Bears

#BearsTalk Pick Six: Results of most important storylines from Bears minicamp

#BearsTalk Pick Six: Results of most important storylines from Bears minicamp

Earlier this week, JJ Stankevitz and Chris Boden picked six things they were interested in keeping their eyes on heading into the Bears' final off-season workouts, a mandatory three-day minicamp. Here's what they found:

1. Roll Call

The good news? It appears the team escaped without any new injuries (though calling off Thursday's final scheduled practice prevented a head count). John Fox provided a little more information than usual in running down where things stand with players who we saw on the field, but were not done yet with rehab and recovery: Danny Trevathan (torn patellar) and Zach Miller (broken foot) are on schedule, but Fox said would be "cutting it close" to be ready for the first training camp practices. He said Kyle Long (ankle surgery) was still “six to seven weeks away" from being able to rejoin his teammates on the field. Wideout Cam Meredith (thumb) and backup quarterback Mark Sanchez (knee) were still expected to be ready on time. No specifics were given about Josh Sitton (chest), but the player seemed positive he'll be ready. No timetables were given for Marcus Cooper (soft tissue) nor Lamarr Houston (unknown), neither of whom were even on the field over the course of the first two days.

— Chris Boden

2. Mike Glennon’s command of the offense

Glennon had a lot thrown at him over the last few weeks, which were his first opportunity to dive into Dowell Loggains’ offense and actually run some of its plays in a practice setting. Glennon exited the offseason program feeling much more comfortable with the Bears’ receivers, and felt confident in the on- and off-the-field chemistry he developed with his teammates. Overall, Glennon feels like he’s on solid footing heading into training camp in late July.

“There's been some good things, there's been some thing we need to work on but just overall getting more comfortable in the offense, getting just every rep counts,” Glennon said. “Every time I'm out there is probably the first time I've run the play in this particular offense, so every time I’m out there it matters, and the more we do that, the more we'll grow as an offense.”

— JJ Stankevitz

3. "Tru” at No. 2

By this set of eyes, I didn't see a whole lot of overall difference between Mitch Trubisky (as he moved up to the "twos" with Mark Sanchez's injury) and Mike Glennon. Neither was head and shoulders above the other as both were victims of their share of drops from the wide receiver corps. What's also hard to equate is the level of talent each had him around him in various drills when the offense went up against the defense, as injuries and competition made personnel on both sides a merry-go-round. Then there's also the original play-calls and defensive looks each respectively was given. Personally, however, at this point on the results I saw, I didn't see Trubisky as being that far behind Glennon. Then again, this is not training camp, the preseason, or the regular season. It's still way too early to fire the flames for a true quarterback competition and reverse the stated intention to bring the rookie along slowly.

— Chris Boden

4. Where does Kevin White fit?

The Bears did plenty of mixing and matching with their receiver group this week with Cam Meredith sidelined. Expect that to continue in training camp as the Bears continue to allow the likes of White, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Victor Cruz, Deonte Thompson to compete against each other with an eye on settling on a top two or three by the end of August. But what’s clear is while the Bears have players who have previously had success in their receiver unit, White is the key to this group — if he can live up to the promise he showed coming out of West Virginia, it’ll open up plenty for the Bears’ offense. But that’s a big if for a guy who’s only played four games in two years.

— JJ Stankevitz

5. The first thing for the secondary

At this stage of the year, the defense is usually ahead of the offense, and the Bears were no different than the NFL norm this week. Developing a ballhawking mentality won’t happen overnight for this secondary, but OTAs and veteran minicamp were important for developing a trust among defensive backs that’ll help this unit mesh better when the pads come on during training camp. Cornerback Marcus Cooper was the most notable absence from this group, and while rookie Eddie Jackson wasn’t able to fully participate, he was praised by coach John Fox this week.

“He’s wired right, he understands the game, in the classroom setting, questions and answers, he gets it,” Fox said. “He’ll get plenty of time in Bourbonnais.”

— JJ Stankevitz

6. The ‘Baby’ Bear

Yes, the only game equipment they were wearing this week were helmets, and these weren't game situations played against angry, opposing defenses. But fourth round draft pick Tarik Cohen showed enough quickness, burst, and evasiveness that could make the 5-foot-6 part of this fall's offensive package. Between Cohen and tight end Adam Shaheen, there's a bit of encouragement that while the wide receiver situation sorts itself out, any immediate contributions from this pair separated by more than a foot in height could add options for a unit desperately seeking players opposing defense's have to account for.

— Chris Boden

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

While the Bears praised Mitchell Trubisky’s operation of a controlled gameplan in his second NFL start, they’re not losing sight of the special kind of athleticism and playmaking ability the rookie quarterback possesses. Two plays in particular stand out — plays that led to anywhere from a five-to-10 point swing in the game. 

Trubisky’s 18-yard third down completion to Kendall Wright in overtime seems to looks better every time you watch it on film. Trubisky was pressured by two Baltimore Ravens pass rushers, but managed to wriggle free and slide to his right, only to find linebacker C.J. Mosley waiting in front of him. The blend of athleticism and aggressiveness Trubisky displayed in firing high over the middle toward Wright — who made a specular play of his own — is one of the many reasons why the Bears are so excited about him. 

“To be able to throw that ball with both hands in the air and changing your arm angle – that’s why you draft a kid second,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Because of things like that.”

But there was another instinctual, athletic play Trubisky made that was just as impressive, and just as important. Cody Whitehair’s snapping issues cropped up at the Bears’ 13-yard line, with the center sailing a snap over Trubisky’s head and toward the end zone. 

If Baltimore recovered that ball, it would’ve tied the game; had Trubisky simply fell on the ball, it very well could’ve led to a safety that would’ve brought the Ravens within five points about a minute after the Bears took a 17-3 lead. Instead, Trubisky picked up the ball, scrambled to his right and threw the ball away — one of six throwaways he had on Sunday. 

“(That) was a critical, critical play at that time,” Loggains said. 

This isn't to say that two plays — only one of which gained yards — are enough to say the Bears' offense is in a good place. It's still a group that necessitates a controlled gameplan, similar to the one they used with Mike Glennon. But the difference: Trubisky can make plays. 

Briefly, on Whitehair

Since we’re on the subject of another poor snap by Whitehair, here’s what Loggains had to say on that topic: 

“He’s gotten better. We still had one too many. The thing and point I want to make with Cody Whitehair is, obviously wants to talk about the snap, but you’re talking about two weeks in a row of completely dominating. We’re an outside zone team that ran 25 snaps of inside zone because of what they were playing. It changed our game plan and Cody’s a big part of that. The last two weeks we’ve been able to move those guys inside. He’s a really good football player. 

“We’re going to battle through these snap issues. We’re cutting them down. He’s more accurate. He did have the one that obviously is unacceptable and no one owns that more than Cody Whitehair does. But he is a really good football player and let’s not lose sight of the 79 snaps where he really helped the team run the football and you can’t do that without a Cody Whitehair at center.”

Loggains has a point here — if Whitehair were struggling in the run game, against the defensive looks the Ravens were showing, the Bears wouldn’t have been able to run the ball 50 times with the kind of success they had. But the poor snaps nonetheless are ugly and have to be eliminated — imagine the uproar over them if Trubisky didn’t make that play in Baltimore. The Bears' offense won't always be good enough to overcome those kind of self-inflicted mistakes. 

Loggains and coach John Fox have praised Whitehair’s attention to the problem, and as long as Hroniss Grasu is still limited with a hand injury, Whitehair will have some time to work through these issues. One final thought: Who would’ve expected, back in May, that Whitehair would have the problems with snaps, and not Trubisky?