Bears

Million dollar question for Bears: Is Dowell Loggains up to handling, developing Mitch Trubisky?

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AP

Million dollar question for Bears: Is Dowell Loggains up to handling, developing Mitch Trubisky?

A loose trend line of sorts has formed over time around the belief in some NFL halls that rookie quarterbacks are best developed and handled by head coaches from the offensive side of the football (Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning notwithstanding): Bill Walsh and Joe Montana, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb, Sean Payton and Drew Brees, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, even Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick, and recently Jason Garrett and Dak Prescott and Bill O’Brien and Deshaun Watson.

The Bears, who lived through the Marc Trestman/Jay Cutler case study in dysfunction, have placed the care and feeding of the future of their franchise — Mitch Trubisky — in the hands of defense-based John Fox and more specifically offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, and under him quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. Obviously more than only Loggains and Ragone are involved in whether or not Trubisky becomes what an organization expects from a No. 2 overall pick, but they’re the ones walking point right now.

The next several weeks and extending presumably on through the end of December will go a long, long way in establishing both Trubisky as an NFL quarterback and, by extension, the legacies of Loggains and Ragone.

The sometimes-dawdling state of the Bears’ offense under Fox ostensibly inspires at best tepid optimism. But a handful of developments suggest a little more. Consider:

— Separate from the Mike Glennon debacle, Trubisky has been developing at a dramatically faster rate than had been foreseen even by those involved in drafting Trubisky. The plan has been for Ragone, in addition to his general quarterback-coaching duties, to focus particularly on coaching Trubisky. If Trubisky's progress was non-existent or even sluggish, Loggains and Ragone would be in for hard questions.

That doesn’t appear to be close to the case. Apart from the kid’s talent, somebody apparently has been whispering good things in his helmet radio.

— The 2016 season was a disaster, in no small part because the Bears were forced to start three different quarterbacks. They even won a game with three different quarterbacks.

More to the Loggains point, Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley each had stretches of football that were the best of their respective careers — Cutler during the 2015 season and the other two during the 2016 season. The one common denominator/thread was not Adam Gase; it was Loggains. Gase’s experience with Cutler and without Loggains in Miami this year is with a Cutler showing signs of reverting to his career-base course.

Loggains has drawn occasional fire for play calling, but his quarterbacks aren't the only ones working with a receiver group in no danger of eclipsing Jerry Rice and John Taylor or Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

— — —

The quality of raw material is more than important; it is ultimately everything, since no amount of coaching can create talent that’s not there, only work to maximize what’s there. After replacing Terry Shea, Ron Turner was in that position with Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton in 2005 and arguably got what could be gotten from both before Turner’s exit after the 2009 season, the first year of Cutler. Gary Crowton and then John Shoop, who was in his final year when Grossman was drafted in 2003, were tasked with Cade McNown, who the Bears drafted back in 1999.

Loggains gets the landscape before him. “But I know this,” he said this week.

“The so-called quarterback ‘busts’ I don’t think exist. If you drafted the right guy, made of the right stuff, they battle through. Look at Eli Manning’s resume; he struggled, there were times as a rookie when he had a zero quarterback rating. And he’s won two Super Bowls and become one of the great ones.

“I don’t think there is a secret formula. I think we drafted the right guy and he’s going to play well. There’s no question: He’s going to make some mistakes. You know it; I know it. We’re going to learn from it, grow from it, rally around him. I gotta make sure I’m doing a good job putting him in the right situation and the 10 guys around him are playing well.”

With Roquan Smith and others, Bears moving closer to elite defense in a hurry

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USA TODAY

With Roquan Smith and others, Bears moving closer to elite defense in a hurry

As encouraging as some elements of the 2017 season was for the Bears defense, it wasn’t enough. Ranking in the top 10 in fewest points and yards allowed left linchpins like lineman Akiem Hicks setting “top five” as a declared goal.

With what has happened within the last 13 days – from the first preseason game vs. Baltimore through the long-anticipated arrival of Roquan Smith – the Bears have had arguably seen a handful of developments that could put “elite” within reach of a defense intent on being just that.

The developments have been the play of linebackers Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving, and now topped off by the Smith addition. The reasons are obvious – a linebacker-dependent defense (as all 3-4’s inherently are) has moved to the brink of realizing impact from not one, not two, but possibly three.

None is being given a leading role in an already good defense. But what they all represent are high-speed additions in a sport where speed rules and rivals pad-level in importance. Fitts and Irving have flashed off the edges, and Smith was the No. 8 pick of the draft for his speed in getting to targets, followed of course what he does to them when he gets there.

How any change occurs remains to play out, and Vic Fangio has used rotations in his front seven’s. One scenario could be Smith easing in as part of nickel packages, where the Bears have used a 4-2 front and would have Smith and Danny Trevathan as their ILB’s. Likewise, Fitts and Irving present edge options in that package as well as in base 3-4.

Perspective, please

Understand: No criticism of any sort is directed at either of the incumbents. No knock on Nick Kwiatkoski, who has in two seasons and this training camp established himself as an NFL inside linebacker. Nor is it a diss of Sam Acho, who is a physical edge presence with some pass-rush pop. The Bears need both, REALLY need both. 

But the 1983 Bears ranked fifth in the NFL in points allowed with Al Harris as part of a linebacker corps that included Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson. Jim Finks drafted Wilber Marshall in the 1984 first round and Ron Rivera in the second. Harris remained the starter but the Bears also jumped to third in points allowed with Marshall and first the two years after that.

Elite.

Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton said years later that Marshall – nicknamed “Pit Bull”by teammates – was the single best individual player on that elite defense, and the player that took things to another level entirely. And as Marshall told Hall of Fame NFL writer Rick “Goose” Gosselin, who created the special-teams ranking system used by every NFL team and now hosts "Talk of Fame Radio:”

"They had Mike [Singletary] sitting on the sidelines when I’m playing middle linebacker on third down. So I wasn’t just a rush guy, like the guys on the end that you see them go 90 percent of the time."

Sounding like a bill of particulars for Smith.

Best guess that Smith – wearing the No. 58 that Marshall wore – will have a new level of impact for a defense that just added a piece with a chance to earn the designation of “elite.”

Fitts and Irving are younger, faster options on the edge. Fitts is bigger and faster (4.69 sec. 40) than Irving, but one can never be too rich, too thin or have too many edge rushers.

And Smith, who had 6.5 sacks last season at Georgia (his only credited sacks in three seasons there), projects to be the fastest Bears linebacker with a documented 4.51-sec. time in the 40 – faster than Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and…well, you get the point.

And speed is the route to “elite.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How much pressure is on Roquan Smith now that he is finally in the fold?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How much pressure is on Roquan Smith now that he is finally in the fold?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh, Mark Gonzales and Leon Rogers join David Kaplan on the panel.

Roquan Smith’s holdout is over. How much pressure is on him now that the first round pick is finally in the fold?

Plus, the panel discusses how Joe Maddon can use grand slam hero David Bote down the stretch and if Tiger Woods is a lock to win a major in 2019.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: