Bears notebook: Expect heavy tight-end usage; hiring process gave Nagy an edge


Bears notebook: Expect heavy tight-end usage; hiring process gave Nagy an edge

Combing through the notebook after a very busy and formative Bears week...

One constant buzz this week is the sound of opinions of the new Bears head coach, which has now expanded to include takes on the budding staff that is tasked with making over a Bears offense that has regressed disturbingly over the past couple seasons. The thinking here is that this portends to be perhaps the most interesting change to a Bears offense in quite some time, more so even than the arrival of Marc Trestman in 2013.

That makeover crashed in flames the following year but not before putting up nearly 28 points per game with Jay Cutler and Josh McCown as its quarterbacks, a hint of what some imagination can do at the NFL level even with lesser lights under center.

That imagination came, ironically, in something from the past, specifically the West Coast offense. Trestman was a devotee of the scheme concepts that, among other things, made huge and creative use of the tight end – Martellus Bennett caught 65 and 90 passes under Trestman, Greg Olsen caught 54 and 60 under Ron Turner’s version of it, before Olsen was traded because Mike Martz didn’t much use tight ends as receivers.

The point obviously isn’t Trestman; it’s the West Coast system and what its principles as incorporated by Matt Nagy project to mean for an offense-starved organization.

Best guess is that the offense which once spawned Mike Ditka and the modern tight end will see a return to that concept under Nagy: Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce has been targeted an average of 107 times over the past four seasons and caught 67-72-85-83 passes over those seasons.

Nagy comes to Chicago as a disciple of Andy Reid, whose use of variations on that theme have been successful for him for going on 20 years, a superb resume that has been built while other systems have come and gone. The reason is in large part because of its adaptability, and because of the adaptability of the man (Reid) and others among its best practitioners.

Nagy said Tuesday that he would be calling plays for his offense, plays that undoubtedly will be part of game plans with extensive input from anticipated offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Nagy doesn’t hire Helfrich - offensive coordiantor and then head coach at Oregon through 2016 - unless there is a simpatico vision for play design, execution and all the rest. Helfrich ran an offense with spread principles and which made extensive use of no-huddle, a tactic favored by former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota even now with the Tennessee Titans.

A notable specific: Over the past three years the Kansas City offense that Nagy worked in tied for fewest interceptions in 2015 with 7; tied for fifth with 8 in 2016; and tied for for second last season with 8. The fixation on ball security that was drilled into Mitch Trubisky (2.1 INT percentage) will serve him well in the Nagy/Helfrich offense.

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The advantages of Ryan Pace and Bears management figures of Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips inverting the hiring process and getting executive buy-in on prospective candidates at the outset of each candidate review likely did not end with landing Matt Nagy on the day of his first and only day of meetings with the Bears.

Nagy’s hiring immediately commenced recruiting of assistant coaches while the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants are still in the process of putting new head coaches in place. Pace was behind the hurry-up rush of head-coaching candidates because of the highly competitive climate he saw, and that extended to the coordinator and assistants openings. Nagy already has secured four key staffers – coordinators for offense and special teams plus position coaches for offensive line and running back – and was able to pursue defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, all while his potential rivals were still going through their hiring interviews.

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The Oregon thread running through the Bears offense is suddenly worth a bit of a look. Ryan Pace investigated trading up from No. 7 to No. 2 in 2015 with the idea of drafting Marcus Mariota out of Oregon (Tennessee wanted too much in draft capital and didn’t want Jay Cutler). Mariota’s offensive coordinator was Mark Helfrich.

Helfrich’s offensive line included Kyle Long (six starts) and Hroniss Grasu, who has been unable to get career traction in three injury-impeded Bears years under two different coordinators but who warrants watching with the arrival of his former Oregon coordinator.

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One meaningless look back: Dowell Loggains has moved on to become offensive coordinator for Adam Gase and the Miami Dolphins, and Loggains’ brief tenure as Bears OC won’t make anyone forget Mike Tice or Aaron Kromer anytime soon. But a nagging unknown is what might have been for Loggains if he’d had even half a deck to play with.

Besides starting the year with Mike Glennon at quarterback, the Bears opened the second half of their 2017 season starting exactly zero of the receivers and tight ends they opened the season with as their preferred “12” personnel (one back, two tight ends) package. Opening day: wide receivers Deonte Thompson and Kevin White; tight ends Zach Miller and Dion Sims at tight end. None were active to open the second half of the 2017 season and only Sims (inactive, illness) was even still on the roster by season’s end.

Ideally Mark Helfrich has a little better roster luck.

Aaron Lynch misses Bears practice with hamstring injury

USA Today

Aaron Lynch misses Bears practice with hamstring injury

The Chicago Bears are thin at outside linebacker after only signing Aaron Lynch to provide a pass rush opposite Leonard Floyd this season. 

Lynch was considered a risky signing in March because of his injury history. He's appeared in only 28 games over the last three years and he's already off to an injured start with the Bears.

Lynch was one of several players to miss Sunday's practice with a hamstring injury, a list that includes fellow starter, Danny Trevathan.

Lynch and Trevathan missed Saturday's practice, too.

Other Bears who sat out on Sunday were Sherrick McManis (hamstring), Daniel Brown (ankle) and Joel Iyiegbuniwe (shoulder). First-round pick Roquan Smith remains a holdout.

Lynch is in a training camp battle with Sam Acho for a starting job and will have to hold off Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving as well. The more time he loses to injury, the less and less likely the chances are that he'll become an impact player on defense.

It's still early, and the Bears have an extra week of training camp because of the Hall of Fame game. There's plenty of time for Lynch to get healthy and put this hamstring issue behind him. 

Matt Nagy doesn't care about being a players' coach

USA Today

Matt Nagy doesn't care about being a players' coach

Matt Nagy is a few days into his first training camp as an NFL head coach, and while he's earned praise from players up and down the Chicago Bears' roster, he said Sunday after practice that he's not concerned with being a player's coach.

"I don't care about the players' coach part," he said, "but I care that they respect me and our coaches. This isn't going to happen overnight, this is something I'm trying to build with the players.

"There's so much stuff that comes into this. There are little areas where were all growing and that's where I think the respect factor comes in for all coaches."

Nagy won't make any friends with his approach to practicing in bad weather. The first few days of Bears camp have been drenched by rain but Nagy hasn't moved practice indoors. Instead, he wants his team to get used to playing in the elements. Hardly a favor to the players, even if it will prepare them for bad weather games this season.

The Bears will debut Nagy and their new offense on August 2 against the Ravens in the Hall of Fame game. Starters will likely play only one series, if at all.