Bears

Bailey will throw more in 2012

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Bailey will throw more in 2012

The sight of Aaron Bailey running out of the pocket with the football cradled in his right hand, looking downfield for an open receiver, never has been more terrifying to defensive backs than it will be in the upcoming season. You can take Aaron Baileys word for that.

We have put in a lot more passing plays this summer, a lot of misdirection, the Bolingbrook quarterback said. We assume that people will stack the box this year. What was the reaction when the coach said he was going to expand our passing game? My eyes lit up. And so did my receivers.

Last year, as Bailey led Bolingbrook to a 13-1 record and the Class 8A championship, the 6foot-2, 225-pounder with 4.51 speed rushed for 1.983 yards and 30 touchdowns while passing for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged fewer than 10 passes per game. This year, he will average 15 to 20.

Thats a scary proposition for defensive coordinators, cornerbacks and safeties to contemplate. It is difficult enough to contend with Bailey taking each and every snap out of a shotgun offense. But throwing the ball almost as much as he runs with it?

The rap on Bailey last year was he wasnt a very accurate passer. Defenders wished he would opt to throw the ball rather than run. But Bailey has worked very hard this summer to improve his passing technique. Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who recruited Bailey for his spread offense, is assured that he will like what he sees.

With the exception of a Fourth of July vacation to Wisconsin Dells, some family barbecues at his grandmothers house in Bolingbrook and a trip to a Red SoxCubs game with his father, Bailey has worked out three times a week with his teammates.

I needed time to recharge my batteries. Im having fun, he said. Im working with my receivers, making better reads, having a better pocket presence. Im just working on playing my game.

I dont worry about what people say, that Im not a great passer. Im doing what I know how to do, fire up my team, doing what it takes to win. The ball is in my hands all the time. I like to throw on the run most of all. When Im doing that, I get to see the whole field. I like to scramble. If a play breaks down, I look one way or the other. Im more effective in that situation. I really enjoy throwing on the run, he said.

Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow cant wait to unleash the new version of Bailey against 2012 opponents. He believes Baileys decision to commit to Illinois as soon as he did is a big factor in helping him to ease his mind and concentrate on what he needs to do to succeed in his senior year.

He can be a lot better than last year. We want to showcase his arm more, Ivlow said. We wont go into the year thinking we have to pad his statistics, that he has to surpass last years statistics. We live on big plays and he has the ability to break big plays. He is the best player in the state.

Bailey committed to Illinois in April. Deeply religious, he said he prayed about his decision with his family. He listed the pros and cons of each college. Illinois had the most pros. In the end, he chose Illinois over Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Illinois was most confident of me as a quarterback, Bailey said, fearing that some schools were recruiting him as an athlete and likely would convert him to wide receiver or running back. I felt comfortable, close to home. I read between the lines on other schools. I sensed that some schools were thinking of moving me to another position. Illinois runs what I am running at Bolingbrook, a spread offense. It is a great fit for me.

He said his primary goal for 2012 is to win another state title. I dont feel I have to prove anything. Im not looking to be Player of the Year. I just want to do what it takes to win. I dont have an ego. The only number Im interested in is the final score, he said.

Bailey and his senior teammates cant wait for the Aug. 24 opener against Plainfield South. He said he is more confident and more relaxed than ever before. He understands there will be more pressure on him, that the Raiders wont be able to sneak up on opponents as they did a year ago.

Two state titles in a row would be cool for us, he said. There are times I dont want to leave the field because Im having more fun. (Running back) Omar Stover and I talked and we realize this is our senior year. Im bigger, stronger and faster. Im confident when things arent looking good now that they will be good later. I dont get down on myself. I realize everything will be all right.

Bailey has a habit of not reading game stories in newspapers or the Internet. He figures if his team is playing on Thanksgiving weekend, they must be doing something right.

Sure, there will be more pressure on us this year. But we dont have to play like it, he summed up. I worry about winning now, then the next team, then the next team. You cant worry about the state playoff right now or the No. 1 ranking in the preseason. You cant let a number get to you. You must stay focused. The best thing is not to look at that stuff until the season is over.

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

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USA Today

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

Chicago Bears left tackle Charle Leno, Jr. has outplayed expectations after joining the Bears as a seventh-round pick in 2014. General manager Ryan Pace rewarded Leno for his play with a four-year, $38 million extension last offseason, committing to the former Boise State product as the Bears blindside protector for the immediate future.

Leno joined his teammates at the team's annual Bears Care Gala on Saturday and said new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is going to make the group better.

"We love Harry, let's just get that out of the way," Leno told 670 the Score's Mark Grote. "Harry is a great coach. I saw what he did for guys that he coached in college and the guys that were before us here in Chicago. He's getting us better."

Hiestand's efforts at Notre Dame produced four first-round picks: Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. He brings a no-nonsense coaching style back to Chicago, where he last served under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. 

STANKEVITZ: In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff

Leno enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. His 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus was the best of all Bears linemen and his highest overall mark over the last four years. He finished 15th among all tackles graded by PFF last season.

Regardless, Leno still has to impress his new coach just like every other offensive lineman on the roster. The Bears haven't added any competition for Leno, but his fate as the team's long-term answer at left tackle could be decided by Hiestand.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”