Bears

“Khalil Mack Pavilion” at Field Museum? And as Bears training camp concludes, “How’s Trubisky looking?”

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USA TODAY

“Khalil Mack Pavilion” at Field Museum? And as Bears training camp concludes, “How’s Trubisky looking?”

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Khalil Mack has the attention of the NFL, particularly of quarterbacks and offensive tackles. Chicago’s Field Museum should perhaps be taking notice, deciding where to put the “Khalil Mack Pavilion,” at least in the estimation of one Mack teammate.

“I consider Khalil the next evolutionary step in the human athlete,” tight end Ben Braunecker said on Friday, shaking his head. “He’s the combination of size, speed and strength that I’ve just never seen before. When he puts his hands on you and goes for it, it’s as if your whole body moves around.

“You feel the force and it’s an uphill battle at that point.”

Braunecker has seen significant time opposite Mack during training camp due to the slow returns from injuries of Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen. The experience has been a learning one for the former Harvard Crimson, although he hasn’t come up with any tips on how to block one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers.

“I’m sure if I asked him, he’d be willing,” said Braunecker, a molecular and cellular biology major at Harvard. “But I don’t think there are any ‘tips’ to blocking him. I don’t know what you could do better.”

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“How’s Trubisky looking?”

It is the question put to every fan, media member and about anyone else coming back from the time at Bears training camp. It is also the question to which there is no clear answer possible until and after Sept. 5 when Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky opens the regular season against the Green Bay Packers.

In the meantime, observations are possible, but the difficulty lies in the reality that outsiders don’t know what specific play Trubisky was being tasked with running. And they do not know what accompanying instructions the third-year quarterback is being given that affect play execution.

Irrespective of instructions, play calls, the elite defense facing him, all factors considered, Trubisky has not been a consistently dominant force in this, his third NFL camp and second under Nagy and staff. Defensive teammates have remarked on his clear development and control of the offense, and it would be difficult for any quarterback to consistently dominate a defense that was the far-and-away best against passers (72.9 combined rating for opponents; Baltimore No. 2 at 80.6).

Complicating any Trubisky critique, particularly when interceptions or apparently errant throws happen, is that coach Matt Nagy has repeatedly stressed that Trubisky is again this training camp being instructed to take calculated risks and put footballs into tight places, throws he might not attempt in real game situations.

However, since some of those go-for-it throws are being intercepted or broken up, the question is: Is Trubisky capable of getting throws into tight spots, something that the greats and very-good’s at his position are expected to do?

“He's trying,” Nagy said. “I'll tell you what: Yesterday he had two throws, probably his two best throws of camp that he threw that there's not that many quarterbacks in this league can make that throw. He had two of them yesterday.

“[Sunday] he tried to squeeze one in there right at the end of practice, in between [nickel corner] Buster [Skrine], and the safety and Buster jumped up and tipped it. The last thing I told [Trubisky] was that I'm glad that he forced that, that I'm glad that he tested it. Now he knows that same angle that the wide receiver came out of his break with the nickel – he beat us at the depth that he was at –  [Trubisky] probably can't make that throw.”

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“Double-D” remembered

Very, very difficult to conjure up the right words to express those feelings loosed by the shocking news Sunday morning that Darryl Drake had died at age 62. “Double-D” was the Bears wide-receivers coach under Lovie Smith during Smith’s entire 2004-12 tenure, and was without question one of the highest-quality individuals this reporter has had the good fortune to cover and know.

Darryl was beloved by his players, ranging from Muhsin Muhammed to Devin Hester to Johnny Knox to Alshon Jeffery to Brandon Marshall, even as he was pushing them constantly, but while looking out for them as both men and “my babies.” Offseason lunch-grabs with Double-D up there in Gurnee was the best of times, and hooking up at the Combine was one of the best reasons to make that trip, including the last time I saw Darryl there, in March.

I think my last text to him right afterward was that I simply couldn’t believe that he couldn’t fix whatever the problem was between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown there in Pittsburgh (he was the Steelers’ receivers coach). I meant it.

Message: Don’t put off picking up the phone or texting a friend. That “next time” isn’t promised to any of us.

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Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

The Bears have been playing without Akiem Hicks since Week 4 when Hicks was placed on injured reserve after dislocating his elbow during the Bears trip across the pond to the play the Oakland Raiders. If that Week 4 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings feels like a long time ago, it’s because it has been, and the Bears have been feeling Hicks’ absence.

