Bears

Bears-Vikings grades: Why Mitchell Trubisky passed his first test in the NFL

Bears-Vikings grades: Why Mitchell Trubisky passed his first test in the NFL

QUARTERBACKS: B-

Mitchell Trubisky’s final stat line wasn’t particularly good: 12/25, 128 yards, one touchdown, one interception — with that pick coming deep in Bears territory late in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Trubisky’s accuracy escaped him at times, too. But Trubisky went through his progressions well and played aggressively, and more importantly, the intangibles he brought to the Bears’ game plan up his grade here. There was a different energy on the field and genuine excitement in the Bears’ locker room about Trubisky’s debut and where he can go from Monday night. 

Running backs: C+

Jordan Howard attacked the edge well and finished with 76 yards on 19 carries, which are solid numbers given he faced eight or more defenders in the box on 52.6 percent of his runs, according to NFL Next Gen stats. But Tarik Cohen was rendered ineffective (six carries, 13 yards, one catch, minus-six yards) and danced too much instead of planting and cutting up field, which drags this grade down. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

Kendall Wright was effective when targeted (five targets, four receptions, 46 yards) but the rest of this group struggled to make an impact (five targets, two receptions, 27 yards). Questionable penalties on Markus Wheaton (holding) and Tre McBride (offensive pass interference) put the Bears in some tough positions. 

TIGHT ENDS: D+

Dion Sims dropped a pass and was inconsistent as blocker — he whiffed on blocking Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr on a pair of plays that led to lost yardage, but did well blocking for Howard on the edge on a couple of runs. Zach Miller caught three passes for 39 yards and was the recipient of Trubisky’s first career touchdown (that deflected off the hand of Vikings safety Anthony Sender). Adam Shaheen only played 11 snaps, 18 percent of the Bears’ offensive total.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D+

Charles Leno and Bobby Massie were flagged for false starts while Cody Whitehair’s holding penalty erased what could've been Trubisky’s first red zone possession in the first half (McBride’s spectacular catch might’ve been reviewed had flag not been thrown). Leno was beat by speedy Vikings edge rusher Everson Griffen for a sack-strip of Trubisky that led to Minnesota’s first points of the game, and Whitehair had two high snaps to Trubisky out of the shotgun. This group did relatively well in the run game, though, given how frequently the Vikings loaded the box. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Akiem Hicks was once again a menace, notching two sacks while consistently finding a way to be disruptive in the run game. Eddie Goldman had some issues in the run game early — he was on his back for an eight-yard run by Jerrick McKinnon in the first quarter — while Mitch Unrein showed up late to help keep the score tied for a stretch.

LINEBACKERS: C+

This was a tough grade. Leonard Floyd was outstanding, recording a safety and two sacks, while Pernell McPhee made a few disruptive plays. John Timu played well before suffering an injury, and Christian Jones had a nice pass break-up. But after Timu’s injury, the Vikings were able to attack Jones (who took over defensive play-calling duties for Timu) and Jonathan Anderson (who hadn’t played a defensive snap since Week 2). Most notably: The Vikings went up-tempo on McKinnon’s 58-yard touchdown, with Jones and Anderson not getting the front seven in the right look, allowing the Minnesota running back to blast through the defense for a critical score. 

SECONDARY: D+

The Bears’ turnover margin was minus-two on Monday night, and while the offense deserves blame for a fumble and an interception, this defense still hasn’t picked off a pass this year. Their best chance on Monday came when Sam Bradford threw into double coverage, but neither Kyle Fuller nor Adrian Amos could come up with a play on a poor decision by the banged-up Vikings quarterback. Minnesota gained just 38 yards with Bradford at quarterback; Case Keenum came off the bench and led the Vikings to 272 yards in just over two quarters. A couple positives, though: Good coverage downfield allowed Floyd to chase down Bradford for a safety, and Eddie Jackson made a solid play to break up a pass in the fourth quarter. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

A number of people deserve kudos for the Bears’ touchdown on a fake punt: Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers for noticing on film that the play could be possible; punter Pat O’Donnell and running back Benny Cunningham for putting in extra practice work on the play; safety Adrian Amos for making the check to the fake pass; the entire front for blocking on the play; O’Donnell for cooly lofting the ball to an open Cunningham; and Cunningham for making two Vikings miss to get in the end zone. That play changed momentum in the game and, had the Bears won, would've rightly been viewed as the turning point in the game. Some other notes: While Cohen struggled on most of his punt returns, he did have a 14-yarder (when he immediately accelerated upfield) that set up a short field for the offense. DeAndre Houston-Carson forced a fumble on a kick return that bounced out of bounds too. 

