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Bears draft, free-agency signings reveal changing player prototypes sought for Matt Nagy's offense

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USA TODAY

Bears draft, free-agency signings reveal changing player prototypes sought for Matt Nagy's offense

From draft weekend and the offseason that preceded it has come a growing sense of exactly what type of football player coach Matt Nagy and staff are in search of, and which GM Ryan Pace is tasked with finding.

And it is markedly different from some of the templates used by more than one of Nagy’s predecessors. It is a new model that has been developing and reflected in several major roster moves even before draft weekend.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the Bears have been busy getting smaller, all with an eye toward fitting physically with what Nagy envisions schematically, particularly on offense. Nagy’s offense will incorporate greater mobility, in every area, and his GM has been about the business of staffing up for just that.

“You start jumping into the draft and what kind of positions and players do we want to look at going forward,” Nagy said at the conclusion of the selection process. “And that process has been really neat with the collaboration process with Ryan and I just going through a bunch of different scenarios and situations and needs, but then also balancing the best players too and what’s the best way to go about it.”

Consider the Bears’ top draft picks, beginning with linebacker Roquan Smith (6-1, 238 pounds), center/guard James Daniels (306 pounds) and receiver Anthony Miller (5-11, 190 pounds). Now consider certain of the Bears’ key offseason moves, both additions and subtractions.

Overlay all of this with certain player exits:

Guard Josh Sitton (320 pounds) out, Daniels in.

Receiver Cam Meredith (6-3, 205 pounds) out, Miller and Taylor Gabriel (5-8, 170 pounds) in.

The Bears may indeed have had reservations about Meredith’s comeback from season-ending knee surgery. But after they made Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson (6-3, 211) a priority free-agent signing, the reality is that Meredith was arguably redundant, a second big wideout in an offense that stresses completion percentage and yards after catch ahead of winning jump balls.

The second reality is that Kevin White (6-3, 215) may see reps with the No. 1 offense through the offseason, but if there is a future for him in the Nagy/Mark Helfrich offense, it is difficult to envision. Dontrelle Inman (6-3, 205), likewise.

Not that size doesn’t matter; the Bears selected wideout Javon WIms (6-3, 215) this draft, but in the seventh round.

Normal transition process

Adjusting search parameters is standard operating procedure with a coaching change.

With Jerry Angelo staying on as GM and hiring Lovie Smith to succeed Dick Jauron, the Bears remained a 4-3 defensive team. But where Jauron and coordinator Greg Blache built around a massive two-gap forward wall (290-pounders Philip Daniels and Bryan Robinson at end, 340-plus tackles Keith Traylor and Ted Washington) in front of a 260-pound middle linebacker (Brian Urlacher), Smith wanted one-gap penetrators for his front.

Angelo drafted defensive tackles Tommie Harris (290) and Tank Johnson (299) 1-2 in the first draft (2004) for Smith.

Phil Emery replaced Angelo in 2012 and left no doubt that he believed the Bears needed to get bigger. He traded for wide receiver Brandon Marshall (6-4, 230) and made Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 220) his second draft choice. He made guard Kyle Long (6-6, 330) his first pick in the 2013 draft.

Pace and John Fox did not appear to be in complete synch beginning with the selection of White in 2015 and very apparently last year with the pick of Mitch Trubisky. But Pace’s selections and signings (Jonathan Bullard, Eddie Goldman, Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan) fit the size prototypes used in the 3-4 schemes of Fox and Vic Fangio in Denver and San Francisco, respectively.

Because Fangio and his staff stayed in place, the defensive changes were less dramatic. Roquan Smith is consistent with Fangio’s smallish, speed-based inside-linebacker mold. So does Joel Iyiegbuniwe (fourth round, 6-1, 230 pounds). Kylie Fitts (sixth round, 6-4, 260) fits the outside-linebacker template (McPhee, Aldon Smith).

But on offense, as far as gross tonnage is concerned, Nagy and Helfrich are following a less-is-more path.

For all of the brouhaha surrounding the selection of Miller in the second round, one curiosity lingers: why the Bears allowed slot receiver Kendall Wright to take his 59 catches up to Minnesota on a one-year deal for just $1 million, creating a hole that needed to be filled with the Miller pick. Age doesn’t account for it; Wright is 28, Miller an older rookie at 23. Neither does production; Wright has averaged 56 receptions through six NFL seasons and averaged 93 for his final two Baylor years, Miller 94.5 for his last two Memphis seasons.

Mitch Trubisky jersey sales trending in right direction

Mitch Trubisky jersey sales trending in right direction

Positive press about the Chicago Bears' offseason is having a strong impact on the jersey sales for the team's highest-profile player, Mitch Trubisky.

According to Dick's Sporting Goods, Trubisky's No. 10 is the fifth-most popular jersey among offensive players over the last 30 days. He's No. 6 among all players, regardless of position.

The Bears' offseason has been full of superlatives since their aggressive approach to free agency. The signings of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel put the spotlight on Trubisky and the potentially surging passing game. The second-round selection of Anthony Miller and word of Kevin White's offseason emergence has turned positive momentum into higher-than-anticipated expectations for Trubisky this season.

For Chicago to have any chance at meeting those expectations, Trubisky, who's entering his first full season as a starter with a new head coach and offensive system, has to thrive. Fans must be confident that he will, considering the investment they're making in his jersey.

Trubisky ended his rookie season with four wins in 12 starts, throwing for 2,193 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes. He should have a much more productive season in 2018 with his new arsenal of skill players and an innovative coaching staff, led by coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

These four Bears will be featured on 'Meet the Rookies' series

These four Bears will be featured on 'Meet the Rookies' series

The Chicago Bears will kick off the fourth season of "Meet the Rookies" on June 25, a series that profiles four of the team's 2018 draft picks for a behind-the-scenes look at their journey to the NFL.

The four-episode series will air on ChicagoBears.com at 7:00 p.m from June 25 - 28 and will feature one rookie per night. 

Monday's episode will cover the Bears' first-round pick, Roquan Smith. Selected with the eighth-overall pick, Smith is expected to become an instant-impact player on defense. He's expected to make an impact off the field, too, as a high-character leader. Smith's linebacker-mate Joel Iyiegbuniwe is the focus of Tuesday's episode, with Anthony Miller (Wednesday) and James Daniels (Thursday) rounding out Season 4.

For a deeper dive into what's in store in "Meet the Rookies," check out this description.