On the first day of Bears training camp, as players in shorts and t-shirts jovially warmed up on one end of the practice field, Matt Nagy stood at the 50-yard line, hands on his hips, eyes peeled toward the other. He watched from 40 yards away as kickers Eddy Pineiro and Elliot Fry began the most anticipated, if not closely-monitored, roster battle in Bourbonnais. Standing next to him? Not GM Ryan Pace -- the architect of this Bears roster, one with real Super Bowl aspirations -- or Mitch Trubisky, the quarterback expected to lead them there.
Standing next to Nagy was backup QB Chase Daniel. It’s become commonplace to see the two paired off, talking alone, throughout the brief pauses in practice. Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come.
“I think like a coach on the field. All this stuff interests me,” Daniel said. “I’ve seen a lot, I’ve been through a lot, I’ve been with some really, really, smart coaches. So I think being around those coaches makes me think like one.”
“Chase is really cerebral,” Nagy added. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s in a position right now where he’s really like another coach. And then you saw last year, he was able to jump in there for a couple games and do some good things for us.”
The two have both spent their NFL careers learning from The Book of Andy Reid. While Nagy was cutting his teeth as Reid’s QB coach and eventual offensive coordinator in Kansas City, Daniel was their backup quarterback. The three were in a room together, back in 2013, when Reid and Nagy installed an offensive system that’s not only changed the face of the Chiefs organization, but shifted how NFL offense is operated.
“I’m always learning. The second I stop learning, I’m probably going to hang up the cleats,” Daniel said. “There’s still things, like a base concept for us, that I’m still taking notes on and still trying to catch just a little bit different nugget from coach that I didn’t get like, 6 years ago.”
Next year will be Daniel’s 10th in the league — or as he puts it, the 3rd CBA he’s played through. At 32, one doesn’t get the sense that there’s any slowing down on the way.
“I feel like I’m in the prime of my career,” Daniel said. “My body feels great. I feel like those two games [vs. Detroit and New York] I played last year was a really good experience for me. Getting to play back-to-back games was a really good experience for me too, with the whole week of practice. My confidence level is high right here and right now, and I feel like I’m playing the best ball of my career.”
Be that as it may, Trubisky is still the starting quarterback of the Chicago Bears. For the next month, however, the Bears’ offense is Daniel’s show. As teams continue to practice more precaution with their starters during the preseason, these four August games have become, more or less, televised tryouts.
“I tell it to the young guys all the time,” he added. “And they still are learning it: you’re not only putting stuff on tape for the Chicago Bears, you’re putting it on tape for 31 other teams. We’re at 90 right here, and we’re going to get to 53 in like 3 weeks, 4 weeks, which is crazy. So, like half the team isn’t going to be here, but half the team won’t be there for everyone else.”
There’s a sense that Daniel is plenty comfortable with his role on the team. Whether it’s pulling Thomas Ives aside to properly explain the footwork of a goal line fade, or being the sounding board for Nagy’s in-moment reaction to kicks, it’s easy to see why the Bears made Daniel the highest-paid backup QB in football.
“What we want to do is breed culture here. That’s what they were all about,” he added. “It might not always be the guy on the field that’s the one that’s making the culture right. As a backup, you take that heart a little bit. Like hey, there’s more that you can do than just on the field - it’s off the field. Helping guys with routes, helping O-Line with protections. Coaches, plays, all that stuff - that’s why I’ve been able to be in the league for coming on 11 years. You’ve got to take everything very seriously.”
That certainly sounds like something a coach would say. And if you’re not convinced, how he dodged reporters asking about a potential coaching career should leave no doubt.
“I’ll let you ask my wife.”