Tashaun Gipson is right: He and Eddie Jackson can be ‘deadly’ pair

Tashaun Gipson is right: He and Eddie Jackson can be ‘deadly’ pair

Tashaun Gipson’s only concern about playing with Eddie Jackson is that he won’t get to keep his No. 39, which he’s worn in all eight of his NFL seasons.

But other than dropping down a digit to No. 38? Gipson is excited for how he’ll fit next to Jackson in the Bears’ defense. And you probably should be, too.

“I like the way (Jackson) plays the game. I like his instincts,” Gipson said. “Pairing with a guy like that, I’ve always priding myself on being ball-aware. And having two guys back there, with a D-line and a front seven like that in front of you — this defense has always prided itself on being able to get turnovers, so I think that’s going to be a deadly combination.”

Gipson, though, said he's more comfortable playing deep center field, the spot where Jackson made his name as an All-Pro in 2018. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had a similar comfort playing deep last year, which took away some of Jackson’s ball hawking opportunities.

Only 51 percent of Jackson’s snaps in 2019 came as a free safety, per Pro Football Focus, easily the lowest of his career (62 percent in 2017, 72 percent in 2018). Meanwhile, he played much more in the box in Chuck Pagano’s first year (27 percent) than he did in Vic Fangio’s last year (17 percent).

At times, it felt like the Bears didn’t get the most out of Jackson’s skillset, and he finished the year with only five passes defended (two picks, three breakups) and no touchdowns. But focusing on that would miss a big development in Jackson’s game: He became a truly interchangeable safety — not someone who’s good at just one thing.

“I feel like I’ve been more physical this year than I have in the last couple years,” Jackson said last November. “That comes with having to play in the box now trying to have to stop the run. It just helps me add something to my game that I can work on and help me become a better all-around safety.”

RELATED: Gipson changing number: Jackson "made 39 a cool number" in Chicago

Jackson — who was a Day 3 draft pick in part because of tackling concerns — had five tackles for a loss in 2019; he had three combined in 2017 and 2018. He didn’t play deep as much last year, partly because he could be trusted more than Clinton-Dix closer to the line of scrimmage when Pagano wanted a single-high safety.

Gipson, while more comfortable playing deep, has similar flexibility.

Gibson said, “Coming in here with a guy like Eddie Jackson who made his big bucks on being in the middle of the field and taking the ball away — so, whatever they call for me, obviously I'm going to do that role and wear that hat with pride.”

Swapping Gipson for Clinton-Dix should allow Pagano to drop Jackson deep in more single-high situations because he can trust Gipson more in the box. That should help Jackson get more opportunities to snag interceptions and do what he does best: Turn them into touchdowns.

But Gipson's versatility also gives Pagano a better ability to focus Jackson's snaps in the box, which should allow the second-year coordinator to use him more effectively.

Jackson still played well in 2019, even if the highlight-reel plays were largely absent. But the scary thought for the NFC North is that Jackson will get back to making those highlight-reel plays while being a more complete safety than he was in 2018.

Gipson, the interchangeable veteran, should help the Bears unlock that version of Jackson.

“I don't think he's got a weakness to his game,” Gipson said. “He can play in the box, he can play in the middle of the field, and I feel (I) can do the same thing. However the roles shake out, it's not for me to decide. I just want to go out there, contribute and help win games.”

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Why Bears don't see need for 'voluntary bubble' amid COVID-19 pandemic right now

Why Bears don't see need for 'voluntary bubble' amid COVID-19 pandemic right now

The Bears will not follow the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in creating a voluntary bubble, coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday, although it’s possible the team’s stance on one could change.

The idea of a “voluntary bubble” was first floated by the Saints, which have one set up during training camp. Players and staff can choose to sequester themselves in a hotel, only going to and from the team’s facility, allowing for something much closer to the true bubbles that’ve worked so well in the NBA, NHL, MLS and NWSL. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said this week the team has a hotel set up where players/staff can stay during the season, too.

Because they’re voluntary, these team-sanctioned bubbles do not run afoul of the NFL-NFLPA’s agreement on the 2020 season. Although if one were set up, it's likely most (if not all) Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals would opt into it. 

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If the Bears wanted to set up a bubble, it wouldn’t seem to be difficult – there are plenty of hotels close to Halas Hall in Lake Forest (anyone up for an extended stay at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort?). But for now, the Bears remain confident in two pillars of their COVID-19 protocols: Their setup at Halas Hall, and their continued education of players, staff and their families about how to pull of a football season in the midst of a pandemic.

