Bears

Tom Brady, Bears' Mitch Trubisky and other musings amid Super Bowl Week

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USA TODAY

Tom Brady, Bears' Mitch Trubisky and other musings amid Super Bowl Week

Tom Brady is nothing if not versatile, with multiple uses as an object lesson or template. The temptation can be to over-apply him: You can get a franchise QB with a late-round draft pick. You need a tall guy back there. You don’t need a speedy, mobile guy to win big. Stuff like that.

But amid the too-convenient applications of Brady are a couple that relate to where the Bears are and possibly are going with Mitch Trubisky.

This is not even remotely a Brady-Trubisky comparison. It’s an assessment of what Trubisky gained from his one year with John Fox as his head coach, of what worked for Brady that is analogous with Trubisky’s situation – and why ultimately the most important individual responsible for Trubisky is not his head coach, offensive coordinator or QB coach, but the general manager that landed him.

Last point first: Ryan Pace made the final call on the player, and the player is the sine qua non in all of this. Coaches can develop and even maximize talent but they can’t install it. Bill Belichick (the decision-maker in the 2000 draft) hit on Brady, otherwise...

The talent base was/is clearly in place. Assume for analysis purposes that the same at some level is true for Trubisky. Why that’s of note is because Brady has labored under a defense-based head coach and a succession of offensive coordinators. For Jay Cutler, for instance, that was an excuse (whether he was the cause of or the under-achieving result of coordinator turnover), but not for Brady over his New England time: Charlie Weis (2000-04), no official coordinator (2005), Josh McDaniels (2006-08), no official coordinator (2009-10), Bill O’Brien (2011), back to McDaniels (2012-present).

Point being: It’s not about the coach.

Trubisky comes into 2018 under his third offensive staff in three years – North Carolina’s, the Fox/Dowell Loggains Bears, and now the Matt Nagy/Mark Helfrich administration. But what Trubisky, a self-described gunslinger by orientation, took away from his Fox year was what Brady developed under his own defense-based head coach: Protect the football.

Brady had an interception rate of 4.3 percent at Michigan. In his first six seasons under Belichick, he was better but not good, never above 2.9 percent but never below 2.3 percent. Early on, Brady was careless with the football, to the point of at one point being schooled to keep two hands on the ball at all times in the pocket. Belichick wanted ball security as the first absolute, demanding a West Coast variation that eschewed risk, fine with more horizontal than vertical passing.

The concept took root, to the point of being the foundation of Brady’s game. Over last nine years, Brady only once was as high as 2.3 percent interception throws and was sub-2.0 in seven of the seasons. Fox didn’t have a good run obviously, but Trubisky got it as far as ball security and has credited Fox and Loggains, both of whom drilled that into him, as Belichick and his offensive staffs did Brady.

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Very likely that this isn’t totally unusual in spasms of coaching turnover, but isn’t it a little curious how many of the new hires are coming into their jobs off poor performances?

This doesn’t obviously include New England coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, who are finishing out their Patriots careers with one last trip to a Super Bowl before presumably heading to Indianapolis and New York, respectively.

But Matt Nagy owned his of the second half in the Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. Pat Shurmur was available to take the New York Giants job because his Minnesota Vikings offense went eight possessions after an opening-drive touchdown without scoring a single other point. One-time secondary coach Steve Wilks takes over as Arizona coach after coordinating a middling Carolina Panthers defense (26th in interception percentage, 20th in yards per pass attempt).

Mike Vrabel’s Houston Texans defense sans J.J. Watt ranked 29th in yards allowed per play, 20th in yardage, 26th against the run and 21st in sacks.

Also: The NFL has had its share of good-ol’-boy networks. One seems to be out of fashion, this offseason at least, and the Bears are part of the change.

Notably, in the 2018 head-coaching hires, the majority of new field bosses are first-timers in that job. Not all; Jon Gruden is going back to Oakland, and ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur is getting a second chance with the Giants. Same for McDaniels, by all reports to be bound for Indianapolis where the Colts believe he is rehabilitated from his Denver debacle.

But more veteran coaches with two or three coaching billets are being supplanted by first-time head coaches:

Team        Exiting coach            Was HC at:                Replaced by

Cardinals Bruce Arians             Colts (interim)           Steve Wilks

Lions        Jim Caldwell             Colts                           Matt Patricia

Bears        John Fox                    Panthers, Broncos   Matt Nagy

Titans       Mike Mularkey          Bills, Jaguars            Mike Vrabel

Bears starting secondary returns intact for ’18 – but is that a good thing?

