Robert Quinn’s second season with the Chicago Bears appeared to get off to an ominous start Wednesday when head coach Matt Nagy announced his highly paid pass rusher would be limited in the team’s first practice with the same back injury that hindered him in veteran minicamp.
But then Quinn didn’t look all that limited once practice began. In fact, he looked pretty good. Granted, it was a light, one-hour practice to kickoff training camp and Quinn’s “load management” – as he put it – will be interesting to watch throughout the preseason. He was also limited in Thursday's first full practice.
“They added an extra game so it's going to be a long season,” Quinn said. “I don't need to try and burn out and kill yourself today because we've got plenty more days to come.”
At age 31, Quinn is carrying a $14.7 million cap hit in the second year of a five-year contract he signed in 2020. And he isn’t shying away from his struggles last year.
“I’ll be honest: Just a terrible year for me, personally,” Quinn said.
When a reporter double-checked to make sure he heard Quinn correctly, the 11th year pro made it perfectly clear: “No, it was a bad year. Yeah. Unless you like those types of stats.”
The stats that really matter: two sacks, 51 percent of defensive snaps played.
In all honesty, that second number might not change much in 2021, even if Quinn is healthy. He and the Bears just want to make sure the first number goes up, even if that means being strategic in how they use him.
“Everyone is on the same page, and we understand what I need and what the team needs from me,” Quinn said. “I’ll just leave it at that. They know where I’m best at, and we’ll just keep it there.”
Quinn is best with his hand on the ground, revving his engine to go get the quarterback. But last year, he was asked to do other things too, including occasionally dropping back into coverage. In fairness, the Bears paid him like a guy that should be on the field every down with the ability to be a versatile 3-4 linebacker, but that’s not Quinn’s fault. He’s more of a hand-on-the-ground 4-3 defensive end. Both parties are better off in 2021 if they accept that the fit wasn’t perfect and try to make it better – because Quinn and his contract aren’t going anywhere this year.
Figuring out that fit – and keeping Quinn healthy -- has been a priority this offseason. And the switch to new defensive coordinator Sean Desai could help. Quinn, Desai and the entire organization appear to be on the same page with pass rusher’s usage this season.
“If you've known my career, if you know me, you know where I like to be,” Quinn said. “I think (Desai) knows where I'm best dominant at. At the end of the day, you got to do what best fits the team but also what best fits the players to get the best out of the player … I think we're all on the same page. I get the opportunity to hopefully re-prove myself and hopefully earn the respect -- or however you want to say it -- from the guys (and) make sure I don't disappoint them with the season like I did last year.”
Still, that doesn't mean that Quinn can be completely one dimensional.
"I think that's where you're going to see Coach Desai really use Robert in the way that he's used to being used, and he also has to understand what we want to do schematically," Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. "It's just letting him go play and then having Robert and Khalil (Mack) on one side and the other side. Moving guys around is advantage Bears. They're motivated to go out and be more productive this year."
If nothing else, Quinn seems determined not to let his teammates – and himself – down this season.
“I might’ve just beaten myself down mentally (last year), Quinn said. “But at the end of the day, I can erase 2020 — well, put it behind me — because it’s done and over with. Now I’m gonna look forward to this year and come in with a better, positive mindset, a little more energetic, happy mindset, and try to give the Bears and my teammates and everyone the best version of myself as a person and player and hopefully they get what they’re looking for.”