Bears

Past is prologue? Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace bring similar histories to first draft as Bears tandem

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AP

Past is prologue? Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace bring similar histories to first draft as Bears tandem

At the outset of this year’s Combine, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was about two months removed from hiring Matt Nagy (who turns 40 on Tuesday). But Pace was very, very clear about what was critical in their relationship, and what is now of the absolute highest priority as the Bears swing onto final approach for Nagy and Pace’s first draft together.

“I think when mistakes are made in organizations, it's when the personnel department and the coaches are not on the same page,” Pace said. “That continuity is important; that chemistry is important. I think it's already naturally existing with us in the concept dialogue that we have, and I think you eliminate mistakes when you do that.

“If you share a vision for a player, then it helps eliminate some of those mistakes.”

But with the Bears on the clock at No. 8 next Thursday evening, will there be a true shared vision of the player whose name will be on a card carried up to the Commissioner?

Differences of opinion are inevitable, and desirable. If everyone in the room thinks alike, then at least half of them probably don’t need to be there.

The 2018 draft presents some intriguing decisions, but also contain a very solid positive: “There are some positions that align this year that are very deep in this draft that happen to be positions of need for us,” Pace said.

But the process of factoring that “need” in with player grades and position values has to arrive at agreement and consensus. Whether coaches in 2015 wanted edge rusher Vic Beasley but Pace and the draft board dictated Kevin White; or whether coaches wanted Deshaun Watson last year and Pace targeted Mitch Trubisky – those sorts of thing are difficult to establish conclusively in hindsight, and don’t really matter unless coaches are being handed players they deem less than optimal for their purposes. Only the results on the field ultimately matter.

Pace and staff will go into next weekend with a fully formed “cloud” of players graded as worth the No. 8 pick of the first round (and for the No. 7 pick of Round 2, and so on). Since that cluster of desirables will have been arrived at in concert with Nagy and his staff, some characteristics of their experiences are worth noting.

Studying Nagy, Pace draft “roots”

This may be Nagy’s first draft experience as a head coach. But between his time in Philadelphia and Kansas City, he has been around 10 drafts and learned from Andy Reid (in both places) what it takes to build a winning team. Of those 10 combined seasons, Nagy has been through exactly one losing year.

Pace was a member of the New Orleans front office from 2001-2014. During those 14 years he experienced only one season with fewer than seven wins.

What do the histories of the two centermost figures in Bears football operations have common on draft weekends, in particular with round one’s? And even more in particular, with selections of offensive linemen and front-seven defensive players, given the prominence of Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith?

O-line’ing for Nagy, Pace

During Nagy’s decade of observing Reid’s team-building under various general managers, only twice were No. 1 picks used on offensive linemen: guard Danny Watkins, the Eagles’ 2011 selection at No. 23 and a bust; and Eric Fisher, the first-overall pick of the 2013 draft, a tackle and solid performer, coincidentally the same draft in which Kansas City selected current Bears guard Eric Kush in the sixth round.

In Nagy’s 10 drafts, his bosses took only one offensive lineman (KC guard Mitch Morse, 2015 Round 2) higher than the fourth round. That includes two-time Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce, Philadelphia’s sixth-round pick in 2011.

Down in New Orleans, Pace and the Saints were going offensive line No. 1 just once in 14 years – tackle Jamaal Brown, 13th overall in 2005. The Saints did use No. 2's on the offensive line –  center LeCharles Bentley, tackle Jon Stinchcomb, tackle Charles Brown. But the Saints had their biggest scores later: guard Jahri Evans and tackle Jermon Bushrod in fourth rounds, guard Carl Nicks in a fifth – all three eventual Pro Bowlers and core elements of New Orleans’ Super Bowl champions. A key for the Saints was offensive line coach Aaron Kromer; the Bears believe they have that grade of O-line coaching firepower in Harry Hiestand.

Through his three Chicago drafts, Pace has not ignored the offensive line, addressing with at least one pick every year, in a fashion consistent with his New Orleans model: one offensive lineman in a second round (Cody Whitehair, 2016), one in a third (Hroniss Grasu, 2015), one in a fifth (Jordan Morgan, 2017) and one in a sixth (Tajo Fabuluje, 2015). Not a high success rate but fitting a pattern in line with his and with Nagy’s from KC and Philadelphia.

