Bears

The Bears are not benching Mitch Trubisky: 'We want him to be out there this week'

The Bears are not benching Mitch Trubisky: 'We want him to be out there this week'

Mitch Trubisky was a full participant in the Bears’ practice Wednesday at Halas Hall, putting the 2017 No. 2 overall pick on track to start Sunday against the New York Giants a week after being removed late in his team’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams with a hip pointer. 

Trubisky said he feels “a lot better” a few days after suffering that injury, and he expects to play Sunday against the Giants so long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks this week. His full participation in Wednesday’s practice, again, indicates he will not miss a start with the injury. 

Nagy, too, reiterated Trubisky is his starting quarterback so long as he’s healthy. 

“We want him to be out there this week as the starter,” Nagy said. “I’m hoping that’s the case. … These types of injuries, you get to a point where they are literally day to day and it becomes about where you’re at with the pain and how we manage that.”

Trubisky’s injury status Thursday and Friday will be closely monitored for a setback, though it’s possible the Bears designate him as questionable for Sunday no matter what. The Bears did just that in October, when Trubisky practiced in full the entire week leading up to their game against the New Orleans Saints but was officially listed questionable. 

Nagy, though, does not appear to be considering benching Trubisky for any performance-based reasons. The Bears’ coach has stood firmly behind Trubisky in his press conferences since taking him out of Sunday night’s game, and on Wednesday went out of his way to praise his starting quarterback’s recent growth. 

“The last two weeks, and I’m speaking in particular for Mitch, he has without a doubt gotten a lot better at the quarterback position,” Nagy said. “Decision-making, throws – where he’s at the last two weeks has been a lot better.”

When pressed for a specific instance of Trubisky playing better, Nagy pointed to a 12-yard check-down throw to Allen Robinson on what was supposed to be a shot play against the Detroit Lions in Week 10 (on it, Taylor Gabriel was well covered downfield). 

But 10 games into his third year in the league, when Nagy has consistently preached a touchdown-to-checkdown mentality to his quarterback, just how significant is the improvements made by Trubisky to make that throw? Trubisky is still last among qualified quarterbacks with an average of 5.6 yards per pass attempt, and ranks near the bottom of the league in completion percentage (23rd), touchdowns (26th), passer rating (26th) and QBR (30th). 

And the Bears’ offense remains one of the worst in the league, too, sitting in the same ignominious realm as Jets/Bengals/Dolphins/Washington in nearly every offensive category. This is a team that’s made 20-point, 300-yard games feel like monumental efforts, when in reality those should be routine for a team with a top-picked quarterback and offensive-minded coach. 

So how much does steady, incremental progress over two games matter 11 weeks into a season in which Trubisky’s experienced rapid, significant regression? The things Nagy and Trubisky are still talking about — the game slowing down, making good decisions, etc. — are the same things talked about in training camp this year, or throughout the course of 2018 and 2017. 

We’ll see over the course of the final six games of 2019, though, if Trubisky can dig himself out of the hole he and this offense, collectively, have dug this season. Because Trubisky is the Bears’ starting quarterback, and it does not appear that his hip injury will change that on Sunday and beyond. 

“I feel confident going out there and being able to do my job,” Trubisky said. “We're still just not clicking on some plays as an offense and I feel like that's holding us back. But each week it's getting a little bit better, it's slowing down, I love the game plans we're doing each and every single week. We just got to make it happen as an offense, and it just comes down to — I know it sounds really simple — we just got to score more points.”

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J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on September 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice roster too. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, Holtz provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. He finished Thursday night with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus.

His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen.

Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

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USA Today

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

As a large group of TV cameras gathered around Charles Leno Jr.’s space in the Bears’ locker room, Eddy Piñeiro quickly finished getting dressed in the shadows to Leno’s left. The kicker has stayed out of the spotlight since losing the trust of his head coach on a nationally-televised game three weeks ago, but he’s played as well as anyone during the Bears’ three-game return to relevance. 

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m more confident,” he said after the Bears’ 31-24 win on Thursday night. “There’s just good rhythm – good snap, good hold.” 

He hasn’t had to attempt a kick over 40 yards (!!) over the three games, but Piñeiro’s accuracy issues, at least for now, seem at bay. He hit all five of his kicks against the Cowboys – four extra points and one 36-yard field goal. The kicker hasn’t missed a field goal (5-5) since LA, and has gone 9-10 on extra points. More importantly, they haven’t lost since either. 

“It feels great,” Piñeiro said. “Everyone in the locker room is super excited and happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. When you win, everybody’s in a good mood.” 

He hasn’t been physically tested much over the last month, but just ask Aldrick Rosas or Brett Maher how easy kicking at Soldier Field is, even in nice conditions. The Bears have always loved Piñeiro’s response to adversity and it’s starting to look like he’s rewarded them again. 

“Just gaining experience, honestly,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me has just been gaining experience. Playing the game, I obviously don’t have the most experience, but I think trying to gain that experience has been the biggest thing for me.” 

Piñeiro mentioned that he’s still getting used to the adjustments that come with kicking in colder temperatures – which may help explain some of his more recent lackluster kickoffs. It’s easy to see how a nationally-televised game in unusually pleasant conditions could have been a trap for a young player who’s maybe pressing a bit, but after getting the full Bears Kicker Experience stuffed into half a season, Piñeiro knows better. 

“In my opinion, you’ve got to play well in every single game,” he said. “[it’s] not like just because you’re on national TV, you’ve got to play better. It felt good to get out there and hit a couple kicks.” 

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