Bears

No finger pointing: DeShone Kizer's accountability hits the right notes at NFL Combine

No finger pointing: DeShone Kizer's accountability hits the right notes at NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS — San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer "blew the doors off" in an interview with his team, which doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who worked with or followed Kizer during his three-year stint in South Bend. 

In a more public interview setting on Friday, Kizer said he's taken accountability for Notre Dame's brutal season when it's been brought up in private. That level of personal ownership, and the lack of finger pointing from a guy who certainly would've been within his rights to do so, may resonate as teams examine whether or not to select Kizer in the 2017 NFL Draft. 

"A guy my size, my arm talent, my understanding of football, why do you go 4-8?" Kizer said of the prodding he's received in interviews with teams. "I've answered that question as truthfully as I possibly can, and that's I didn't make plays."

Notre Dame's worst season since 2007 wasn't all on Kizer, of course. An awful defense washed out huge stat lines Kizer had in losses to Texas (15/24, 215 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 rushing TD) and Duke (22/37, 381 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD), for example. Brian Kelly's August decision to play both Kizer and Malik Zaire was an ill-fated one, leaving Kizer to look over his shoulder more than he would've liked while preparing for the season. 

"I don't think (the two quarterback approach) held me back, but I do think I spent a little too much time thinking about that rather than thinking about developing the guys around me and developing the trust," Kizer said. "Once again, that 2015 team and the 2016 team were completely different. We had almost completely different roster on offense. I think there should have been a little more time spent with me trying to develop that trust and develop the guys around me to make the plays in those fourth-quarter drives when needed. At times I was kind of looking over my shoulder a little bit too much. That's probably my biggest regret this past season."

Notre Dame's wide receivers were exceedingly young last year, and lone regular upperclassman Torii Hunter Jr. only appeared in eight games due to a pair of injuries. The losses of wide receiver Will Fuller, running back C.J. Prosise and offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin — all of whom were among the first 90 picks in last year's NFL Draft — created a talent vacuum that Kizer and the Irish weren't able to fill. 

Kizer certainly could've pointed to all those mitigating factors, as well as his still-solid stat line (58.7 percent completion rate, 2,925 yards, 26 TDs, 9 INTs, 8 rushing TDs) and try to absolve himself of responsibility for Notre Dame's dismal season. But doing so probably would've been detrimental to his chances of being a high draft pick — blaming others is never good for locker room morale, after all. 

"The ball's in my hand every play," Kizer said. "It's my job at Notre Dame to put us in position to win games, to trust
in the guys around me and develop the guys around me to make those plays with me."

But the Bears have, in Indianapolis, made mention of wanting a quarterback to have the ability to make everyone around him better, which is something Kizer didn't do in 2016. General manager Ryan Pace pointed to the success Drew Brees in college — at a perennial underdog of a program — as something the team would like a young quarterback to have in his history. 

"You want to see a guy who has elevated his program," Pace, who was part of the New Orleans Saints front office when Brees led the franchise to a Super Bowl win, said. "Again, you just reference places you've been. I know I've talked about this (player) a lot because he had a big impact on me. But I think about Brees when he was at Purdue. And he elevated that program. He took them to the Rose Bowl. I think that means something. I think that's something that we have to pay attention to."

Based on that boat-raising trait, Clemson's Deshaun Watson would seem to be the guy if the Bears decide to target a quarterback in the draft. While Notre Dame (under Kizer) and North Carolina (under Mitchell Trubisky) both took steps back in 2016, Clemson made the only stride possible for that program: Beating Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game a year after losing to the Crimson Tide on the same stage. 

Watson elevated Clemson from a perennial good-not-elite team to a title contender in the two years he regularly started for the Tigers. That may resonate more with the Bears than Kizer being a good interview. 

Kizer has other tantalizing traits, of course — his Combine measurements of 6-foot-4, 233 pounds and 9 7/8" hand are awfully close to those of Andrew Luck (6-foot-4, 234 pounds, 10" hand). And his 2015 film, during which Notre Dame went 10-3 and was a pair of two-point losses away from going 12-0), can't be thrown out because the Irish plummeted to eight losses a year later. 

But what Kizer showed on Friday was accountability, confidence and poise. Are those intangible traits, and his answers to teams in Indianapolis, good enough to warrant interest from teams — like the Bears — picking high in the draft?

"I guess we'll see if they'll come see me at Pro Day," Kizer said. 

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, another sign that he's cut out for this

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USA Today

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, another sign that he's cut out for this

As a large group of TV cameras gathered around Charles Leno Jr.’s space in the Bears’ locker room, Eddy Pineiro quickly finished getting dressed in the shadows to Leno’s left. The kicker’s stayed out of the spotlight since losing the trust of his head coach on a nationally-televised game three weeks ago, but he’s played as well as anyone during the Bears’ three-game return to relevance. 

