BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Much of the Bears offseason was devoted to surrounding quarterback Mitch Trubisky with weapons. Now a focus is ensuring that he isn’t surrounded by bad guys with ill intent.
That has been on display.
Sometimes one particular one-on-one matchup has you leaning a little forward in anticipation. Such is the one in one-on-one pass protection drill when center Cody Whitehair gets over the ball and nose tackle Eddie Goldman gets into his three-point stance head-up on Whitehair.
On Friday, the two central figures on their respective lines split their two reps. Goldman, lighter at 318 pounds than in any of his previous two Bears camps, registered a clear win with a speed move to get by Whitehair, who allowed just one sack on 964 snaps in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus.
Coaches matched the two for a second snap. Winner: Whitehair.
Matchups like these matter. The Bears ranked 23rd last season in sacks allowed per pass attempts, which suggests some insight into why the John Fox staff was reluctant to unleash Air Mitch: The Bears were 11th in sack percentage after four games under Mike Glennon, then spiraled down with Trubisky taking 4, 4 and 5 sacks in three of the latter’s first five sacks.
On the subject of offensive line play Friday, coach Matt Nagy was blunt: “For these guys, protection-wise, if you can’t protect the quarterback, it doesn’t matter how good your skills guys are, how good your quarterback is. You can forget it. You can’t throw the ball. So protection, you have to have it.”
Since defensive players can’t hit quarterbacks in practice, any attempt to assess protection is problematic. But some early indicators in the pass-protection drill, in which one-on-one favors the rusher, positives were there.
Eric Kush, who missed all of last season after tearing a hamstring in camp and now looking to lock down the left-guard spot, had strong efforts against Jonathan Bullard, similarly motivated to prove that he is the answer at the defensive-end slot vacated by the free-agent exit of Mitch Unrein.
Left tackle Charles Leno has had a solid camp and managed well against linebacker Sam Acho, more of a speed rusher. And Leno has worked extensively against Leonard Floyd, the Bears’ No. 1 speed/edge rusher.
“[Leno] gives you a lot of different looks,” Floyd said. “He’s not one of those guys that gives you the same look every snap. You have to get used to it. I was on the other side last year so I’ve been pretty much trying to figure him out.”
Looking at one very informal, inexact way to critique the pass protection: The Bears’ play in the secondary has been exceptional throughout camp. Beyond the obvious interceptions and passes defensed, the length of time Trubisky, Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray have had to hold the football has been surprising at times.
But the rush has only occasionally truly flushed Trubisky early in plays. One reasonable read would be that the Bears need more pass rush (they do) but the fact is that the offensive line can only block who’s across from them, which does include Floyd, Goldman and Akiem Hicks.
“We had some false starts today,” Nagy said, “which was a little bit sloppy. Coach Harry [Hiestand, offensive line] was emphasizing to these guys the next-play mentality. So we’re going to harp on that.
“We want to be able to do some things. Every team does. Use your cadence and be special there so that defenses don’t time things up. But we were a little sloppy in that area. But protection-wise I do think we got a little bit better.”
Lining up
It is officially the unofficial depth chart in the Bears-Raven game release of Friday, and it held only a couple of mild surprises. Kevin White is listed as second-string at wide receiver, behind Allen Robinson, while Taylor Gabriel is listed as the other starting wideout in a chart that includes a fullback (Michael Burton) among starters.
Meaning: of course, nothing at all. The Kansas City Chiefs offense under then-coordinator Matt Nagy used “11” or “12” personnel (one back, one or two tight ends) on 77 percent of its snaps in 2017 and expectations are that the Bears will rarely be using a fullback. For comparison sake, the Bears of Dowell Loggains were in those two packages 65 percent of the time, but also in two-back “21” personnel 22 percent of their snaps.
Sick bay
Rookie outside linebacker Kylie Fitts, having a strong first week of camp, was out of practice with an arm problem on Friday. That further depleted a linebacker corps already missing unsigned rookie Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan (hamstring), Aaron Lynch (hamstring), Joel Iyiegbuniwe (shoulder) and Kasim Edebali (oblique).
Tight end Ben Braunecker and cornerback Sherrick McManis both remained sidelined with hamstring injuries, along with cornerback Kevin Toliver (quad). Right guard Kyle Long, coming back from multiple offseason surgeries, was given another rest day.
While virtually all of the injured players attended practice anyway, backup center Hroniss Grasu was out with a calf injury and absent from practice. No indication how serious Grasu’s injury is but the Bears signed former Hinsdale Central and New Orleans Saints center Jack Allen and waived defensive lineman Bunmi Rotimi. Allen was waived injured by the Saints last Aug. 23 and spent the year on injured reserve.