Hicks spoke at an event at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago this week about his time on IR and when he thinks he’ll be back on the field.

“I try not to make too many projections,” Hicks said. “I have no projections, I just want to be healthy and contribute to this football team.”

When asked about what he missed most while being on IR, Hicks kept his answer simple.

“Just being with the boys,” he said. “It’s a different feeling Saturday night at the hotel when everybody is getting prepared and locking in for the game and you’re sitting there spectating. As much as you try to involve yourself, giving them advice and pushing them in the right direction, the true moment, the battle, the competition you’re going to miss. You just have to accept that.”

“One thing that has improved on my time away is patience, I understand that it was my moment and I have to be comfortable with this time away.”

Hicks was asked about Nick Williams, who has been filling in for him at defensive end, with Hicks having nothing but kind words to say.

“Just a stud,” Hicks said. “He’s shown that he can be a dominant defensive tackle.”

Hicks certainly isn’t wrong. Nick Williams is currently leading the Bears in sacks, with six sacks to his name this season. Hicks also touched on the long-standing friendship he and Williams have shared over their two years as Bears.

 “Myself and Nick Williams have a long relationship over these past two years,” Hicks said. “It feels like we’ve been friends forever. He was very supportive of me throughout his time here. It’s unfortunate that I’m on IR, but it’s a great opportunity to be supportive of him as well.”

“If there was anybody who was going to come up for me and play the time that I’ve missed, I’m glad it was Nick,” Hicks said. “I challenge you to pick somebody in the crowd more excited than me when he makes a play.” 

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How Kyle Long's injury started the process of switching James Daniels and Cody Whitehair

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USA Today

How Kyle Long's injury started the process of switching James Daniels and Cody Whitehair

How important was Kyle Long to the Bears' offense? The right guard went on IR four weeks ago, and the Bears are still dealing with the issues that his absence creates at other positions. 

Not only did Long's injury mean that the Bears were going to have to lean on Rashaad Coward before they would have liked, but it also largely drove the decision to move James Daniels and Cody Whitehair back to the positions they played last season – Whitehair at center, and Daniels at left guard. 

"You have Kyle over there, veteran, steadying guy next to James, between him and Bobby," Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. "Now you have a guy that was a defensive lineman playing that spot, and with Cody in there, it's a steadying factor." 

Without Long, Whitehair's now the most senior member on the Bears' interior line. Drafted in 2016, he's got two years on both Daniels and Rashaad Coward, the latter being moved onto the offensive line when Nagy took over in 2018. Given how the offense has looked through 10 weeks, there wasn't a lot of harm in giving the switch a shot. 

"I think you have a balance when you look at it," Nagy added. "Before, you have experience wise, you’re dealing with Leno on the left, right? Cody and James and Rashaad. That was one of the things that we looked at with that switch. And then I think you kind of balance it out a little bit."

Daniels' versatility across multiple positions is a big part of the reason why the Bears took him 39th overall in 2018. It's also a big part of the reason why they're confident that moving back to guard halfway through the year won't throw him for a loop. He did, after all, start 10 games (nine on the left, once on the right) there as a rookie. He ended his rookie season with a Top-40 grade from to Pro Football Focus, and was one of only 35 guards to not allow a sack. 

"I just like him period," Hiestand said. "I just like him as a football player and as a person. He gives us everything he has every day. He's got a lot of ability and over time as he gets stronger and becomes more confident playing in this league and grows and matures, he's gonna be fun to watch."

The Bears were as unified as they were non-commital when asked if the switch was permanent. The were proud that Daniels "handled [the news] great," and praised his team-first approach, a response that isn't automatic with 23-year-old 2nd round picks that get replaced. And for the conspiracy theorists out there, there was no input from the quarterback room. "We've got enough on our plate," QB coach Dave Ragone quipped. 

It's not going to be an overnight fix, which was pretty clear after the game against Detroit featured Whitehair struggling out of the shotgun, two penalties from Daniels, and five sacks allowed. Still, the Bears will have to go 6-1 or 7-0 to have any realistic chance at a playoff berth, and moving Whitehair back gives them a better shot at doing that. It just may mean a few more hiccups, but that's nothing new this year. 

"Going through a couple of snap issues here or there, there were a few of those yesterday," Nagy said. "We’ve been through that before and Cody’s done a great job of pulling through that. We just know that making that switch, for a lot of different reasons is more beneficial." 

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