“I think for us, we feel really good right now with our quote-unquote ‘bubble’ that we have here,” Nagy said. “It feels very safe. There’s been a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get this set-up that we have. But also, we’re growing, too. I mean, if you came in here five days ago and looked at this complex at Halas Hall and the Water Payton Center, it’s totally different than five days ago. We keep adding to make it better.

“Ryan (Pace) and I joked, it’s like one of those whiffle balls that has all the holes in it everywhere. We keep finding holes and patching them up. That’s probably going to continue for the whole year. 

“So if there’s something that players bring to us or that we feel we can keep ourselves safe in one way or another, we’re gonna do that.”

The Bears, like every other NFL team, may need to be flexible, especially as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise in Illinois. What sounds farfetched now may not be so crazy in a month.

But Nagy believes the Bears can avoid an outbreak inside Halas Hall by following strict mask-wearing guidelines, social distancing whenever possible and preaching the importance of responsible behavior away from the facility.

“It always comes back to when you’re outside of this bubble of Halas Hall, you need to be able to be smart and be selfless, not selfish,” Nagy said.

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The Cubs can be viewed as a prime example of how to navigate a season without a bubble, having not had a member of their traveling party test positive for COVID-19 since returning to Wrigley Field in early July. It’s not impossible to pull this off so long as everyone buys in to an extreme level of personal responsibility – and, too, gets lucky in dodging such an infectious, insidious virus.

That kind of commitment (and luck) might just mean the Bears wouldn’t need to create a voluntary bubble somewhere in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

What also can help the Bears here too is their coach’s persistent messaging about and policing of mask-wearing inside Halas Hall, which hopefully will carry over into interactions away from the building. 

“The mask deal is real,” Nagy said. “This is my opinion, and just from what we see and what we hear. You hear a lot of people say, 'Well, you've gotta treat it like everybody has (COVID-19).' In my opinion, you've gotta treat it like you have it, right?

“If you treat it like you have it, you wear your mask and the percentages of spreading it can be a lot lower. When you treat it like you have it, that means everybody has their mask on in this building and that's what you're seeing with a lot of the teams having low test rates with positive tests, and that's how we're going about it.”



Bears' Matt Nagy 'really proud' of players' commitment to stay in shape

Bears' Matt Nagy 'really proud' of players' commitment to stay in shape

When the Bears ended their weekly spring Zoom sessions early, Matt Nagy explained that it was because the team felt that time was better spent in other ways. 

“This will allow the players to focus on training,” the Bears' head coach said in early June. “It’s going to be very important. That’s the one part that’s been more difficult (because) we’re not altogether. So now they really don’t have to worry about meetings so much -- Monday through Thursday -- but they can really focus on their bodies and come into training camp really prepared.”

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Turns out, even working out in summer heat is preferable to sitting through another Zoom meeting. Though training camp hasn't gotten started in full yet – Wednesday was the first day of 'Phase 2' – Nagy's first impression of the players he's seen is a good one. Showing up in shape sounds like a cliche because it basically is at this point, but as Nagy pointed out, that's still not always the case. 

"You kind of hold your breath when you haven't seen these guys this whole time," he said on Wednesday. "I know what I was doing and there's others too, and there's a lot more eating than there is working out over that quarantine. And so you never really know where these guys are at. But I think our guys -- and I know our guys, just from seeing them now -- they made an executive decision as a whole that they're going to work their tails off and get in good shape." 

What's most impressive, according to Nagy, is that the vast majority of these workouts happened in a garage, or in a basement, or out in a local field somewhere, etc. With Halas Hall essentially unavailable this summer, the coach was quick to credit strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo and his team for spearheading and overseeing all the individual workouts. 

"We weren't sure how that was going to happen, just not knowing where they were and what they had to be able to work out in during the quarantine," he added. "But I'm just really proud of the players for the way that they came into shape." 

RELATED: Why Quarantining Tyler Bray Might Make Sense

Specifically, Nagy named Akiem Hicks and Cordarrelle Patterson as two guys who looked especially good. He even went as far as claiming it's the "best" he's ever seen Hicks look.

"I mean, he showed up in great shape and I'm really proud of him. I know it's not easy," Nagy added. "And then Cordarrelle Patterson ... He's the one that I walked by as well, and he was ready for me to ask him how he's doing, because he looks good too."