Bears

In more ways than one, Matt Nagy fits with what Ryan Pace and Bears are trying to do

In more ways than one, Matt Nagy fits with what Ryan Pace and Bears are trying to do

Getting the obvious question out of the way first: Is this Matt Nagy guy any good? This observer has no idea other than conclusions drawn from Nagy’s resume. As with a draft evaluation, let’s see in a couple years. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Over the past nine months, ever since he traded up in the 2017 draft for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Ryan Pace has left no doubt that he understood that he was now squarely on the franchise clock. The spotlight on him just turned up a whole lot of watts on Monday when he went all-in on Nagy as his choice to replace John Fox as head coach.

It is a move with myriad aspects and elements, beginning with the fact that Nagy has zero experience as a head coach at any level and just two years as an NFL offensive coordinator, and one of those (2016) as co-coordinator with Brad Childress. How much of Nagy’s success and that of quarterback Alex Smith were due to Childress and head coach Andy Reid vs. Nagy will play out in part over the next couple years.

But he also was an assistant with Reid in Philadelphia from 2008 to 2012 and was brought to Kansas City by Reid when Reid went to coach the Chiefs in 2013. That was the year that Reid and the Chiefs traded for Smith, beginning a five-year stretch in which Smith became a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback and had four of the best five seasons of his 12-year career.

That — and Nagy’s known belief that Trubisky will be something special — as much as anything vaulted Nagy to the top of Pace’s list, which wasn’t entirely composed of coaches from backgrounds on offense but pretty clearly was going to be a plus for those candidates.

In a serious hurry

Pace and the Bears were aggressive from the outset, second only to the Raiders' hiring of Jon Gruden. It was the fastest hire of a Bears head coach since Jack Pardee on New Year’s Day 1975, with Pace viewing the market for what he considered top head coaches to be extremely competitive with a half-dozen teams looking for new field bosses.

The Bears clearly wanted to fast-track the search process in a competitive market, part of why chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips were uncharacteristically involved in the week-long road show of initial job interviews rather than waiting until Pace had arrived at his choice before beginning the next-level vetting. The organization’s withholding approval for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to interview for coordinator jobs elsewhere pointed to the Bears wanting him as an option to head the defense under the incoming head coach.

With the Nagy hire, Pace coincidentally brings the Bears back to their “customary” approach of going with first-time coaches after failed efforts with Fox and CFL head coach Marc Trestman (Neill Armstrong also was a CFL head coach). Nagy, like Mike Ditka and Lovie Smith — and Abe Gibron and Dick Jauron and Jim Dooley and Dave Wannstedt — becomes an NFL head coach for the first time, and what success the Bears have had in the post-George Halas Era has come from first-timers, who commonly bring a fresh approach to the job they’ve dreamed about since going into coaching.

Forgetting any residual rancor or whatever other emotions that involved Fox, a guess here is that the Ryan Pace of this process is not the exact same Ryan Pace that went through the process that produced Fox as his head coach. Pace was obviously in on every single interaction and assessment of these candidates; last time, the organization had oddly chosen to start interviewing candidates before Pace was even hired.

For better or worse, assume that this Pace had a considerably deeper understanding of what he was after to run the Bears on the field.

The QB curriculum vitae

Nagy’s prime directive will be the development of Trubisky, along with bringing together an offense that has been nothing short of erratic under a stream of coaches and coordinators ever since Ron Turner left after the 2009 season. He will be responsible for the defense and special teams, but his foundation is offense. Period.

If nothing else, Nagy knows what a successful NFL quarterback should look and play like. He was a coaching intern and assistant when the Eagles had the likes of Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick under center, and he has spent the past five seasons as either a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator while Smith has flourished in Kansas City.

Interesting but of less-than-marginal significance, Nagy was a college quarterback, from the same University of Delaware that produced Joe Flacco for the Baltimore Ravens. And he played quarterback in the Arena Football League, like New Orleans Saints coach and mentor Sean Payton. Now if that wasn’t a selling point to former Saints personnel guy Pace, then ...

Prince Amukamara and CDW surprise teens at MSI event

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USA TODAY

Prince Amukamara and CDW surprise teens at MSI event

This past Saturday, Prince Amukamara provided a great surprise when he showed up during a graduation ceremony to honor high school seniors who had been a part of the Museum of Science and Industry's (MSI) "Welcome to Science" initiative.

Students listened to brief speeches from CDW Vice President of Networking, Digital Workspace and Security Solutions, Bob Rossi, a number of Bears employees and Amukamara. 

Students engaged in open discussions on how they can further their dreams with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  And through a donation from CDW’s Tech Fore! Kids program, students got perhaps the biggest surpise of all, as they were provided new laptops. CDW continues to help enable the MSI the opportunity to work with youth and further their interaction with STEM.

CDW Tech Fore! has done previous work with Chicago Bulls College Prep, and other schools and Boys and Girls clubs over time. The MSI's program looks to provide a diverse array of teens the chance to dive deeper into what it takes to have a career in science. On top of this, students are able to collect service leearning hours while simultaneously furthering their leadership and public speaking skills. 

Three compulsories loom as make-or-breaks for Mitch Trubisky Bears 'installation'

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USA TODAY

Three compulsories loom as make-or-breaks for Mitch Trubisky Bears 'installation'

The popular focus of the Bears offseason has been on a new offensive coaching staff phasing in a radically different system and playbook, integrating new “weapons” brought other teams and other schemes, and fusing them all together around a trigger/detonator in the person of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

More than any of that, however, is Trubisky himself, the real linchpin “weapon.” All of the offseason additions, beginning with coaching staff, projects to make only marginal more impact than Dowell Loggains, Josh Bellamy, Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright if Trubisky himself is not much, much better than he was last season.