Conclusion: Using the No. 8 overall pick on a guard/Nelson would run contrary to what Nagy and Pace have seen as a successful construction philosophy in their previous draft experiences.

Priority “D”

Pace traded up in 2016 to ensure getting Georgia rush linebacker Leonard Floyd with his first-round pick. He also has staffed coordinator Vic Fangio’s front seven with a No. 2 (nose tackle Eddie Goldman), No. 3 (defensive end Jonathan Bullard) and No. 4 (linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski), plus five DB’s in Rounds 4-6.

Front-seven talent was a priority with the Eagles during the time of Reid/Nagy: Philadelphia drafted five defensive linemen or linebackers within Rounds 1-2 in the five drafts from 2008-12.

During Nagy’s five Kansas City years, the Chiefs had seven picks in Rounds 1-2. Three of the seven picks were invested in the defensive front seven. Additionally, the Chiefs used three third-round picks on cornerbacks. Meaning: Reid and Nagy may be rooted in offense, but they and their GM’s (John Dorsey 2013-16, Brett Veach 2017) fully grasped the import of reaching for an elite defense.

Conclusion: The 2018 draft contains talent at the top of Round 1. Both Nagy and Pace come from cultures that made quarterbacks and offense a priority (Trubisky, Drew Brees, Pat Mahomes, Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith). But the top need for the 2018 Bears is pass rush, that typically necessitates a top-10 pick, and Nagy and Pace come from organizations that have acted on that priority.

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

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Associated Press

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

The report on Kevin White from this week’s voluntary veteran minicamp was that Matt Nagy thought he looked “sharp,” played “fast” and, most importantly, was healthy. But that doesn’t mean the Bears will no longer have some difficult conversations with, and about, their 2015 first-round pick. 

The Bears have until May 3 to decide whether or not to pick up White’s fifth-year option, which would be worth $13.9 million, according to CBS Sports. If Ryan Pace wasn’t willing to commit $9.6 million over two years for Cameron Meredith over concerns about his 2017 knee injury, chances are he won’t be willing to commit more money than that for a guy in White who’s only played in five games over three pro seasons. The prudent thing for Pace to do would be to decline to pick up White’s option, setting him up for unrestricted free agency 11 months from now. 

Depending on what transpires in next week’s NFL Draft and then through OTAs and training camp, White still may have to earn his way on to the Bears’ 53-man roster, too. But that's looking too far into the future for a guy who’s suffered three serious injuries and has struggled to stack good practices when he's been healthy. 

“Sometimes you’re going to take a step backwards to go two steps forward — that’s kind of where he’s at,” Nagy said. “He’s a kid (whose) confidence hasn’t been where it needs to be. But what I can tell you is that from what I’ve seen so far, if I was somebody that was coming into this building and facility that didn’t know anything about him, you’d never in a million years know it from what we’ve seen recently.”

White made a handful of good plays during this week’s non-padded practices, for what it’s worth. The Bears need to see White continue to flash here and there on a regular basis, and then build up to having consistently solid practices throughout the offseason program and into the summer. The fresh start he’s afforded with a new coaching staff and new offense could benefit him, especially from a mental standpoint.

“His confidence is there,” linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who’s been a teammate of White’s since their days at West Virginia, said. “He’s ready to get back on the field.”

This sort simmering positivity about White around Halas Hall is fine, but it’s only April, and nobody is — or should be — getting ahead of themselves. Yes, the prospect of a healthy and effective White is mouth-watering, and would be tantamount to the Bears having two first-round picks this year (running back Tarik Cohen said the offense could be “dominant” with White and Robinson as outside threats). 

But Nagy is taking a narrow view of White’s outlook, one that won’t expand to the bigger picture until — for better or for worse — sometime during training camp, most likely. This is going to be a long process for the Bears to get the most they can out of White, and then they’ll have to hope the 25-year-old doesn’t suffer another cruelly-unlucky injury. 

