Bears

As scrutiny over Matt Nagy's play calling continues, Broncos coach Vic Fangio comes to his defense

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USA Today

As scrutiny over Matt Nagy's play calling continues, Broncos coach Vic Fangio comes to his defense

Much has been made this past week about Matt Nagy’s play calling during the Bears’ 10-3 loss to Green Bay last Thursday. Whether it was David Montgomery’s use (or lack thereof), the team tipping their hand on RPO’s, or ditching the running game for good halfway through the third quarter, Nagy has faced more criticism regarding the gameplanning – long considered his calling card – more than ever before. 

Denver head coach Vic Fangio isn’t buying that, though. Fangio was Nagy’s defensive coordinator last year, and their time spent together on the back fields at Halas Hall showed the Broncos’ coach all he needed to see. 

“Well, I think he’s very versatile in that he can be committed to throwing it a lot, or running it a lot or mixing it up,” Fangio said. “I think he’s a guy who will do whatever it takes. I don’t think he does one way of doing things. He’s going to do whatever is best for the team to move the ball. 

“He has a good imagination with how he goes about it. Each and every week, they put together a different game plan from week-to-week, use their versatile players and run their offense. They’ve got a lot of nice players there that can be moved around and be versatile and play in different spots, and he’s a good guy to have that on his plate because he knows how to use it.” 

It’s been a complimentary week at Halas Hall, and it’s clear that Nagy and Bears’ players are chomping at the bit to play against their former “mad scientist,” as Khalil Mack put it. The feeling is clearly mutual, as Fangio mentioned that "most everyone" on the Bears' defense "jumped off the tape." 

“They're still really really good and it was fun to kind of watch them play as I watched the video yesterday,” he added. “Lot of great players there, a lot of great people and players that I have a lot of fondness for. Glad to see them doing so well.”

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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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