keep it throughout the exhibition season.

Over the years there have been some really eye-opening performances by Bears players in the preseason … players who never really made it. Here are a few Bears preseason heroes of years past you might have forgotten about who can serve as a reminder that August stats don’t always translate into the regular season.

(NFL preseason statistics go back to the 2000 season, so we limited it to players from that year up through 2017.)

QB Jonathan Quinn — 2004

Quinn had a solid preseason, highlighted by a good performance in the opener against the Rams, completing 11-of-16 passes for 120 yards and a TD after replacing starter Rex Grossman. Quinn’s next two performances were not that sexy, but he ended a turnover-free preseason with a 96.0 passer rating.

His regular-season performance was not so hot. After Grossman was hurt in the third game, Quinn became the Bears’ 11th starting QB since 1998. He was not terrible in his first start in Week 4 against the Eagles, but the Bears lost 19-9. He struggled mightily after that, especially in a home loss to Washington, eventually being benched midway through Week 7 against the Bucs.

It was Quinn’s final year of football. (You can read this great PFW story from a few years ago about the quarterbacks on that team.)

RB P.J. Pope — 2006

Pope received a heavy workload in the preseason that year, grinding out a workmanlike 153 rush yards and a TD on 40 carries and adding four catches for 43 yards as an undrafted plugger out of Bowling Green. The timing was good, too, as headline backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson were injured and limited in the preseason.

But Pope never carried the ball for the Bears in the regular season, idling on the practice squad and waiting two more years before he saw much in the way of real regular-season action. Credit Pope for sticking with it and performing well in five games (and his only NFL start) with the Broncos in 2008. He ran for 130 yards (7.6-yard average) and caught a TD pass in what would be his final NFL season.

WR Edell Shepherd — 2003

The 2002 undrafted free agent from San Jose State (where he had a 1,500-yard, 14-TD final season) did little in his first Bears preseason but opened a few eyes the following year. He caught six passes that exhibition season for 123 yards, including an impressive 37-yard grab in the all-important third preseason game with the Bears’ second-team offense.

It wasn’t enough, however, to keep him around. The Bucs claimed him and kept Shepherd around for a few years — too long, it turned out. Shepherd’s most famous NFL moment came in Tampa Bay’s 17-10 home playoff loss to Washington in which he dropped a would-be 35-yard TD pass with fewer than three minutes remaining in the game, on a 3rd-and-10 play. Shepherd bobbled the ball before hitting the ground on the play that would have tied the game, and the Bucs haven’t won a playoff game since.

DT Jarron Gilbert — 2010

The infamous pool jumper was a third-round pick in 2009, and Gilbert tied Julius Peppers and Mark Anderson for the team lead in preseason sacks the next year with two, adding a forced fumble as well. His promise was high, but one of former GM Jerry Angelo’s least-successful draft picks never could crack the DL rotation. Gilbert, who only played in five regular-season games for the Bears, and fellow 2009 third-rounder WR Juaquin Iglesias were cut on the same day in late August 2010.

LB Bryan Knight — 2002

The 2002 fifth-rounder popped in a big way in the preseason as a rookie, with a four-sack game (plus a forced fumble) in the second preseason outing against the Rams at the height of their offensive prowess. And Knight looked like a keeper a month later in the regular season with two fumble recoveries in a narrow loss to the Saints in Champaign, Ill.

But he didn’t do much over the following two regular seasons, and those four preseason sacks were the only ones Knight would have in any NFL game until the 2005 preseason with the Carolina Panthers.

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