In three primary areas.

In figure skating and diving, the obligatory must-do’s were called “compulsories” – basic skills at which competitors were required to demonstrate proficiency. For Trubisky, improvements in three specific compulsories are the keys to this young quarterback’s development.

Trubisky is in his own molten state, still a raw, largely unknown with fewer NFL starts (12) than all but four projected starting quarterbacks (Jimmy Garoppolo, Pat Mahomes, AJ McCarron, Deshaun Watson) for 2018, but the poorest record (4-8) of any other anticipated starter, those four included. “Work in progress” is an understatement.

The Trubisky “installation” is in fact massive. Beyond the specifics of scheme, RPO’s and all the rest, Trubisky will go to training camp with precious little shared game experience with virtually any of his chief so-called weapons. Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson weren’t Bears last year. Kevin White worked chiefly with Mike Glennon and the No. 1 offense while Trubisky was primarily with the 2’s. Anthony Miller was in Memphis.

But the Trubisky developmental group – coach Matt Nagy, coordinator Mark Helfrich, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, backup Chase Daniel – has three chief points of attention with what was drafted to be the foundation of the franchise:

Rediscover accuracy

For all of the positives coming out of his abbreviated rookie season, Trubisky completed just 59.4 percent of his passes – not good enough for an offense based in significant part on ball control with the pass. Substandard receivers account for some of the accuracy issues for a quarterback who completed 68 percent in his one year as a college starter. But Mike Glennon completed two-thirds (66.4 percent) of his throws in his four games throwing to largely the same group.

More to a larger point, the Bears were 2-4 when Trubisky completed less than 60 percent of his throws. His completion rate is nothing short of pivotal in keeping possessions sets of downs and entire possessions on schedule, converting third downs and resting his defense.

Nagy dialed back the offense at one point during OTA’s, Trubisky played faster “and you saw completions out there,” Nagy said, “and that's what it's all about.”

Only the Carolina Panthers reached the playoffs with a quarterback (Cam Newton) completing less than 60 percent of his passes. Slightly better statistically, Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz (60.2) was leading the MVP discussion before a season-ending knee injury, and Blake Bortles (60.2) had Jacksonville a fourth-quarter away from the Super Bowl. But the Eagles and Jaguars were top-five in both scoring offense and scoring defense. And Nick Foles got the Eagles to a Lombardi Trophy completing 72.6 percent in the postseason filling in for Wentz.

Tom Brady completed 63.9 percent as a rookie and never below 60 percent in 17 years as a starter. Aaron Rodgers, never below 60 percent in 10 years as a starter. Drew Brees, 15 of his 16 seasons at 60-plus, including the last 14 straight. Ben Roethlisberger, 12 of 14 seasons at 60-plus percent. Peyton Manning, 15 of his 17 seasons at 60-plus percent. Those five account for 17 Super Bowl appearances.

Trubisky was drafted to be that echelon of quarterback. Reaching that level begins with completing passes.

Stay the ball-security course

Trubisky may not have been dominant in any area as a rookie, but he bought into the emphasis placed on ball security by John Fox and coordinator Dowell Loggains. He ranked 12th with a very respectable 2.1-percent interception rate. Of the 11 passers rated ahead of him, only Jacoby Brisset in Indianapolis failed to get his team to .500, and eight of those 11 were in the playoffs. Ball security matters.

And it is something to watch through training camp and preseason. Adam Gase made ball security the No. 1 objective with Jay Cutler when Gase arrived in 2015. Cutler went a dozen straight practices and his 33-pass preseason without throwing an interception. The carryover was obvious; Cutler had the best season (92.3) and second-best interception rate of his career in 2015.

The same is expected, and needed, from Trubisky for the new offense, and the “old” defense, to work.

“He had, I think was a three-to-one or maybe even a four-to-one touchdown to interception ratio in college,” Helfrich said. “That works. That’s a good thing. We need to continue that. We can’t put the defense in a bad situation, our team in a situation, because there’s times in the NFL they’re going to get you and I think a quarterback kind of has that innate ability to take care of the football versus turning it over when he, for lack of a better word, panics.” 

Trubisky lost two fumbles in the span of 12 games. Very respectable and a strong starting point for his year two.

Get the ball off on time

Trubisky in 2017 tied for fourth in percentage of pass plays sacked (8.6), a problem that might be laid at the feet of an offensive line forced by injuries into seven different starting-five combinations. Might, but far from entirely.

Nagy’s passing offense is rooted in timing. Receivers during practices have precision drilled into them, meaning being exactly where they’re supposed to be at precisely the instant they’re supposed to be there. Trubisky’s tutoring has stressed plays being on time.

Only the Buffalo Bills reached the playoffs with a quarterback (Tyrod Taylor, 9.9) taking sacks at a rate higher than 6.6 percent. Alex Smith went down at a rate of 6.5 percent running the Kansas City offense under Nagy and coach Andy Reid.

Trubisky’s mobility is an obvious asset for extending plays. But getting the ball out of his hands is the goal, and his decision-making and execution will be key in how long his line has to sustain blocks. Trubisky early on evinced a grasp of balancing the reward of rescuing a play under pressure against the risk of taking a sack.

“Ball security is very important so I'm just trying to take care of the football,” Trubisky said not long after taking over for Glennon last season. “But at the same time you want to stay aggressive and you could say the sacks are a result of that.”