COACHING: C-

Credit offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for that unique game-tying two-point conversion that ended with Miller optioning a pitch to Trubisky — and for having the guts to call it and trust his players to execute it in such a critical situation. But the whole delay of game mishap on fourth and two in the first half, which came after a timeout, didn’t reflect well on John Fox. While Fox argued that the officials didn’t have the ball in place, he sent the offense on the field with about 12 seconds left on the play clock. Whatever went wrong there wasn’t on Trubisky. Fox also burned a timeout at the start of the fourth quarter — after the Vikings called a timeout — that wound up hurting late in the game after Minnesota took the lead on a field goal. 

What do the Bears hope to accomplish in joint practices with Broncos?

8-14denverbroncos.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

What do the Bears hope to accomplish in joint practices with Broncos?

DENVER — With Roquan Smith finally in tow, the Bears headed to Denver on Tuesday for a pair of joint practices with the Broncos leading up Saturday’s preseason game at Mile High Stadium. 

The Bears last held joint practices with the New England Patriots in 2016, and for coach Matt Nagy, this week will be his first experience with practicing with and against another team. For Bears players, the opportunity to practice against opposition — instead of their teammates, as has been the case for nearly a month — will inject some life into the dog days of the preseason. 

“It’s a great opportunity to compete against other guys and you get to go out there, and you’ve been beating on your guys all year long and all training camp long,” defensive end Akiem Hicks. “It’s an opportunity to have some other type of competition. And then to finish it up and play them at the end of the week, it just works well.”

Nagy said on Sunday he doesn’t anticipate Wednesday and Thursday’s practices will be live, and Broncos coach Vance Joseph said on Tuesday he spoke with Nagy about working to prevent the kind of fights that have popped up in some other joint practices this month. Washington and the Jets, most notably, had an all-out brawl earlier this week in a joint practice. 

“It’s always good the biggest thing when you do these team scrimmages together, you just want to stay away form the fights,” Nagy said. “As long as guys do that it’s definitely a benefit for both teams.”

The main benefit lies in the boost players should get from competing against another team's players instead of their teammates. That competitive jolt is beneficial, especially for a team that’s been practicing longer than anyone else besides the Baltimore Ravens thanks to participating in the Hall of Fame Game Aug. 2. 

“It’s a different defensive scheme all week,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “We are lucky to go against a great defense in practice, but it will be nice to go against someone else (with) different styles and different coverages.

“It’s going to be competition all week, so we definitely have to bring it. It will be a great week for us to get better and compete and see who wants to win every single snap — not just a game, not just practice periods, but every single snap, every single rep.”

For Smith, Wednesday and Thursday will be a head-first dive into the Bears’ defense. Even if coaches try to ease him into things — which won’t necessarily be the case — it will come against an offense not controlled by Nagy and Mark Helfrich. These two practices will be a good early test for where Smith is in terms of knowledge and football shape after his four-week holdout. 

And for the rest of the Bears, these two practices represent an opportunity to compete against someone different while breaking up the monotony of preseason practices. That’s generally a good thing — even if you’re, say, a tight end who all of a sudden has to try to block Von Miller. 

“I know they have some good edge guys,” tight end Adam Shaheen said with a bit of a grin. “… I think once we saw the schedule, all the tight ends were looking at those guys. it’ll be a good challenge and a good chance to get better.”

How soon will Roquan Smith start? The Bears are ready to figure out the answer

How soon will Roquan Smith start? The Bears are ready to figure out the answer

Roquan Smith signed his rookie contract Tuesday morning and took part in a light walkthrough practice shortly thereafter at Halas Hall, but his coaches are still a ways away from anointing him as a contributor, let alone a starter, for Week 1 of the regular season.

