Matt Nagy on Cordarrelle Patterson: Bears ‘are going to find some good stuff for him’

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Matt Nagy on Cordarrelle Patterson: Bears ‘are going to find some good stuff for him’

At the very least, Cordarrelle Patterson looks like a solution to the Bears’ league-worst kickoff return unit from a year ago. But that’s not how Matt Nagy is viewing the speedy former first-round pick who signed a two-year deal earlier this month. 

“If we were bringing him here just to return kicks … I mean, I'd be lying to you,” Nagy said last week at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix. “He's going to play with the offense and he's going to have a role. From now until Week 1 we've got to figure out, how do we maximize what he does best? I don't know that yet but when I see him get in here and we talk to him and see what he can do, then we as an offensive staff are going to find some good stuff for him.”

The Bears aren’t asking Patterson to be a No. 1, 2 or 3 receiver, roles firmly in the grasp of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller. Tight end Trey Burton and running back Tarik Cohen should be locks to get more targets and/or touches than him. But as a versatile weapon who can do a few different things within the offense, Nagy likes where Patterson can fit. 

The Bears are Patterson’s fourth team in seven years, though, and that kind of frequent movement rarely is found in good, top-tier players. Patterson only played 22 percent of the New England Patriots’ offensive snaps in his 15 games last year, though he did set a career high in touches (63). The challenge for Nagy will be to not overload Patterson, though as long as guys like Cohen and Burton and Robinson stay healthy, that shouldn’t be much of a problem. 

“When Ryan (Pace) and I were watching tape and the other guys in our room were watching tape on him, we saw a role for him,” Nagy said. “You see what he did in New England with the jet sweeps, the arounds, the screens, and I think that that’s a good fit for him. But for me it’s kind of like a kid in a candy store. You get to kind of pick which candy you like best, put it together and figure out what he does best.”

Consider the signing of Patterson as another marker of the strong collaboration between Nagy and Pace when it comes to roster additions, then. That relationship was the first thing Pace pointed to when he discussed Patterson last week at the Arizona Biltmore, with the coach and general manager not only targeting the player, but targeting how he can be deployed in a number of different ways. 

“He's kind of a Swiss army knife,” Pace said. “He's a very versatile player. But to maximize his talent, you have to be using him in a versatile manner, so not just on offense but on special teams and everything that we do. So there was a ton of discussion going into how are we going to use this guy, what's his play time going to look like, are we going to maximize his skill set. We spent a ton of time on that. I know we were both excited at the end of it with a vision of how he'll be used.”

Patterson, too, is a good representation of the shift in roster building the Bears have undergone in the last 12 months. A year ago, they were able to pick off some of the better free agents available — Robinson, Gabriel, Burton, etc. — while adding premiums talent through the draft like Miller and Roquan Smith (“In a lot of ways that’s sometimes easier,” Pace said). 

For the Bears in free agency earlier this month, and next month in the draft, the shift to complementary pieces was out of necessity. Patterson is one of those guys, someone the Bears envision fitting in a role on a team that’s already established itself as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. 

“You just get the ball in his hands,” Pace said, “and he's fun to watch.” 

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David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen dubbed shakiest backfield in NFL

David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen dubbed shakiest backfield in NFL

David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen are by no means the most exciting backfield in the NFL. At least, not yet. They still have much to prove in 2020 after their first year teaming up for the Bears in 2019.

Montgomery finished his rookie season with 889 yards and six touchdowns while Cohen managed just 669 total yards and three scores. With no other accomplished NFL running back on the roster, it's Montgomery and Cohen or bust.

According to ESPN, there's a really good chance they'll be a bust. They dubbed the Bears' backfield as the shakiest in the NFL.

"This is one of the situations where "it's all relative" really comes into play," ESPN's Mike Clay wrote. "Could David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen put together a solid or exceptional season? Absolutely. However, it's not hard to identify more proven and effective backs on the other 31 rosters. Montgomery underwhelmed on 267 touches as a third-round rookie last season, whereas Cohen posted atrocious yardage numbers on a per-carry (3.3) and per-target (4.4) basis. Furthermore, Chicago's depth is also arguably weakest in the league."

It's hard to argue with that assessment. Chicago's running game is in something of a prove-it season which extends beyond just the ball-carriers. Matt Nagy has to prove he can script a good game plan, the offensive line has to consistently open holes, and the running backs have to take advantage of their opportunities to make plays on a more efficient basis.

Until then, it's fair to call the Bears' backfield shaky.



Cody Whitehair cracks Pro Football Focus' top 25 interior offensive linemen

Cody Whitehair cracks Pro Football Focus' top 25 interior offensive linemen

The Chicago Bears offensive line, as a unit, wasn't great in 2019. The offense as a whole was pretty bad, and that's usually the result of an underwhelming O-line. The Bears were proof of that last year.

But that doesn't mean Chicago doesn't have promising talent upfront. Take starting center Cody Whitehair, for example. He cracked Pro Football Focus' list of the top 25 interior linemen in the NFL entering the 2020 season.

Split duties between left guard and center led to the lowest PFF grade of Whitehair’s career in 2019 (64.9), but he had shown himself to be more than capable of holding down the center position in three prior seasons. From 2016 to 2018, Whitehair’s 83.5 PFF grade when lined up at center ranked seventh among 42 players to play at least 1,000 snaps at the position. He’ll look to pick things up there in 2020.

Whitehair's PFF grade was a product of how the Bears used him. It's hard for any player to play at their highest level when their role on the team is unsettled. It's especially true for offensive linemen who are required to be in rhythm with their linemates on every single play. Flipping between guard and center makes it tough to build that cohesion, but it's something that is now in Whitehair's past.

Whitehair played 521 snaps at left guard and 576 snaps at center last season. It was nearly a 50/50 split.

The Bears have settled on James Daniels, the team's second-round pick in 2018, at left guard, and there's a training camp battle underway at right guard between Germain Ifedi and Rashaad Coward. Ifedi should get the nod, and the Bears will begin 2020 with a promising trio of interior offensive linemen who will be tasked with getting the running game back on track.