Bears

With six weeks left, rookie tight end Jesper Horsted will now get the extended tryout he's been waiting for

With six weeks left, rookie tight end Jesper Horsted will now get the extended tryout he's been waiting for

When the Bears’ 2019 season started, one of the team’s starting tight ends was a top-50 pick in the 2017 draft, and the other was a Super Bowl champion. 10 weeks, six losses, and a couple healthy scratches later, they’ll line up against the Giants with an infectious disease specialist from Harvard and a sociologist from Princeton. 

The latter, new U-tight end Jesper Horsted, was promoted to the active roster on Wednesday morning. After spending his first two and a half months of his NFL career on the practice squad, Horsted will be among the final 53 when the 2-8 Giants come to town on Sunday. 

“Yeah, I found out yesterday,” Horsted said. “Obviously really exciting stuff. I’m ready to go.” 

He said first he “heard” about the decision through his agent, who vaguely told him that the Bears wanted to talk. The first post-meeting call he made is as heart-warming as it is unsurprising. 

“My Mom,” he said with a smile. “She’s very excited as well. The whole family was very supportive, and some of them are going to make it out to the game, so that’s fun too.” 

Horsted played wide receiver at Princeton, where he left with career records for receptions (196) and touchdown catches (28). No other Princeton player has 20. Not only has Horsted had to make an adjustment to tight end – he’s now around 240 lbs after being drafted at 225 – but the ‘U’ is a notoriously difficult position to learn in Matt Nagy’s system. 

“He's done some good things for us,” Nagy said. “That's what you want to see. You want to be able to bring some guys in and let them develop over time. So we just felt like with our tight end position right now, that's something that we can do.”

“I feel pretty comfortable with [the U],” Horsted added. “By no means perfect, it’s still a new position to me, but I’m better than I was in the preseason. We’ll see about the contribution. I should get a few plays this week and earn a bigger role as I do good things.” 

A handful of head-turning plays throughout the preseason quickly made Horsted a fan-favorite. His two scores – a 17-yard catch against the Colts and an eight-yard grab vs. the Titans – are both great examples of a skillset that has the entire tight ends room raving about what Horsted can do. 

“He’s got great ball skills,” infectious disease specialist Ben Braunecker said. “You saw in the preseason that his catch radius is tremendous. His hands are great. He has a knack for getting open and separating at the top of routes. Good wide receiver traits - he knows how to get in and out of breaks, separate from coverage, all of that.” 

Because scout team players don’t normally get to review their own practice tape, Horsted has spent his Saturdays this fall meeting with tight end coach Kevin Gilbride after practice. Those are the times when Horsted can pick Gilbride’s brain about the intricacies of position and ask some of the awkward questions that rookies might be too nervous to ask in a larger setting. He admitted that Sunday nerves will be unavoidable, but the rest of the Bears’ tight end group has been “so much better than [he] expected when [he] came into the NFL” at reaching out and offering unsolicited advice. 

“...They will be like, on my case on the sideline being like, ‘What do you have on this play?’ or When are we killing this play?’” he said.  “It’s even to the point where it’s just like, all right, leave me alone, I’m trying to watch. It’s a good thing, they’re helping a lot. And that’s everyone in the group. 

“I would be nervous if I were to go out and be the ball boy for this game right now. But that’s a good thing.”  

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The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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