Bears

'Grizzly' worst-to-first specialist Bobby Massie wants to stay a Bear

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USA TODAY

'Grizzly' worst-to-first specialist Bobby Massie wants to stay a Bear

Bobbie Massie went through down times--both as a Bear and before that--over four years as an Arizona Cardinal. He is at the end of the three-year contract that brought him to Chicago, and the time is coming for him (and the Bears) to determine whether he is a Bear or headed to become something else.

Massie has already made that determination.

“I’m a Bear. Grizzly as hell,” Massie said, laughing. “I am a Bear through and through.”

Massie still spends some offseason time back in Phoenix, training at LeCharles Bentley’s “LB O-Line Performance” facility, but “[Chicago is] a place I call home. This is my home. I would love to be back here.

“We’ve built something. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a culture change, and it’s like night and day from when I first walked through the door to now. It’s an amazing thing to see, just to see players who’ve grown so much. I’ve had a chance to see Mitch [Trubisky] grow from day one to now. It’s just amazing.

“I am invested. I’ll just keep playing, doing my job and the rest’ll take care of itself.”

It has so far for Massie, who knows something about turnarounds like the one in process for the 2018 Bears. If anything, he could be excused for wondering why it took so long.

The Bears right tackle was drafted in 2012, into what would be Ken Whisenhunt’s last year as Arizona head coach, the Cardinals finishing 5-11. After suffering through that, he was part of the turnaround under Bruce Arians to get their record 10-6, then to 11-5 and a wild card postseason berth in 2014, and finally 13-3 and the NFC Championship game in 2015.

After that the Bears enticed him to Chicago with a three-year deal for $18 million, of which $6.5 million was guaranteed. The Bears were coming off a 6-10 first year under John Fox, improving by one victory over Marc Trestman’s final year, and Massie was part of a free-agency sweep that netted Massie, Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, plus draft picks Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair and Jordan Howard – all players from winning programs.

The result instead was a colossal spiral downwards sparked by quarterback injuries, all cascading into 2017 and a deepening quarterback quagmire in the form of Mike Glennon. The tumbling led to the firing of two-time turnaround engineer Fox.

Massie had seen the turnaround impact possible with the right coaching hire, when the Cardinals went from Whisenhunt to Arians. He has seen it, and been part of it, again in the Fox-to-Nagy course correction.

“Fox was obviously defensive-minded and this thing was built around defense,” Massie said. “Nagy came in and if you really look at it, it’s the same team, just a few pieces here and there. No drastic changes, just little things.”

He paused, then laughed: “Maybe a little more passing.

“But it’s fun again. Guys here love coming to work, practicing to get better. And considering how long we’ve been going – we were the first team to start camp – we’re still hungry.”

 

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn't come across as a guy willing to go down in flames with his decision to sign tight end Trey Burton back in 2018 when he met with the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Instead, he confirmed the Bears will be heavily invested in the tight end market this offseason, both in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft.

"We’re looking at it in free agency and the draft," Pace said of this year's available tight ends. "It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue."

It's hard to envision a scenario where Pace would be willing to travel down the big-money free-agent path again, but Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper could be too tempting to pass up.

Atlanta confirmed on Tuesday Hooper will be allowed to test the open market, and if he ranks high enough on Pace's wish list, we could be setting up to see a $10 million per year offer. It may seem like a waste of resources to tie that much money up in the tight end position (he and Burton would cost the Bears close to $20 million in 2020), but they experienced just how limited Matt Nagy's offense is without a capable playmaker at the position. Hooper would fix that.

The cheaper alternative for Pace to upgrade at tight end would be the draft, where several quality prospects will be on the board when the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Players like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, FAU's Harrison Bryant and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could all be available when the Bears are on the clock, and all three of them would represent a marked uptick in talent for the depth chart.

Pace is being logical and rational when it comes to his evaluation of the tight end group. It's especially impressive considering the top two options currently on the roster -- Burton and Adam Shaheen -- were hand-picked by him and cost Chicago a top-of-the-market free-agent deal and a high draft pick (second round, 2017). 

Pace has a great opportunity to right his wrongs at tight end over the next couple of months.

How Matt Nagy's 'urgency' could foreshadow a Bears quarterback change

How Matt Nagy's 'urgency' could foreshadow a Bears quarterback change

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears don’t look likely to sign or trade for a true starter to replace Mitch Trubisky, and Ryan Pace made clear he expects the 2017 No. 2 overall pick to be his starter in 2020. 

Let’s add an addendum to that, though, based on something Matt Nagy said: Just because Trubisky begins 2020 as the Bears’ starting quarterback does not mean he’ll hold on to that gig for the whole season, or even for half a season. 

In talking about the need to find an offensive identity in 2020, Nagy offered a response that leads you to believe job security won't be close to where it was in 2019:

“We got to figure out what our identity is and that's going to be an objective for us,” Nagy said. “And then last year you heard me say, sometimes it takes five or six weeks. I feel like personally that's always the case, but there's a sense of urgency for us going into this year. It needs to happen sooner.”

It needs to happen sooner. What happens if Trubisky doesn’t show any improvement through the first three or four games of 2020, and the Bears’ offense is lacking an identity at the end of September?

If there truly is a sense of urgency to find solutions on offense, then the Bears should consider something they didn’t last year: Changing quarterbacks. 

Chase Daniel was not on the roster to push Trubisky for playing time. He was brought in for his knowledge of the offense as “a little bit of an assistant coach,” as Nagy put it. The Bears figured surrounding Trubisky with as many resources as possible would help him thrive in Nagy’s complex offense. 

What the Bears need — and have indicated they want — is more competition in their quarterback room. That does not necessarily mean, again, luring someone like Teddy Bridgewater to Chicago to start. 

But it does mean adding someone to the roster who at least has a chance to be a better option than Trubisky, if Trubisky doesn’t show any improvement. 

Case Keenum could be that guy. Marcus Mariota, too (although Mariota sharing agents Bruce Tollner and Ryan Tollner with Trubisky could complicate any interest in him the Bears might have). Maybe there’s a trade to be made for Andy Dalton after all, if the Cincinnati Bengals are willing to bend to make the money work. 

A free agent signing along those lines and/or a draft pick — it doesn’t have to be a second rounder, either — would put someone on the roster who could be viewed as a legitimate replacement for an ineffective Trubisky. 

“If you're not creating competition around your whole roster, you're not pushing your own guys,” Nagy said.

The Bears didn’t do that at quarterback the last two years. 

But all signs are pointing to that changing in 2020. And while that may not mean an immediate change at starting quarterback, it means a switch during the season could become a real possibility. 

“If we all think that that’s what we want from (Trubisky), from last year, we’re fooling ourselves,” Nagy said. “He knows that and we know that. 

“But at the same time, we need to be real. What’s around him? And that’s where we’re at. I know it’s hard sometimes for all of us to understand that, and you see what’s going on with the instant gratification now, but there is a process for us. I do know that Mitch is very hungry. 

“He understands that we want him to play better, he understands that we want to coach better. So now we cannot worry and dwell about what happened last year. If you do that, you get stuck in the mud. We can’t do it. 

“It’s a clean slate. Now we’ve gotta get better for this year.”

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