“If any of us were in that situation and you have a fresh start — forget about the whys of what happened, forget about that,” Nagy said. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is about right now. He’s young. He has a big ceiling. 

“Now, we can try to do it as much as we can as coaches and try to pull it out of him, but he’s got to work hard. He’s got to put time in the playbook. He’s got to put in the extra work after practice when he can. And then when the game comes, he’s got to make plays. When you do that, his confidence will slowly get better and better. 

“The physical tools, forget about it. He’s got all that. It’s just a matter of him mentally, right now, seeing it happen and stacking them play by play in each practice.”

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

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USA TODAY

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

With new coach Matt Nagy in place, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky starting Year 2 from the get-go, and a cadre of offensive upgrades, expectations are exponentially higher than they were through the decline and fall of the John Fox regime, which was intended to be a turnaround and bridge to a culture and performance change from the nadir under Marc Trestman.

But the reality is that the Bears could very well be among the most improved teams in the NFL and still finish last in the NFC North for the fifth straight year and under their third different head coach.

Improving on the 5-11 of 2017 will not be all that assured, either. Of their 16 games, six are against teams that reached last postseason. Two each of those are against the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, and Aaron Rodgers missed nine games last year, something that isn’t likely to repeat, making the Packers their usual force – and the Bears couldn’t beat Green Bay even with Brett Hundley in for Rodgers.

The Packers get Rodgers back. The Lions got a new coach. The Vikings got a new quarterback. If you stand still, you’re slipping backwards.

The schedule formula has given the Bears an unintended standard for gauging whether they have gained or lost ground on the league. Half of the games on the 2018 schedule are against teams played by the Bears in 2017 – Detroit (2), Green Bay (2), Minnesota (2), San Francisco and Tampa Bay – and the Bears were 0-8 in those games last season. If Nagy and Pace don’t improve on that…

With game times after Week 4 subject to flex scheduling:

Week 1: at Green Bay (7-9) Sunday, Sept. 9, 7:20 p.m.

The only two times the Bears have beaten the Packers since 2010 have been in Green Bay but Aaron Rodgers has become to the Bears of the last decade what Brett Favre was to the years before Lovie Smith.

Moon’s call: L

Week 2: Seattle Seahawks (9-7) Monday, Sept. 17, 7:15 p.m.

The monster team that came within a TD of reaching three consecutive Super Bowls has let go of defining members (Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman) and has injury issues hanging over others. A team at a fork in its road.

Moon’s call: W

Week 3: at Arizona Cardinals (8-8) Sunday, Sept. 23, 3:25 p.m.

Bruce Arians retired after averaging nearly 10 wins over five AZ seasons. Steve Wilks is a defensive coach and becomes the latest to try winning with QB Sam Bradford, who’s missed 42 games over the last five seasons.

Moon’s call: W

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) Sunday, Sept. 30, Noon

Bucs’ season start was disrupted by Hurricane Irma but not enough to prevent their blowing out Bears in a delayed game one. Bears and Bucs are meeting for fifth straight year and Bucs have won the last two by 26 and 22 points. Trade for Jason Pierre-Paul should help “D” but Jameis Winston needs to step up to elite.

Moon’s call: W

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: at Miami Dolphins (6-10) Sunday, Oct. 14, Noon

Jay Cutler won’t be back, but Adam Gase hired Dowell Loggains as OC and Jeremiah Washburn as O-line coach so Bears-‘Fins matches up a lot of young offensive coaches with a Chicago connection. Miami getting QB Ryan Tannehill back from ACL tear remains a question.

Moon’s call: W

Week 7: New England Patriots (13-3) Sunday, Oct. 21, Noon

Super Bowl hangover? Maybe. Pats just escaped Jacksonville in AFC title game and then were soundly beaten by Eagles in Super Bowl. And internal scratchiness may help opponents. But Tom Brady still tops 4,500 yards. Trading away Jimmy Garoppolo and Brandin Cooks netted high draft picks that Pats need hits with to stay on top.

