From up-downs to a positive attitude, Mark Helfrich left a lasting impression on his former Oregon players

USA Today

From up-downs to a positive attitude, Mark Helfrich left a lasting impression on his former Oregon players

MOBILE, Ala. — During a particularly poor practice one day in Eugene, then-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich meted out some punishment by ordering his players to do 50 up-downs. 

As offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby began the sweaty, bothersome endeavor, he looked over and saw a sight that made him do a double-take: Instead of standing with a stern face and his arms crossed, there was Helfrich taking part in the punishment, too. 

“If anything happened, he was the first one to blame himself,” Crosby said. “It was cool because if we ever got punished, you could look to your right and see him doing the same punishment we were doing, if it’s up-downs, running, anything like that. 

“So that just gave you a lot more respect for him because he’s not going to tell you to do something if he’s not willing to do it himself.”

Two of Helfrich’s former players are here in Mobile for the Senior Bowl: Crosby and long snapper Tanner Carew (running back Royce Freeman was initially scheduled to attend, but is not participating). And both offered effusive praise of their former coach and current Bears offensive coordinator. 

“I love coach Helf,” Carew said. “He’s a great coach and a better person. There isn’t a better judge of character out there than coach Helf. 

“He’s just a great person. He truly does look out for his players and that really goes a long way, being a player that played for him.”

Both Carew and Crosby said Helfrich’s positive attitude is one of his best traits — and Carew can see how that could translate to him being a successful NFL coordinator. 

“It’s based on a team perspective of being positive and it’s also based on an individual level of being positive, and he’s good at both,” Carew said. “I feel like that translates from player to player because there’s less people, it’s a 53-man roster versus 110. I feel like he could do better in that aspect as well, also being an OC, being a little bit more in-tune with the players.” 

“The person he is — not a coach, just a straight-up person — was one you want, if you ever have kids, to (model themselves) after,” Crosby said. “He was truly respectful to everybody, always holding the door open for anybody. If he saw trash, he was the first one to go over and pick it up. I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Helfrich.”

That two successful players were so complimentary of their former coach isn’t surprising — there probably were some players on Helfrich’s teams who didn’t like him, of course. And this praise doesn’t mean Helfrich will have the same impact on pro players as he did on college guys. 

But what Crosby and Carew had to say about Helfrich meshes with how Matt Nagy described what he likes about his offensive coordinator’s ability to develop quarterbacks — which, after all, will be one of his most important tasks with the Bears. 

“Just understanding how to handle them, how to treat them — more and more that we get to talk, knowing how to be a teacher to them in the classroom,” Nagy said. “Being a delicate position where this isn't a position where you can get on — you have to be able to handle them the right way and understand where they're at and how they develop. There's going to be some times you have to get on them a little bit. There's going to be tough love. 

“But really when it comes down to it, teaching details and fundamentals, and he has that. That's easy to tell.”

Bears grades and needs: What to do with Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski?

Bears grades and needs: What to do with Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski?

2018 depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
Usage: 16 games, 93.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $7.65 million cap hit

The Bears could save $6.4 million in cap space if they were to release Trevathan before March 17, per Spotrac, but that move seems unlikely. Trevathan was one of the more underrated players on the league’s best defense in 2018, serving as a vocal leader while putting together his best season in Chicago. He finished the season with 102 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, four pass break-ups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and eight tackles for a loss, all while playing 986 snaps, the third-highest total on the defense. 

With Chuck Pagano keeping 3-4 continuity, Trevathan will maintain a significant role in the Bears’ defense. Cutting him for cap savings could be detrimental to the Bears’ chances of making the playoffs again in 2019. He’s a guy who not only should be back, but should be one of the team’s most important players again this coming season. 

2. Roquan Smith
Usage: 16 games, 83.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $4,199,356 million cap hit

For a guy who participated in roughly one and a half practices during training camp and the preseason, and didn’t start in Week 1, Smith put together an impressive and encouraging rookie year. He was all over the field, with his speed, instincts and physicality often overcoming a steep learning curve in Vic Fangio’s defense. He led the Bears with 121 tackles but, perhaps just as impressive, tied for third on the team in sacks with five (which equaled Leonard Floyd’s total). 