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m more confident,” he said after the Bears’ 31-24 win on Thursday night. “There’s just good rhythm – good snap, good hold.” 

He hasn’t had to attempt a kick over 40 yards (!!) over the three games, but Pineiro’s accuracy issues, at least for now, seem at bay. He hit all five of his kicks against the Cowboys – four extra points and one 36-yard field goal. The kicker hasn’t missed a field goal (5-5) since LA, and has gone 9-10 on extra points. More importantly, they haven’t lost since either. 

“Oh yeah, it feels great,” Pineiro said. “Everyone in the locker room is super excited and happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. When you win, everybody’s in a good mood.” 

He hasn’t been physically tested much over the last month, but just ask Aldrick Rosas or Brett Maher how easy kicking at Soldier Field – even in nice conditions – is. The Bears have always loved Pineiro’s response to adversity, and it’s starting to look like he’s rewarded them again. 

“Just gaining experience, honestly,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me has just been gaining experience. Playing the game, I obviously don’t have the most experience, but I think trying to gain that experience has been the biggest thing for me.” 

Pineiro mentioned that he’s still getting used to the adjustments that come with kicking in colder temperatures – which may help explain some of his more recent lackluster kickoffs. It’s easy to see how a nationally-televised game in unusually pleasant conditions could have been a trap for a young player who’s maybe pressing a bit, but after getting the full Bears Kicker Experience stuffed into half a season, Pineiro knows better. 

“In my opinion, you’ve got to play well in every single game,” he said. “[it’s] not like just because you’re on national TV, you’ve got to play better. It felt good to get out there and hit a couple kicks.” 

Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Mitch Trubisky looked like a quarterback who was selected second overall in the NFL draft with his performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday night's 31-24 win. In fact, he's looked every bit the part over the last four weeks, but Week 14 showcased the complete skill set that made Trubisky the first quarterback drafted in 2017.

Against a Cowboys defense that was ranked as a top-10 unit coming into the game, Trubisky threw for 244 yards, ran for 63 yards and totaled four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He threw the ball with conviction and completed passes that an average quarterback never could have. His eight-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson with 10 seconds remaining in the first half was special. Despite blanket coverage by Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith, Trubisky put the ball where only Robinson could catch it. It was a heater, too. 

Trubisky had more than one throw like that Thursday night. His first touchdown to Robinson came earlier in the second quarter with 12:18 remaining in the half. This time it was Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones in coverage, and he didn't stand a chance despite being in position to make the play. There was no way to defend against the accuracy of Trubisky's five-yard strike.

But what really made Trubisky's game a signature performance was his running. He regained the form that made him such an exciting player in 2018 and a guy who had a sleeper MVP candidacy in the preseason.

Last season, Trubisky ran the ball 68 times for 421 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. His legs kept opposing defenses honest and opened easier throws for his arm. Prior to Thursday night's win, Trubisky had only run the ball 26 times for 80 yards in 2019. He upped his carry total by nearly 40% (10 rushes against the Cowboys) and nearly doubled his yardage in just one game. It helped the offense stay on schedule and produced one of the night's most memorable moments when Trubisky broke the pocket and juked his way to a 23-yard touchdown run with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter. He earned his highest rushing grade on the season from Pro Football Focus, too.

"Just pulled it," Trubisky said of the touchdown run after the game. "Really an awesome block by Leno. We knew they were a squeeze-scrape team. The backer is going to scrape over top. He does a good job of locking him out. I just cut up in there, made a guy miss, got in the end zone.

The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards. Really cool moment. It was good."

Trubisky's running does more than just make his job easier. It also hides some flaws in the offensive line, which has struggled in pass protection this season. After Week 14's game, pass-rushers will have to think twice about pinning their ears back and going all-out for a sack. Trubisky reminded the league that he's a dangerous quarterback who will make defenses pay if they take too many chances against him.

Trubisky's growth over the last month of the season has been pretty remarkable. It took him longer than expected to get to this place he's at now, i.e. a quarterback who can put Chicago on his shoulders and win a football game, but he appears to have arrived. At least, if his last three games are any indication, he's become the kind of productive playmaker the Bears have so desperately need. He's completed 70% of his passes for 860 yards (seven touchdowns, four interceptions) and a passer rating of 99.1 over that stretch.

Spread over 16 games, this three-week run would equate to 4,586 yards and 37 touchdowns. His 99.1 passer rating would rank among the top-10 starters in the league, too. 

Trubisky tucked and ran with more frequency Thursday night and it paid off. It made the Bears' offense look almost unstoppable at times. It's been a while since that could be said about this squad, but it's better late than never.

"We've gotten better over the last couple weeks, I'm talking about as a team, that's what's most important to me," Trubisky said. "That is what allows you to get better as an individual, is if you focus on the team first, focus on the guys around you."

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