Bears to play Texans in Hall of Fame game

The Bears will kick off their preseason a little bit early this year. They will take on the Houston Texans during the Hall of Fame game Aug. 1 in Canton, Ohio.

Two days later, three former Bears will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This will be the sixth time the Bears have participated in the annual Hall of Fame game, and the first time since 2018. The Texans have participated one previous time, ahead of their inaugural season in 2002.

The game will be played at 7 p.m. at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which is adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bears fans who travel to Canton for the weekend could see the current Bears on Thursday night, then watch Devin Hester, Steve McMichael and Julius Peppers inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Former Texans receiver Andre Johnson also will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“This game features two teams that finished the 2023 season strong and have key pieces in place for 2024,” Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement. “Bears fans have always supported their Hall of Famers, and they can welcome three more who will be enshrined in Canton this year, while Texans fans can see the franchise’s first Hall of Famer up close as part of the game and Enshrinement Weekend. The Pro Football Hall of Fame could not be any more excited about this year’s matchup — and this year’s class.”

Their inclusion in the Hall of Fame game means that the Bears will have an additional preseason game. The Bears will play four preseason games, as opposed to the customary three. The Bears and Texans also will begin training camp several days earlier than the 30 other teams across the league.

It also could be a first look at the Bears’ new rookie quarterback. That, potentially, could be USC prospect Caleb Williams.

Eberflus impressed by Williams

Bears coach Matt Eberflus was dazzled by Williams’ pro day and his meeting with the USC quarterback expected to go No. 1 overall to Chicago.

“The biggest takeaway is that you can see the arm talent on the film and you can see it there in person,” Eberflus said. “That was the biggest takeaway. What I loved to see was the interaction with the other players. You can see that, and we talked to every person that was on that team. At the Senior Bowl we interviewed them and interviewed them at the pro day. We talked to those guys at the dinner and you can certainly see those players love him and respect him and what he’s brought to that program.”

The Bears traded Justin Fields to Pittsburgh and now likely will turn to Williams, hoping he can be their franchise quarterback.

NFL passes kickoff change

NFL owners passed a new kickoff rule for the upcoming season. Touchbacks were at an all-time high last season and kick returns were at an all-time low. The new rule is an effort to make the kickoff more exciting, while also protecting players.

Under the new rule, the kicker will still kick from his team’s 35-yard line. Every other player will line up on the opposite side of the 50-yard line. All 10 remaining players on the kicking team will line up between their opponents’ 40- and 45-yard line. Two players from the return team are allowed to line up between the goal line and the 20-yard line. The remaining 10 players on the return team must line up between the 30- and 35-yard line.

Only the kicker and the two deep return men are allowed to move before the ball either hits the ground or hits a player.

In the past, injuries occurred frequently on kick returns because players were running at each other at full speed from opposite sides of the field. This rule is an effort to minimize such collisions. The XFL has used a similar kickoff rule in recent years.

Additionally, teams may now only attempt an on-side kick in the fourth quarter and they must declare an on-side kick attempt. Surprise on-side kick attempts will be a thing of the past.

The new kickoff rule joins three other new rules that were passed Monday, including a ban on the “hip-drop tackle.” The kickoff rule reportedly passed on a 29-3 vote, with only the Packers, 49ers and Raiders dissenting, according to Sports Illustrated.

The new kickoff rule will debut during the Hall of Fame game, likely with Bears legendary return man Devin Hester in attendance

NFL adjusts trade deadline

In a procedural change, league owners voted to move the trade deadline back by one week. The trade deadline will now be the Tuesday following Week 9. Previously, it was the Tuesday following Week 8.

The move will give teams an extra week to decide if they are buyers or sellers at the deadline. Compared to other pro sports leagues such as the MLB, NBA and NHL, the NFL trade deadline still is relatively early. Week 9 is exactly halfway through the 18-week regular season slate. Other pro sports leagues typically have their trade deadlines about two-thirds of the way through the regular season.

In another procedural change, teams now must make it more clear when an injured player is, or isn’t, traveling for an away game. Additionally, teams now can elevate a practice squad quarterback to the active roster an unlimited number of times if he is to be used as the emergency third quarterback.

The Associated Press contributed

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