Moon’s call: L

Week 8: New York Jets (5-11) Sunday, Oct. 28, Noon

Like Bears, Jets have struggled mightily to get QB position right after two straight 5-11 seasons that have Todd Bowles on the coaching bubble. Jets re-signed Josh McCown and will try ex-Bears assistant Jeremy Bates as OC.

Moon’s call: W

Week 9: at Buffalo Bills (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 4, Noon

What Buffalo does from No. 12 in this draft order will be noteworthy, with Bills holding five picks in top 65, in dire need of a quarterback after dealing Tyrod Taylor and signing A.J. McCarron, but having upgraded front seven with Trent Murphy for edge rush and Star Lotulelei for interior strength.

Moon’s call: L

Week 10: Detroit Lions (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 11, Noon

From a one-time patsy, Lions have won nine of their last 10 vs. the Bears, six of the last seven decided by six or fewer points as part of a disturbing Bears trend toward not making plays on offense or stops at tipping points. Detroit prioritized keeping Ziggy Ansah’s pass rush, although he has just 2 sacks and 10 tackles in seven games vs. the Bears while muscling up the defensive interior with Sylvester Williams and the run game with LeGarrette Blount.

Moon’s call: W

Week 11: Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Nov. 18, Noon

“Minnesota Miracle” was THE highlight of ’17 for a team that came up a game short of the Super Bowl. Of concern for the NFC North,  a 13-3 team upgraded at its most vital position: The Kirk Cousins Era is upon the Bears and the division. Cousins is 2-0 career vs. Bears, and an elite Vikings “D” got better with addition of DT Sheldon Richardson.

Moon’s call: L

Week 12: at Detroit Lions (9-7) Thursday, Nov. 22, 11:30 a.m.

What the Lions will be under new defense-based head coach Matt Patricia is anyone’s guess. But the Bears have lost five straight in Ford Field and haven’t won there since Lovie Smith’s final year. Matthew Stafford is becoming the poor-man’s Brett Favre for Bears purposes: Stafford hasn’t missed a game vs. anyone in seven years, is 9-1 vs. Bears over last five years and has passer ratings of 115.0 or better in four of his last Bears games.

Moon’s call: L

Week 13: at New York Giants (3-13) Sunday, Dec. 2, Noon

With the No. 2 draft pick, Giants widely expected to grab either RB Saquon Barkley or DE Bradley Chubb, either projected as impact rookies. But NY grappling with declining Eli Manning and four losing seasons out of the last five, double-digit losses in three of last four.

Moon’s call: W

Week 14: Los Angeles Rams (11-5) Sunday, Dec. 9, Noon

The runaway NFL darlings of ’17 responded to a playoff upset by going all-in with signing Ndamukong Suh, and trades for CB’s Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib for a “D” already boasting Aaron Donald. QB Jared Goff played like a first-overall pick and Rams added Brandin Cooks to on NFL’s highest-scoring offense.

Moon’s call: L

Week 15: Green Bay Packers (7-9) Sunday, Dec. 16, Noon

The Packers were needy enough to make a run at Kyle Fuller to improve their secondary, and decided Jordy Nelson didn’t have enough good football left to warrant keeping him. But the Bears couldn’t beat the Pack with Brett Hundley, Aaron Rodgers is now back, and he has a motivated TE Jimmy Graham to throw to.

Moon’s call: L

Week 16: at San Francisco 49ers (6-10) Sunday, Dec. 23, 3:05 p.m.

Two teams with coaching upheaval this decade. Bears-49ers meet for fifth straight year and sixth in last seven, Bears under their fourth head coach in that span. Another chance to vet GM Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Mitch Trubisky rather than trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, who had ‘Niners 5-0 once he became the starter.

Moon’s call: L

Week 17: at Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Dec. 30, Noon

Bears haven’t won in Minnesota since ’11 and last three L’s there were by 21, 28 and 13 points, as Vikings have been on the rise and Bears on the decline both during recent seasons and as competitive franchises. Bears desperately need prove-it road “W” to start regaining relevance in NFC North. Bears have ended three of the last four seasons with losses in Minnesota.

Moon’s call: L

Season prediction: 7-9