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USA TODAY

Bears starting secondary returns intact for ’18 – but is that a good thing?

The coach of a woeful college basketball team was asked in a postseason media session if the fact that he had all five of his starters returning was cause for optimism. “The kids tried hard,” the coach pointed out, “but we won two games last year. So having everybody back isn’t necessarily a good thing.”

The Bears approach the 2018 season and training camp returning their entire starting secondary – cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller on new, multi-year contracts, safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson now being touted as one of the NFL’s top safety tandems.

And continuity is unquestionably a prized element, particularly with offensive lines and defensive backfields. Having the four principle starters back should be a good thing.

The problem is, the Bears tied for 29th in the NFL with eight interceptions, matching a franchise-low for the third straight season. The starting DBs four accounted for just five total interceptions, suggesting that for all the supposed continuity, the whole was somewhat less the some of the parts where the critical turnover ratio is concerned.

The last time the Bears intercepted more passes (19) than their opponents (13) was 2013 – the last time the Bears saw .500.

The importance of one statistic can be overstated, but turnovers, particularly interceptions, are the one measurable with the greatest correlation to winning. The top 11 and 13 of the 14 teams with positive turnover ratios all posted winning records in 2017 (the Bears were 15th, with a zero net differential). And while fumble recoveries obviously also count as takeaways, interceptions are key: The top 10 teams in interceptions all posted positive records and all 14 of the turnover-ratio leaders intercepted more balls than they recovered.

Of the takeaways by those top 14 in turnover ratio, 65.8 percent of their takeaways came on interceptions. The Bears and the bottom half of the NFL turnover gatherers picked up only 55.7 percent of their takeaways on interceptions.

“Well, we hope we’re going to improve there,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “That takes 11 guys doing it, but we’ll see. That’s obviously going to be an emphasis for us.”

Creating a different mindset

Individual Bears defensive backs had flash moments: Jackson became the first rookie in NFL history with multiple 75-yard defensive touchdowns in a season; Amos returned an interception 90 yards for a score; Fuller was one of only two NFL players with at least 65 tackles and 20 passes defensed.

The Bears self-scouted enough to understand those for what they were – exceptions, bordering the fluke-ish, given the overall. The result was that even during minicamps and OTA’s, there was an edge to the play of the secondary. Mitch Trubisky and his quiver of weapons will have to earn things, beginning against their own teammates.

“We’ve been getting the receivers and the running backs a little mad, but they know that we’re just trying to get better at [takeaways],” Amukamara said. “And just catching the ones that the quarterback throws to you. But if we keep making the most of our opportunities we know that those numbers will go up.”

The numbers could scarcely go anywhere but up.

Amos, who was languishing on the bench and a possible roster bubble before Quintin Demps suffered a forearm fracture in week three, went 2,638 career snaps before collecting his lone career interception last season on a ball deflected to him seven yards away.

Amukamara was signed to a new three-year contract with $18 million of its $27 million guaranteed – this despite a dubious streak that has reached 2,340 snaps and more than two full seasons since his last interception.

The goal is to change that by “just getting to the ball, everybody,” Amos said. “Everybody is making efforts at the ball during camp. It’s just something that we just are emphasizing every day trying to create more takeaways.”

Pro Football Focus rated the Bears’ secondary No. 30 going into the 2017 season, factoring in veteran safety Quintin Demps signed coming off his best NFL season and Fuller coming off a season missed with a knee injury.

That is not a given. Pass defense begins with a pass rush, but roster losses have cost the Bears more than one-third (14.5) of their 2017 sack total (42).

Postcards from Camp: Bears preparing for physical training camp as QB Mitch Trubisky, offense settle in

Postcards from Camp: Bears preparing for physical training camp as QB Mitch Trubisky, offense settle in

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Dear Mom and Dad:
 
Camp’s finally here, the guys all reporting and I think really ready to get started for real after the camps and OTA’s this spring and summer. Practices start tomorrow (Friday) and fans’ll be able to watch practice starting on Saturday. 
 
I and the other quarterbacks decided to come in Monday with the rookies, kind of to get going but really to connect with the young guys. I know what they’re going through – they were me this time last year. Allen Robinson came in, too, and he says his knee is feeling great and there won’t be any holding back, which is good to hear since Allen is a wide receiver who is great at going up and getting the football.
 