In a more narrow scope, coach Matt Nagy said he wasn’t sure if Smith would be available for Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos, but did say that the eighth overall pick would be in uniform for Wednesday and Thursday’s joint practices with the Broncos in Colorado. The first step for Nagy, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires and the Bears’ training staff will be to determine what kind of football shape Smith is in, which will become apparent in the coming days. 

Nagy said he might have an idea in a week or 10 days whether or not Smith will be able to contribute in Week 1, but not only does he have to prove that he’s in the right physical and mental shape to do so, he’ll have to prove he’s a better option than Nick Kwiatkoski. Chances are, the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will be able to prove he’s better than Kwiatkoski, who is a solid player in his own right. But if Smith can't, that would say more about him than it would about Kwiatkoski (who, again, Bears coaches already trust). 

“I’ve seen him out here with no pads on for an hour and a half,” Nagy said. “I’ll be able to stay in touch with Vic and we’ll ask, we’ll see how that goes and obviously you hope (he’ll contribute Week 1), right? That’s one of the benefits of him being here now but we just have to see. And I don’t think it’s fair to the other guys as well that have been out here battling each and every day, so again, go back to you have to earn it, and come out here and show it.”

Pro Football Talk reported the Bears and Smith’s camp reached a compromise to end the 29-day holdout. You can read the specifics here, but it boils down to this: Smith received ample protection for on-field disciplinary incidents, while the Bears retained their ability to void the guarantee on Smith’s money in an extreme case (think like if Smith becomes the next Vontaze Burfict). 

Smith declined to get into the specifics of his holdout, frequently deferring to “my agent and Mr. Pace” when asked for specifics. Nagy said he didn’t want to dwell on the past, now that the “past” of Smith’s holdout is over. 

But Nagy did say Smith was getting close to the point in his holdout where his availability for Week 1 would’ve been in doubt. So while the timing of Smith’s deal wasn’t ideal — ideal would’ve been mid-July — the opportunity is there for him to prove to his coaches and teammates that he’ll be ready for that curtain-lifting trip to Green Bay. 

“That’s up to the coaches, to decide on, you know, when they feel that I’m ready,” Smith said. “I’m just going to do whatever I can do to prepare myself to get ready. I’ve got confidence in my coaches in there to catch me back up to speed.”

Smith’s level of participation will be closely watched in the coming weeks, starting with these two joint practices against the Broncos on Wednesday and Thursday. Will he already be swiping first-team reps from Kwiatkoski, who had a solid camp while Smith was away? Will all the positive things he put on tape (without pads on) during OTAs and minicamp show back up? Or will he look a little lost early on and need some more time to get up to speed?

These joint practices will be an interesting introduction for Smith into the preseason, though, given the practices he has participated in — OTAs, minicamps and Tuesday’s walkthrough — have consisted of controllable, relatively low-intensity reps. 

“What’s going to happen is in practice that we go against each other there’s a normal consistent pace every day, and now it’s going to naturally pick up when you go against another team,” Nagy said. “But I’m not worried about it with Roquan. I know that he’ll be ready for that, as the rest of our guys will.”

While the Bears will want to give Kwiatkoski a fair chance to keep his job, come Sept. 9, the two best inside linebackers the Bears have will be on the field together against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Danny Trevathan and Smith could be those guys — and, realistically, they should be those guys. The Bears didn’t draft Smith to sit on the bench against Rodgers in a game against a historic rival they’ve only beat three times in their last 19 meetings. 

The process of getting on the field began Tuesday for Smith. It will continue this week — even if he doesn’t play Saturday in Denver — and then next week leading up to Aug. 25’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. When Nagy said he’ll have a good idea in a week or a week and a half if Smith will be ready for Green Bay, that hints at Smith’s role in the Chiefs game being telling for what he’ll do at Lambeau Field 15 days later. 

To figure that out, the Bears are going to put a lot on Smith’s plate. There’s no time for a slow introduction into things. 

And if the team’s evaluation of his skillset, football intelligence and work ethic is correct, he’ll handle that accelerated workload well and, ultimately, earn the starting gig for which he’s been destined since late April. 

“If you take too many baby steps  and you don’t test him enough then you don’t know what his limit is,” Nagy said. “So I think you go ahead  and you throw stuff at him. I think right now we have to make sure physically you don’t overdo it. Mentally he’s fine. We can pull back on that but physically don’t over do it.”