Smith’s future is searingly bright. And as the Bears’ roster evolves over the next few years, with Mitch Trubisky’s rookie deal coming to an end and a rich extension due to Eddie Jackson, the Bears can overcome some potential roster/cap casualties by Smith living up to his potential while he’s still on his rookie contract. 

3. Nick Kwiatkoski
Usage: 16 games, 10.6 percent of defensive snaps, 71.5 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $2,188,780 cap hit

Kwiatkoski lost his starting job after Week 1, when it was clear the Bears needed Smith’s speed on the field after blowing that 20-point lead to the Packers in Green Bay. He barely played on defense after that, but credit the 25-year-old with committing himself to special teams and being a key contributor on those units (he also caught a two-point conversion pass on “Golden Ticket” in Week 17). 

The Bears, though, could save a little over $2 million in cap space by cutting Kwiatkoski. He’s a solid backup, but if the Bears think 2018 fourth-rounder Joel Iyiegbuniwe could be a similarly-solid reserve, they could decide to move on from Kwiatkoski. 

4. Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Usage: 16 games, 2.2 percent of defensive snaps, 74.6 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $739,643 cap hit

“Iggy” played more special teams snaps than anyone on the Bears, though his work on defense was limited to three snaps in garbage time in Week 4 against the Buccaneers and 12 after starters were pulled in Week 17 against the Vikings. That doesn’t give the Bears much film to evaluate, though he did play 129 snaps on defense during the preseason that should help with the team’s evaluation of him. 

5. Josh Woods
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Woods, who played defensive back at Maryland, suffered a hand injury in the Bears’ second preseason game but stuck around the practice squad all year. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 1

If the Bears stick to the status quo with their depth chart here, there’s not much work to be done. Trevathan and Smith are an excellent starting pair, with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and Iyiegbuniwe a strong special teams contributor. If the team moves on from Kwiatkoski, they could be in the market for another backup here, but that wouldn’t be a pressing need. 

Bears will reportedly release Cody Parkey when new league year begins

Bears will reportedly release Cody Parkey when new league year begins

The biggest question regarding Cody Parkey wasn’t if he’d be released, but when. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the “when” will be at the beginning of the new league year on March 13.

Parkey will still be paid the $3.5 million in remaining guaranteed money on his contract. The Bears guaranteed Parkey $9 million in his four-year, $15 million deal signed last year, and will not net any cap savings by releasing Parkey. The Bears can use a June 1 designation on Parkey to release him on March 13 without costing them any cap space (without using that collectively bargained designation, the Bears would owe an additional $1.125 million against their 2019 cap). They’ll still have to shoulder Parkey’s dead cap figure of a little over $4 million, per Spotrac. 
The move will bring to end an ignominious, brief tenure in Chicago, in which Parkey missed 10 kicks during the regular season before his infamous double-doink that dealt the Bears a loss in their first playoff game in eight years. Murmurs began surfacing regarding Parkey’s reliability when he missed a long game-winning field goal in overtime against the Miami Dolphins (a game the Bears lost), then hit a fever pitch when he bizarrely hit the uprights four times against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field in November. 
A media circus quickly followed Parkey after that four-doink game, with helicopters from two news stations flying over Soldier Field while he practiced on a Wednesday night. Parkey did hit 10 of 12 field goals and 12 of 13 extra points after that brutal game against the Lions, but there was no coming back from the missed 43-yard field goal that knocked the Bears out of the playoffs. 
Parkey, too, didn’t help his cause by going on “TODAY” the Friday after that double-doink miss, with coach Matt Nagy sounding and looking annoyed with his kicker for that appearance. 
“We always talk as a team, we win as a team, we lose as a team,” Nagy said. “You know, I just -- I didn't necessarily think that that much too much of a ‘we’ thing.”
The Bears signed former Tulsa kicker Redford Jones to a reserve/future contract in January after bringing in several kickers for a tryout at Halas Hall. Cutting Parkey paves the way for the Bears to continue adding kickers in free agency, the draft and/or the undrafted free agent pool. 
Robbie Gould, who’s only missed three of 85 field goal attempts since being cut by the Bears before the 2016 season, is likely to have the franchise tag placed on him by the San Francisco 49ers, according to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.