Coach Nagy tells us this’ll be a physical training camp. He says he wants to get his team “calloused.” Akiem Hicks said that physicality wasn’t really a problem in the past but the coaches want to establish an identity from the get-go, and a big part of my job will be to be a leader at setting that.
 
Someone asked whether it was fair that the coaches last year got so much criticism for holding me back. I said that I guess from my point of view I want to just say I was doing what I was asked to do. Last year is definitely different than this year. I’m going to have more responsibility and more, I guess, responsibility to do what I wanna do in the offense. I’ll have more options. Last year, it was what it was. the coaches’ philosophy. I tried to do to the best of my ability what they asked me. this year I’m going to do the same. Whatever they ask me to do I’m gonna do, and just roll with it.
 
Gotta run. Send money. (just kidding).
 
Your quarterback son,
 
Mitch
 
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No Ro’ yet
 
Barring a late contract breakthrough, rookie linebacker Roquan Smith isn’t expected before the start of practices on Friday. Smith is one of more than a dozen No. 1 picks still unsigned, not completely unusual because of details like offset language in the event a player is released before the end of his fourth season and the structure of paying signing bonuses. The Bears are not evincing serious concern at this point, although defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is among those who have acknowledged the impediment that missed time poses to a player’s development.
 
“There's a lot of details that go into these things,” said GM Ryan Pace. “We're optimistic that he's here soon. It's really part of the process and meanwhile we're rolling forward with the guys that are here and you know that chemistry and continuity is important.
 
The Bears are working on contract extensions for a handful of what they deem to be rising talents, as they did this offseason with a four-year contract for cornerback Kyle Fuller. “Obviously we're mindful of the guys in the final years of their contacts,” Pace said. “We've got a handful of them. Obviously those contract [details] we're going to keep internal. Those are really good players and we're mindful of it as we go forward and we'll have a plan in place.”
 
 
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Long-range danger
 
Wide receivers Allen Robinson, Kevin White, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller and tight end Trey Burton have been tasked with bringing a level of firepower that the organization is counting on to be on par with the Martellus Bennett-Matt Forte-Alshon Jeffery-Brandon Marshall cluster of five seasons ago. One key member of this year’s group sees danger for defenses regardless of where the Bears are on the field.
 
“Kevin White brings a lot to the table, as well,” Robinson said. “I think for him being such a big physical specimen, I think he’s at any point on the field and any point in time, I think he’s where we literally can possibly get six points on the board. Maybe off a deep ball. Maybe off a catch-and-fun. Anything like that.
 
“Whenever you’ve got him and Taylor and Anthony and those guys on the field, I mean, to be honest, we can any point in time are six points away.”
 
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How “physical” is too physical? Too soft? Just right?
 
The Bears have grappled with injury demons for too much of the past five seasons, with training-camp intensities ranging from a lighter, get-off-your-feet program under Marc Trestman to a time-tested system under veteran head coach John Fox. Neither approach saved the Bears once the season commenced, and now Matt Nagy has declared “physical” to be the measuring standard. The trick will be balancing full-contact, padded practice sessions with enough near-realistic intensity without risking injury any more than necessary.
 
“It has to be competitive,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “It has to be where you get out there and a couple days hot, back to back to back, and coach is running you hard and it’s giving us a little test. You need those moments. Those are the moments I look forward to at training camp, where you know it gets a little aggressive out there. I think that builds not only your team confidence but that tenacity, that edge you need to have to play, especially defense.”
 
Training camps before the backing-off occasioned by the strictures of the collective bargaining agreement were notoriously physical, with double-session days in full pads common. They were also longer, as long as the 32-day first camp under new coach Dave Wannstedt in 1993. Camp opened that year on July 14 for a season with a Sept. 5 opening day.
 
This preseason year is in that range. The Bears begin their season Sept. 9 at Green Bay, and are starting now with the extra week of prep for a fifth preseason game on Aug. 2 as part of Hall of Fame ceremonies.
 
“I think it’ll be good to get a chance for our offense to sharpen up what they need to sharpen, our defense to relearn and revisit some of the things we need to revisit.,” Hicks said. “More time together is only beneficial. You just have to make sure you’re taking care of your guys. And I’m sure our coaching staff won’t have a problem doing that.”